SimpliFaster virtually convened a roundtable of esteemed and experienced jumps coaches to cover a bevy of topics related to jumps. We will be presenting these questions, and their answers, in a series of articles. This is the second in the series, and covers the topic of technical training for jumpers.
SimpliFaster: Technical training for jumpers can take on many forms and can be either overly complex or simple. What is your philosophy on technical training? How do you establish a technical model with individual athletes? What is the general construct of your technical sessions?
Travis Geopfert: Overall, I believe our technical training is pretty simple. Ultimately, everything we do is a technical session. We are consistently reminding our athletes about the basics, whether that be in the warmup, interval training, specific technical sessions, or even the cool down. In track and field there are some fundamental rules across all events that I believe are imperative to success.
The first and most important, in my opinion, is postural integrity. Keeping our body upright and in good position to produce maximum power output in all the jumping and sprinting events is something that we are constantly working on. Hurdle mobility, sprint drills, acceleration drills, flight phase sprint mechanics, circle drills, bounding sequences, box jumps, hurdle hops—you name it. Across the board, in every session we do, we always want to have our torso upright and our hips underneath us to strike the ground with as much force as possible.Postural integrity is fundamental to success in track and field events. Click To Tweet
That proper foot strike on the ground is something that we are always looking at in all jumps. Where our foot is in relation to our center of gravity is something that we are always evaluating in every sprint contact and takeoff that we do. These two things, along with a strong emphasis on rhythm, are the three fundamentals that I believe most of our technical sessions break down too.Our technical sessions focus on three fundamentals: postural integrity, proper foot strike, rhythm. Click To Tweet
In terms of individualizing practice, every athlete certainly has different strengths and weaknesses that need to be understood and addressed. That, in a nutshell, is our philosophy: Build on our strengths and progressively eliminate our weaknesses. However, every technical model that we work on comes down to one thing, and that is creating consistency. If we can establish strong patterns of quality posture, foot contact, and rhythm in all our jumps, then we are giving ourselves a good chance at having success from a technical standpoint. Then, as we continue to develop and add speed and power, we have the foundation that can handle and convert it effectively.
Dan Pfaff: I have not had a lot of success with drills as executed by many leading jump coaches worldwide. I find it much more productive to do systematic teaching progressions of the actual jump itself. I prefer to do real-time, real-task motor education work. We teach towards a biomechanically sound model based on the common denominators noted in world-class men and women jumpers.
We teach runway approach dynamics at all times, using acceleration, speed, and alactic sessions as classroom time to implement the shapes and components of the approach. We start actual runway construction by late November and work on it once to twice weekly all season long. We demand steering and targeting accuracy from Day 1, and hold athletes very accountable for this and the biomechanical landmark executions.
For jump-specific work, we start out with four to six step jumps with and without landings. We teach unique postures for each step of the short run jump and demand sound execution of penultimate and takeoff mechanisms. I think too many athletes and coaches use short run jumps with faulty postures, contact times, flight times, and poor acceleration curves. In turn, this can create serious viruses that are difficult to eradicate when one goes back to longer approach runs and jumps.
As mastery progresses, step numbers increase. We do the bulk of our jump-specific training from 10-14 steps depending on skill levels, time of year, and health factors. We do technical training specifics twice a week. I go to younger athletes three times a week, because their resilience factors are higher and forces generally cause less stress on joints and connective tissues for that age group.
Nic Petersen: Technique is very important. I believe that the more technical you are at your event, the easier it is to compete at a high level. When you’re more technically proficient, it keeps you healthier through training and competitions. I also believe technique is an individual thing. Each person is different and each person has their own strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, we need to tailor the technical model around and toward every individual. I say all the time that I coach the person, not the event. I don’t want to have a technical model that doesn’t fit the person—trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, so to speak.I coach the individual, not the event. Technical models are tailored to help every athlete succeed. Click To Tweet
From there I try and keep the technical model as simple as possible to ensure the athlete can be as successful as possible. While we tailor that simple model to each athlete’s individual strengths and weakness, I would say we train strengths much more than weaknesses. Don’t get me wrong—we fix weaknesses—but I don’t want to spend so much time fixing somewhat that it takes away from what makes the athlete fly.
My technical sessions vary throughout the year as to what we are working on, but we are always doing basic technical stuff year ’round. We start small, doing very easy technical components. We do drills that may mimic specific parts of jumps but, as a rule, I like to do more technical training of the whole versus the part. Take the long jump, for instance. We start working on basic penultimate drills in Week One and we progress to short jumps from a very short run and move the run back. For a technique session, specifically, if we have a specific issue or theme we are trying to work, then we train that technical theme throughout the session.
