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Beginning Pole Vaulting Progressions and formula notes

Jan Johnson
Sky Jumpers Vertical Sports Club
6505 Santa Cruz
Atascadero, Ca 93422

Part 1. Grass Vaulting
Starting grip: Standing grip with top hand holding pole as high as one can stand and reach with top hand when pole plug is directly between feet.

  1. Over head carry tip taps. Walking and jogging carrying pole over head tapping the pole plug on the ground with the contact with each left foot contact.
  2. Proper carry and planting mechanics featuring: high hands low tip. Pushing pole slightly forward and then up so that hand are under pole on penultimate step. Pushing pole straight up for arms extended position prior to pole tip passing the front of the planting box.
  3. Over head carry jumping over pole plug with top hand extended over head at take off using a three left run.
  4. Gradually raise grip so that Vaulters pole plug barley brushes ground as pole rows through.
  5. Emphasis on high hands at take-off, jumping up at take-off, and staying right side up after take-off.

Planting from 3 lefts on grass with standing grip.

  1. Carrying pole Parallel to ground.
  2. Shifting hands with the contact of the second left so that arms are extended up over head prior to take-off.
  3. Gradually raising grip so that pole tip barley brushes ground as pole rows under.
  4. Emphasis on jumping up, extended arms and staying right side up.
  5. Emphasis on not over driving the right knee, and at the .same time keeping the trail leg down and back.
    o Best done in practice everyday as part of warm-up prior to vaulting.

Part 2. Short Run Vaulting with no bend in the pole.
Start by vaulting from a run of 3 lefts on to the pads using a grip of standing grip plus two feet. Gradually raise grip so that optimum pole speed is achieved. Learn the following drills and skills:

  1. Stays Downs: Staying right side up and landing in the center of the pads in swing position.
  2. Swing to L: Keeping straight trail leg and not allowing shoulders to roll back. Landing on the pads in seated L position.
  3. Swing Ups: Taking off with high hands, swinging straight trail leg up so that entire body is upside down position next to hand grip on the pole.
  4. Swing and shoot the turn: This is an entire short run vault with no bend in the pole.
  5. When technique is good from three lefts and the following criteria have been met then move to a five left approach.
    a. the vaulter with no bend in the pole can take off directly below or slightly out side his or her top hand grip.
    b. The vaulter is able to select a appropriate hand hold which allows him or her to land safely in the center of the landing pads with hips contacting the pads 3-6 feet directly behind the back of the planting box. 9 out of 10 times.
    c. The vaulter can complete a successful full vault with no bend in the pole gripping the pole 3 feet above his/her standing grip.
    d. The vaulter can swing a straight trail leg into the shoot and turn.
    e. The vaulter can turn over and finish 6 out of ten jumps in the tummy to the bar position landing in the center of the landing pad 3-6 feet behind the back of the box.

Chart A Standard 3 lefts starting distances from back of box

Vaulters Height 5' 5'6 6' 6'3
Right footed start distance 30' 33' 35' 37'
Left foot start distance 25' 28' 30' 32'

Note: distances assume vaulters of average athletic ability and aggressive starting running posture.

Chart B Standard one left distance adjustments based upon body height for vaulters of average abilities.

Vaulters Body height 5' 5'6 6'0 6'3
1 left 10' 11' 12' 12'6
2 lefts 20' 22' 24' 25'

Use the above table to add or subtract length to your vaulters approach, without having to run steps back. Keep in mind that by adding approach distance (lefts) you are increasing speed, by subtracting distance you are decreasing speed. This concept becomes very useful when trying to adjust approach lengths to pole sizes and grip heights.

Moving to longer runs, stiffer poles, and higher grips, and more top hand grip to cross bar efficiency is what pole vaulting is all about. Adjusting all these parameters is perhaps the trust application of coaching.

