Strength and Conditioning for the High Jump: Part I, Background

March 26, 2017

The high jump is one of the “vertical jumps” in track and field (athletics).  With this event, the athlete that jumps the highest wins. The high jump is an extremely technical event in track and field which can make designing a strength and conditioning (S&C) program for these athletes difficult. Currently, there is a paucity of literature on designing S&C programs for high jumpers.

This article will describe the high jump and cover the S&C needs of the high jumper.  The second part will explain how these athletes are trained in their sport, present recommendations for S&C programming, and will include the references.

Analysis of the high jump

Currently, the world records for the high jump are 2.45 meters for the men and 2.09 meters for the women (https://www.iaaf.org/records/by-discipline/jumps/high-jump/). The high jump consists of three phases. These phases are the approach phase, the plant/takeoff phase, and the flight phase.

Approach

The approach begins as a straight line sprint that eventually turns into a curve. Most athletes have an approach run that covers eight to twelve strides. The approach run is extremely important for performance in the high jump (3, 13, 21). It increases the athlete’s horizontal velocity, which will eventually be used for the plant. It also places athletes in a good takeoff position so that they can achieve an optimal angle for takeoff at the greatest take-off velocity possible (23). Some athletes may achieve velocities of 6-8 m/s during the approach run (16, 24).

Schmolinsky (13) recommends that athletes only achieve a controllable velocity during the approach run because the athlete must eventually be able to convert this into vertical velocity for the jump. This is done by dividing the approach into two parts; an increase in velocity and preparation for the takeoff. The preparation for takeoff should consist of the last two or three strides and involves a lowering of the jumper’s center of gravity prior to the plant and takeoff.

Plant/takeoff

During the plant/takeoff, the horizontal velocity that has been developed during the approach run is used to develop the vertical velocity that will be required to jump high. Some authors consider this to be the most important phase in the high jump (10). This phase is very short (around 0.18 seconds) and during this phase the athlete may achieve vertical velocities of up to four meters per second (3, 16).

The plant and takeoff begins during the approach. The athlete’s second-to-last stride during the approach run (called the penultimate stride) will be longer than the last stride and will begin the lowering of the athlete’s center of gravity by flexing the knee. During the last stride, the foot is slapped down and the knee is extended. The athlete is leaning backwards so that the hips are ahead of the shoulders. The leg during the last stride acts as a lever while the other leg is swung forward and up allowing the athlete to jump (23).

Flight

Success in the flight phase is dependent by the athlete’s ability to exert force against the ground during the plant/takeoff (11, 13, 24). The athlete must achieve a high enough horizontal velocity during the approach, keep an extended leg during the plant, and achieve full extension during the takeoff (13, 21). The plant and takeoff take place in front of the bars so that the athlete can jump backwards over the bar (also known as the Fosbury Flop). This means that as the athlete leaves the ground during the takeoff, they must make sure their body is out of the way of the bar while they pass over it. This is done by arching the back after the head and shoulders have cleared the bar, which lifts the hips.

S&C Needs

A S&C program has two purposes for the high jumper. The first is to provide the physical foundation for success in the event. The second is to help prevent injuries (21). With the above analysis in mind, there are a number of qualities that are going to be important for the S&C of the high jumper.

  • Strength
  • Power
  • Horizontal application of force
  • Single leg strength and power
  • Ability to maintain posture
  • Hamstring injury prevention

Strength

High jumpers need to be able to propel themselves along the track with enough velocity to eventually attain height in the jump. They must also be able to overcome gravity during the jump. Both of these aspects of the jump require a measure of strength on the part of the high jumper (7, 21). It should be noted that not only S&C coaches consider this quality to be important, high jump coaches its importance but also stress the importance of being able to apply it to the event (4, 21).

Power

As was covered earlier in this paper, the high jump requires that force be exerted quickly during the jump. With the plant and take-off taking fractions of a second, the ability to exert force quickly is extremely important to the high jumper (21).   The fraction of a second that the plant/take-off takes aligns very well with the length of the second pull in the Olympic lifts (1, 14, 15).

Horizontal application of force

The ability to exert force in the horizontal direction is potentially going to be important for an athlete whose event requires generating horizontal velocity. Several studies hint at a relationship between the ability to perform horizontal jumps and sprinting speed (1, 12).  Weyand et al (26) reported that athletes increase their speed by exerting more force against the ground rather than by repositioning their limbs more quickly. If this is true then it reinforces the benefit that a S&C program can have to the approach run of the high jump. By improving a high jumper’s strength, power, and their ability to apply force horizontally there is the potential to improve their running velocity.

Single leg strength and power

Sprinting involves having one foot on the ground at a time. The plant and takeoff involve levering off one side of the body and exploding vertically. The combination of these suggests that high jumpers need to develop single-leg strength and power.

Ability to maintain posture

Sprinting and a successful lever requires the athlete is strong enough to maintain his or her posture, this reinforces the need for a strength base (5, 7, 22). Failure to maintain posture either during sprinting or the plant can have a negative impact on velocity and eventually the height of the jump.

Hamstring injury prevention

As horizontal velocity is important for the high jumper, sprinting will be an important component of their training program. Sprinting athletes are at risk for hamstring injuries. Studies examining the hamstrings during sprinting suggest that the biceps femoris especially is susceptible to strains when the leg is being swung forward or during footstrike as these are times when the muscle is lengthened. This suggests that it is important to strengthen the hamstring muscles eccentrically (17, 19).

Table one provides examples of exercises that can be used to address each of the above qualities.

Phase General tools Specific tools
Approach Back/front squat variations

Split/one-legged squat variations

Hip extension exercises

Olympic lift variations

Explosive starts

Sprints up to 60 meters

Resisted sprints

Stride length drills

Bounds

Horizontal jumps

Plant Back/front squat variations

Pause/exaggerated eccentric squat variations

Split/one-legged squat variations

Hip extension exercises

Olympic lift variations

Horizontal jumps

Vertical jumps

Jumps from a height, stick the landing

1, 3, 5, 7, or 9 stride approaches

 

Takeoff Back/front squat variations

Split/one-legged squat variations

Hip extension exercises

Olympic lift variations

Vertical jumps

Jumps to a height

1, 3, 5, 7, or 9 stride approaches

 

Flight Standing backward flop

Flop jumps with 1, 3, 5, 7, or 9 stride approaches