Jeremy Fischer: Technical training should follow the pattern of simple to complex, and low intensity to high intensity, and always follow a movement pattern of efficiency and accuracy. As the season begins, we do technical training that has low intensity and trains the kinematic chain and muscle recruitment patterns. In essence, we prepare the body to handle greater forces at higher velocities. I believe in training the reactive strength, pushing the capacities of the tendon-ligament-muscle sensory (GTO, muscle/spindle, Pacinian corpuscles) farther, and creating a motor learning pattern that enables coordination of appendages.
We again analyze the technical deficiencies of each athlete—there are basic technical models we accept as a baseline and each athlete changes or adjusts their model based on potential success and efficiency for the future. I believe all correct technical models are first created with proper running posture and form. We do not move onto any advanced technical models until the athlete can run correctly. Once we’ve established a good running model, then we can establish a set of drills or sequencing of technical training to match any technical deficiencies.
David Kerin: What are the general and specific demands of the event? Jumps require horizontal velocity; an optimized force vector viewed at the COM’s position prior to grounding of last foot through ground release. There are in-flight considerations as well, but let’s leave that for now. They need to accelerate optimally and to apply the resultant kinetic energy developed optimally.
Years ago, Brooks Johnson coined the term, “the Critical Zone,” when speaking about races and field events. The concept is a good one in that there would appear to be a pivotal moment in an event. But that moment does not occur in a vacuum. Rather, it is dependent on the moments that precede it. Honoring Newtonian realities, a competitive effort is a linked series of moments, each building on the earlier. Hence, my philosophy on technical training is one of sequential mastery beginning at the start of an attempt.
However, the athletes I work with and/or advise most often have a personal coach, so my support takes the form of patching holes as opposed to building a better dam. Ideally, I would like to see optimal approach initiation and elimination of stylistic components. Acceleration and postural integrity should be optimal as the athlete progresses thru the run-up. In the event area, I spend the most time with (high jump), I can usually trace failed attempts back to flawed executions in the early and or mid approach. While vaulters often clear high bars from less-than-optimal takeoffs (inside or “under” at plant), the other jumping events don’t have a pole to ameliorate things.
As far as technical sessions, I find myself favoring less full-approach work in practice and, for that matter, short-approach or so called “part-whole” work. Take away the 99th percentile athlete and the beginners. With the pool of athletes that’s left, the biggest fish to fry are the earlier discussed misconceptions about jumping, and specific strength, posture, and athleticism. When you spend a lot of time trying to fix technique without first addressing these issues, the time is misspent and injuries often happen. There needs to be work on technique, of course, but in the proper global perspective.
This is a challenge, given our development system here in the U.S. Many nations look longingly at NCAA programs, as having no costs for our national team. But there IS a cost.
How many NCAA jumping event coaches are head coaches at their school? Not many, so we are talking about assistant coaches accountable to a head coach. Now take a highly recruited high school athlete; one who comes to college with a PR that is certain to score at the conference championships and perhaps at the NCAA Championships. In your role, you determine that the individual is getting by on talent and not mastery. Because of this, you know that they have an increased risk for injury. It is your belief that, given the right set of circumstances, they could see international success in their event in the future.
How many head coaches are going to be agreeable when you tell them that this full-ride kid, who has certain conference meet points and is a likely multiple All American, would be best served by purposeful under-performing or not performing for six to 18 months while you detrain the faulty program they came to you with? And that’s before adding in the typical physical strength and athleticism development needs. Not having a collegiate affiliation, it’s easy for me to say this, while a college coach needs to balance a number of concerns. I am just suggesting that you look at the facts and come up with a plan that considers an individual’s athletic career and their four-year college career, along with the season and or year at hand.
Many coaches tend to rush through developmental phases. When an athlete shows an initial adaptation to, or correction of, a technical concept, many coaches take that as the signal to move on to bigger and better things. True mastery requires stabilization of technique. Another concern regarding technique instruction is the statement, “I can’t coach what I can’t see.”
In the later piece, “Jumps Roundtable: Approach Accuracy,” I speak to athletes who are challenged by visuospatial skills. Here the problem is a coach lacking in the same skill set. Go and search for “mental rotations test” on Google. After taking a few of these tests, how did you do? If the answer is “not so good,” then as a professional it behooves you to seek out the means to improve and or accommodate that status.
I believe that the best coaches have three-dimensional vision/recall. The use of video replay is one way to level the playing field. I am a big fan of video use by coaches, but not by athletes because I have a fundamental concern with reinforcing a faulty motor program by showing someone their faulty motor program. However, for coaches it’s a way to pick up on things not observed in live action.I am a fan of coaches using video replay to see things they missed, but athletes shouldn’t use it. Click To Tweet
Nick Newman: I’ll address the use of technical models first. Although each athlete has different physical qualities and anthropometric measurements, there are several technical consistencies among elite jumpers. I routinely use approach, takeoff, and landing models, and have narrowed it down to three to four per event that I find ideal for most jumpers.