Part 3. Selecting the correct beginning pole for bending.
(short run vaulting from 5 lefts)
It is my suggestion that beginners, in order to develop and perfect all the important mechanics of: consistent approach run, jumping up onto the pole, swinging and shooting the turn properly, should use approach runs of 5 lefts with no bend in the pole for approximately 8 or 10 practices . These vaulters is usually ready to bend the pole when they are capable of vaulting consistently, and safely from 5 lefts with no bend in the pole, using a grip approximately 3' above standing grip, swinging a straight trail leg, turning over and landing safely in the front/center of the landing pads approximately 5 to ten feet behind the back of the box. After several sessions where this safe and successful jumping is demonstrated, it is my suggestion; that you begin the process of bending the pole in the following manner: First, select a pole that is approximately 2 feet longer than the athletes non bending grip, and equal to, or slightly (5lbs) greater his or her body weight. For example, if your athlete can grip the pole and successfully vault from 5 lefts at 10'6" and he weights 130 pounds then the proper starting pole would be a 12'6" 130 or 135, or perhaps a 12' 135, or 140. Please note, that in the proceeding example I have adjusted the weight of the pole up slightly for the shorter pole.

Since the relationship between pole length and pole and stiffness are inter-related at the basic rate of 6" in pole length equals approximately ten pounds in pole stiffness, both these suggested poles would be acceptable . The suggested beginning pole will probably not begin to bend immediately. However, after a few practices as the athlete becomes more aggressive and more accomplished the pole will gradually begin to bend, and in doing so will allow the athlete to grip higher. Please note that part of the process of learning to bend is a result of having the proper pole, and part of it is the process of having the proper technique. It is very important during this portion of the athletes skill development to introduce the concept of pressuring the pole with the arms. In order to do this effectively it is very important to begin shifting the pole into the overhead position not later than the next-to-last left during the take-off approach. By starting the plant on time; the vaulter will have both his arms in the extended over-head position necessary to give proper resistance to the pole. Proper resistance with the arms into the pole among beginning and intermediate vaulters (contrary to the popular notion) does not mean a straight bottom arm as the pole bends. It really means offering controlled resistance into the pole with the bottom arm, while the top arm simply holds onto the pole. In a well executed plant and take-off; the bottom arm will bend at the elbow approximately 90degrees, so that the bottom hand is approximately 15-18" above his forehead. This distance between the vaulters chest and the bottom hand when viewed directly from the side is know as "keeping space", or staying away from the pole. When the vaulter combines the correct amount of resistance with the arms and the proper leg swing as taught in the non-bending drills he is ready to move back to longer runs and higher grips.

Part 4. Increasing run-lengths and hand hold heights.
Obviously those athletes who can grip the pole higher will have greater potential to vault higher. This is why the athlete must ultimately increase his run length. Because as the run length increases, the take off speed increases, and so the potential to grip the pole higher becomes greater. In my opinion the process of lengthening the run should be done in gradual increments known as "lefts". Lefts, are simply take off foot contacts during the approach run. As the athlete runs more lefts his take off speed increases, and so his potential to grip the pole higher and or vault on a stiffer pole also increases. As the athlete raises his grip the pole will begin to bend more and the importance of having a high and centered plant will become more and more important. The importance of having a take-off step directly below the top hand position will also become increasingly important. During this phase of skill development it may become obvious that the athlete can improve his potential by gripping the pole higher and using a slightly longer run to generate more speed. This adjustment is encouraged if the athlete is landing in a safe position on the pads consistently, and if the pole is not bending excessively. Under these circumstances I recommend that you use the "one left adjustments" outlined in Chart B above. In general, the increased run length may be accompanied by the following grip adjustments:

Chart C Relationships between run length and grip height


Number of Lefts   Grip Height Adustment
3 lefts   Best Useable Grip
4 lefts   +6
5 lefts   +5
6 lefts   +4
7 lefts   +3
8 lefts   +2

As a general rule of thumb a 3" increase in grip height will soften the pole at the approximate rate of 5 lbs per every three inches in grip. Please refer to the following table to better understand this relationship:

Chart D Approximate relationships between grip height adjustments and relative pole stiffness.

+12"   20 pounds softer
+9"   15 pounds softer
+6"   10 pounds softer
+3"   5 pounds softer
+1"   1.6 pounds softer