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Pole Vault Technique, Part 1

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Former Olympic and World champion pole vaulter Stacy Dragila currently coaches young vaulters. She discussed pole vaulting technique in a February 2013 interview.
What would you tell a young pole vaulter about the importance of the approach run?

“I think it’s huge. I mean, the better you can run down the runway – efficiently running fast – it just translates that horizontal energy into the vertical. If you’re able to run through the takeoff, and put that energy into the pole, you’re going to get big results. But if you come in timid, the pole’s going to spit you wherever it wants to. You’re not going to be good with the pole. So I teach a lot of sprint mechanics. We don’t get on the pole vault runway right away. The kids learn a lot of sprint mechanics, running with and without the pole, and doing a lot of drills and activities before we even get to the runway, just so I know that they’re a little bit coordinated. Because you’re holding a foreign object, and now you’re trying to time that pole drop along with the body that’s coming in to the takeoff very quickly. So there’s a lot of timing aspects of it. And if you can time it up right it can be a really sweet ride.”

How important is developing a consistent stride length?

“I think it’s really important because if you don’t have consistent stride length, the stride is all over the place all the time and it’s a detriment to getting high in the air. I have a couple of kids right now that aren’t consistent and they can be a foot, foot-and-a-half out, a foot-and-a-half under, and they’re not having any fun, because they’re getting spit out on the runway. And these are young guys that I just acquired, and I said, ‘Hey, we need to take two steps back.’ But of course, they want to be on the runway competing. And I said, ‘You don’t even know how to run properly or have a consistent stride length.’ So that’s what I do a lot in the fall, is work on stride length, opening that stride, and having them run really consistent – again, with and without the pole. And then hopefully translate that over to the pole vault runway. And sometimes the kids get a little bit scared coming into the box if they’ve never jumped before, and they slam on the brakes. So we just try to put them on smaller poles and gripping lower so they understand, and just run through the takeoff. And as they do that we just inch the grip up slower and slower until they’re continually moving through the takeoff and keeping that energy through the takeoff. The biggest thing that I see is that coaches just try to get the kids to grip too high too fast. And that causes a lot of problems coming into the takeoff.”

How would you describe the pole movement during the approach run?

“I did a nine-step approach, which made the rhythm very easy. The first three steps are very powerful, the pole tip isn’t moving anywhere. Then those next set of three steps, the pole is coming down. And then in those last steps, the pole better be parallel, and then coming into the takeoff. So it’s kind of a nice, gradual drop and you’re always trying to chase that tip into the box and trying to get your hands up high and trying to jump up onto the pole. A lot of people think you’re coming in there and you’re yanking on the pole and holding on. And it’s quite the opposite. You’re trying to get that tip down so you can really try to jump over the tip of the pole. So we do a lot of grass vaults to try to teach that and time that up. And then a lot of sand vaults as well, trying to really get that tip down in front of you and kind of being catapulted up into the air. And of course the pole’s going to bend naturally, but you’re not trying to bend the pole. By creating all that energy coming down the runway, you’re storing that energy into the pole, which then makes it flex, and then hopefully you can catch it on the top end by doing a tight gymnastics maneuver.”

Read more about the pole vault:
Pole Vault Technique, Part 2
How to Find Pole Vaulters
Olympic champion Tracy Dragila Talks Pole Vault Training

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