Technical jump and approach sessions make up a large chunk of my jumpers’ training programs. They provide an essential link between the training components and event-specific performance.
Technical teaching and transfer happens within almost every aspect of the program and, while specific technical sessions don’t always involve jumping into the pit, they should remain specific to the requirements of the event.
Components of the program, such as acceleration and speed development, multi-
jump and multi-throw training, weight lifting, tempo running, hurdle mobility, and, of course, technical jump sessions can all emphasize important aspects of technique.
The following are examples of teaching emphasis and possible transfer:
- Approach rhythm/timing/posture
- Approach speed/top-speed mechanics
- Penultimate stride action: roll, push, and extension
- Takeoff plant: extend, fast paw down and back, push, and extend
- Free-leg action: parallel thigh block, lower leg tucked under, hips forward
- Flight: tall and long body throughout
- Landing: hips and feet far forward with feet together. Dig heels down into sand and pull with hamstrings.
Approach development is of major importance, of course. I have written a lot on how to improve approach accuracy both from a skill and psychological perspective. We begin establishing the approach early in preparation and continue to perfect it throughout the competitive season. As no two approaches will ever be the same, the kinesthetic awareness developed through training far outweighs the importance of check marks and other uniform methods.
Technical development for the takeoff, flight, and landing mechanics are practiced early and often. Although there are many options for drills and exercises, I generally keep technical sessions very simple and specific. I personally do not find the majority of drills useful or transferable.
I have a systematic approach to progressing short approach jumps. Generally, during short approach sessions, the approach length increases during preparation and begins the blend with full approach development. However, it is rarely smooth sailing regarding progressions and if an athlete is not achieving the required positioning, timing, and outcome, then a digression will take place.
I personally do not find the majority of drills useful or transferable.
Ideally, we start technical jumps at four steps and gradually progress to four to six steps shy of the full approach number. Full takeoffs without landings will always occur during full approach practice while on the runway. Gradually introducing more speed to technical jumps while remaining in touch with full speed approaches is a great way of blending performance and technique and, over time, enables kinesthetic development awareness qualities.
A short approach technical session during early preparation may include the following:
- Video review of technical model related to the session goals
- Part Technique – Breaking down 1-2 aspects of technique (15-20 mins)
- Skip knee drives
- Takeoffs from low box with knee drive hold and posture emphasis
- Whole Technique – Short approach jumps – (Board Accuracy included)
- 4 stride approach – Takeoff and hold position – 4x
- 6 stride approach – Takeoff and land – 4-6x
Randy Huntington: My technical models in jumps are an extension of proper sprinting. Athletes learn to sprint first and then integrate the sprinting into the approaches with integration tools such as sleds, 1080 Sprint, weighted vests, ankle and wrist weights. Of course, they also learn to break the approach down into its parts and reconstruct the whole approach over time. In the long jump, we aim for understanding visual control/steering and integrating it as quickly as we can through various drills. Our focus is on posture position and action at the appropriate distance from the board to execute a proper takeoff. In the triple jump we do the same thing, with two additional factors: the posture difference and board position at takeoff.
Brian Brillon: Technical training should be viewed as the body striving to move in a fluid state with the least amount of deviation from Sir Isaac Newton’s laws. The technical model should start slow, with a progressive mindset. My athletes would tell you that I say, “If you can’t do it at zero miles an hour, you can’t do it at 100 miles an hour.” We will bleed the technical aspects faster when the athlete becomes proficient at solid reps with a distinct change in their form.
I start technical training for the jumps on Day One. I look for foot patterns at takeoff with simple skipping drills that lead to progressive bounding skills. I then look at posture on the track and in flight. I believe if posture is not correct then the limbs will not move with efficiency in flight. The technical model must fit the needs of the athlete to achieve high levels in the sport.
I start technical training for the jumps on Day One.
Technical training requires some form of mental training to the athlete. Over-thinking technique can be the death of the athleticism for an athlete. Care must be taken to ensure that athletes don’t change technique too close to major competitions. It is imperative that they are strong “under the lights” of competition. Too often in technical sessions the athlete becomes paralyzed with analysis. As a coach, you must find simple cues for the athlete to perform complex movements. And the more that you can give external cues instead of internal cues, the more you can help the athlete perform a given task.
For example, if an athlete is struggling to get their knee up off the board in takeoff, try not to focus on the body part, but what action you want. A sample cue could be “explode from the ground” or “accelerate towards the sky.” Saying this could get the athlete to do the action necessary outside the body; to facilitate the body getting naturally into the correct position. A coach should have an idea of what they are looking for in their technical model and explain to the athlete how to achieve this. If the alignment of coach and athlete is in sync, great things can happen.
Tomorrow we’ll feature the next installment of this Jumps Roundtable series: “Individual Training Programs for Jumpers.”
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