High Jump: Technical Aspects

By Steve Patrick, Track & Field Coach, SUNY Cobelskill

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Here is a clear, easy-to-follow discussion of the approach, takeoff and bar clearance, the three basic components of the high jump.


     The high jump is a technical event. While most jumpers feel that the bar clearance is the most important aspect of high jumping, it is not. Just as with the other three jumping events (LJ, TJ, and PV), the runup or approach is probably the most important aspect of the event. In fact, when you look at good junior high jumpers, they often have perfect (or near-perfect) bar clearance technique. What they lack, however, is a perfect approach run.
     Using the flop high jump technique (which is really the only technique used these days), the athlete will run a curved approach towards the bar. The foot on the inside of the turn will be the takeoff foot, and the athlete will actually clear the bar with his/her back facing the bar.



      This is really not as difficult as many individuals make it out to be. The main concept with an approach run is to develop a lot of horizontal velocity, directly towards the pit. A sharp, curving turn at the end of the approach run creates rotation, allowing the athlete to jump with his back to the bar. Horizontal velocity pro- vides for two things:

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  1. Translation of increased horizontal velocity into vertical velocity results in greater jump heights.

  2. The greater the horizontal velocity, the farther away an individual can take off, allowing for a more gradual takeoff angle. This is also advantageous because it provides the athlete with more time to reach peak height.

      The approach run shares many characteristics with the approach runs of the other jumping events. It is developed by consistent practice. Ideally, the athlete is at his fastest at the end of the run. The athlete should enter each competition with the ability to "measure off' the starting point of the approach run. The high jump approach is unique, however, in that it curves!


      There are a variety of ways to coach athletes to develop the shape of the approach run. They usually fall into one of two categories:

  1. All athletes are required to use the same curve. This is very beneficial when you are working with a large number of athletes, since they will all be following the same curve. They should all begin to turn at the same time, and you as the coach can even trace down an arc for all of your athletes to practice with.

  2. Each athlete uses a curve that is matched "exactly" to his or her abilities. From a biomechanics standpoint, this makes the most sense, as athletes have different stride lengths, speeds, heights, etc. When coaching a great number of high jumpers, this approach is more difficult to manage, though, as each athlete will have his own curve.


      In may respects, this is the easy part of the jump. If the athlete has performed the approach run and the takeoff correctly, there will be little problem with bar clearance. When jumping at higher heights, the athlete needs to be sure to have patience and wait to begin bar clearance when he is high enough for it to be a factor. In essence, he must "wait" for the jump to bring him high enough to have to go over the bar.
     Bar clearance involves trying to "wrap" the body over the bar. Never-the-less, the athlete needs to try to keep as much of the body below the level of the bar at all times. Once the head and shoulders clear the bar, the athlete must arch the back, thrusting the hips towards the sky. The legs should be kept relaxed.
     As the hips clear the bar, the athlete must be sure to maintain his arch, although he can relax slightly. Few things are more frustrating than clearing the bar only to "sit" on it halfway through the jump.
     However, the legs must also clear the bar. Many athletes try to kick the legs out of the way, which sometimes works well. Raising the head, so that the chin is on the chest, is another effective way to move the legs out of the way.



      Please keep in mind that to fix a symptom, it is best to fix an underlying cause. Remember that this is by no means a comprehensive list!
     The athlete should be leaning into the turn as he runs the curve. For example, if the turn is to the left, the athlete should be leaning to the left. This is a crucial component to the approach run for the high jump, since overcoming this lean during takeoff creates rotation that allows the athlete to clear the bar.
     The turn should always be started with the jumping foot, which will be the foot on the inside of the turn. Otherwise, a "post pattern" is likely to result. This means that the athlete takes a wider step out with the non- jumping leg, which reduces speed and drastically increases the radius of the turn. This prevents the athlete from leaning into the turn, which reduces rotation at the takeoff.


Symptoms and Probable Underlying Cause


Jumping leg "collapses"

Slowing down into the jump

Knocking off the bar on the way up

Knocking the bar off in the middle of the jump

Knocking off the bar on the way down

Not arching enough

Not leaning into the turn


     The takeoff is obviously crucial in the high jump. You could consider the takeoff to begin as far as three steps away from the actual last point of contact with the ground. Three steps away from the takeoff, both arms should be in front of the body, with the arms nearly fully extended and the hands approximately mid-chest in height.
    The penultimate, or next-to-last, step is a preparatory step. It should be a slightly longer step, and the athlete should slightly lower the hips. He should also bring both hands back at this time, so that both hands are behind the hips, with the arms nearly extended.
     The final step should be a little shorter and quicker than the rest. The athlete should be taking off approximately a full arm's length away from the bar, more if he is extremely fast and skilled. Some athletes (and coaches) feel that power jumpers should have a long last step, so that they have time and the necessary body angles in order to generate a lot of power. Usually, this is incorrect. A shorter, faster step will almost al- ways be more effective once the athlete is proficient at it.
     To watch for so-called power jumpers, look for a drastic decrease in speed (this is bad), a very long last step, and a dragging of the non-jumping leg (because they are slowing down and not raising the center of gravity). Additionally, watch for knee and/or ankle injuries in the jumping leg as the athlete's body responds to all those decelerating forces.
     The takeoff should be short and quick. The lead leg should be raised very quickly and should "block" once the thigh is parallel to the ground. It is important that the lead leg block while the jumping leg is still in contact with the ground. The arms should swing forward and upward and should also block while the jumping leg is still in contact with the ground. For most athletes, this occurs at shoulder level.
     Since every action causes an equal but opposite reaction, this blocking will increase the "push" of the jumping leg off the ground. The athlete should attempt to jump straight up, and not towards the bar--his horizontal velocity and the rotation started by the lean into the turn will cause him to head over the bar. Watch from the side to see if your athletes are hitting the bar on the way up, which is usually a sign that they are jumping toward the bar rather than straight up.
     In order to position the back to the bar, the athlete should look at the far corner of the pit over the shoulder on the same side as the jumping leg.




Bowerman, W.J. & Freeman. W.H. (1991). High- Performance Training For Track And Field. Human Kinetics.
Dapena, J. (1988). "Biomechanical Analysis of the Fosbury Flop." Track Technique, 104, 3307- 3317.
Humphrey, S. & Nordquist, D. (2000). "High Jump." In USA Track & Field Coaching Manual (Joseph Rogers, Editor). Human Kinetics.
Jacoby, E. & Fraley, B. (1995). The Complete Book of Jumps. Human Kinetics.



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Related Articles:

High Jump: The Straddle and the Flop

High Jump: Technical Aspects



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