By Jan Johnson

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     Selecting the proper starting grip is very important for learning the be- ginning drill sequence. Choosing a grip that is too high will make it impossible to learn the most efficient takeoff technique. Once the proper starting grip has been established, don't hesitate to progress quickly to the optimum grip, by raising hands in 2" or 3" increments, until the correct amount of pole speed is obtained. For the purposes of learning the grass vaulting sequence outlined below, start by gripping the pole only as high as you can grip with your top hand when the pole plug is between your feet.

  1. Overhead carry tip taps. Walk and jog while carrying the pole overhead, tapping the pole plug   on the ground with each left-foot contact. Tap the plug directly in from your takeoff foot so that your arms are extended directly over- head.

  2. Proper carry and planting mechanics featuring high hands, low tip. Push pole slightly for- ward and then up so that hands are under the pole on the penultimate step. Push the pole straight up for an arms-extended position prior to pole tip passing the front of the planting box.

  3. Overhead carry. Jump over pole plug with top hand extended over head at takeoff, using a three-left- contact run.

  4. Jump-Overs. Gradually raise your grip so that the pole plug barely brushes the ground as the pole rows through. Emphasize high hands at takeoff, jumping up at takeoff, and staying right side up after takeoff.

Gymboss Timers

Planting from 3 lefts on grass with standing grip.*

  1. Carry pole parallel to ground.

  2. Shift hands with the contact of the second left step so that arms are extended up over the head prior to takeoff.

  3. Gradually raise the grip so that the pole tip barely brushes the ground as the pole rows under .

  4.  Emphasize jumping up, with extended arms, and staying right side up.

  5. Emphasize not overdriving the right knee, and at the same time keeping the trail leg down and back.

*Best done in practice every day as part of warm up prior to vaulting.



Start by vaulting from a run of 3 lefts onto the pads using a grip of standing grip plus two feet. Gradually raise the grip so that optimum pole speed is achieved.
     Learn the following drills and skills:

  1. Stay-Downs: Stay right side up and land in the center of the pads in swing position (sitting).

  2. Swing to L: Keep straight trail leg and don't allow shoulders to roll back. Land on the pads in seated L position.

  3. Swing-Ups: Take off with high hands; swing straight trail leg up so that entire body is in 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 outside his or her top hand grip.
        b. The vaulter is able to select an appropriate handhold which allows him/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 10 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.

    Use Chart A to add or subtract length to your vaulter's 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 increasing the top hand grip for crossbar efficiency is what pole vaulting is all about. Adjusting all these parameters is perhaps the truest application of coaching.


VAULTERS HEIGHT 5' 5' 6" 6' 6' 3"

Chart A: Standard 3 lefts starting distances from back of box




5' 5' 6" 6' 6' 3"
1 LEFT 10' 11' 12' 12' 6"
2 LEFTS 20' 22' 24' 25'

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



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 8 or 10 practices or so. These vaulters are 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 feet above standing grip, swinging a straight trail leg, turning over and landing safely in the front/center of the landing pads (approximately 5 to 10 feet behind the back of the box). 

    After several sessions where safe and successful jumping is demonstrated, I recommend they should begin the process of bending the pole. First, select a pole that is approximately 2 feet longer than the athlete's non-bending grip, and equal to, or slightly (5Ibs) greater than his/her body weight.
     For example, if your athlete can grip the pole and successfully vault from 5 lefts at 10'6" and he weighs 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 preceding example I have adjusted the weight of the pole up slightly for the shorter pole.
     Since there is an interrelationship between pole length and pole stiffness (basically 6 inches 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 the pole is a result of having the proper pole, as well as having the proper technique.



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 takeoff step directly below the top hand position at takeoff will also become increasingly important.
     During this phase of development it may become obvious that the athlete can improve his potential by grip- ping 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. In general, the increased run length may be accompanied by a 3-4" increase in grip.
     In general, as a rule of thumb most high school beginners should vault from a run of no more than six lefts. As they improve and become more proficient in technique they should gradually lengthen their approach runs to 6, 7 and 8 lefts. However no matter how long their approach run gets they should still spend approximately 50% of their practice time vaulting from short runs of 4 to 6 lefts.
     As a general rule the pole size difference will be approximately 20pounds, short run to long run. The handhold variation will be approximately 9 inches. I base this upon the fact that the resistance to pole bending will be approximately the same on a 20-pound larger pole with a one- foot higher grip. However, the in- creased top hand radius mayor may not be totally offset by the speed gain of a longer approach run.


Jan Johnson, of the Sky Jumpers Vertical Sports Club, is the 1972 Olympic

bronze medalist in the pole vault.


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