Early Season Technical Development
As much as we like to think the opposite, I assume athletes don’t participate in many organized activities. Most of our track and field athletes are working on their general fitness during the summertime. I looked to my favorite hip-hop artist, Joe Budden, for inspiration. When beginning my annual training plan, I always keep this line in mind:
…To rap now you don’t gotta have skill…just appeal to ‘em with a little rhythm”
My interpretation? The beat of a song is the key to success rather than the ability to rhyme words. I take the exact same approach when introducing jump technique into the general preparation phase. It is important to teach the jumping skill first, and then develop the technique for the specific event. In the fall, athletes’ biomotor qualities may not be sufficient enough to express the necessary demands of the event. So, I like to introduce rhythm simple jumping drills at slower speeds. Slow enough where athletes can feel what’s going on with their body, but fast enough where they can express power. As the year progresses, these drills become more complex and start to actually mimic the jumps you see in competition.
My two favorite teachers of rhythm are skips for height and skips for distance. To execute skips for height successfully, ask your athlete to skip as high as possible by driving your thigh in the air flexing at the knee and ankle joints. Skips for distance are executed the same way, but the goal is to skip as far forward as possible.
Skips For Height
Skips For Distance
My two favorite teachers of rhythm are skips for height and skips for distance. To execute skips for height successfully, ask your athlete to skip as high as possible by driving your thigh in the air flexing at the knee and ankle joints. Skips for distance are executed the same way, but the goal is to skip as far forward as possible. Both can teach many different aspects of the horizontal and vertical jumps:
Handling Impact. The jumping skill is improved when the rebound force of involuntary muscle contraction is set by the stretch shortening cycle. When hip flexor and thigh muscles are stiff during ground impact, lower leg injuries are likely to occur. The skips should be displayed with a smooth, controlled rhythm. How the athlete prepares for each landing in drills will transfer over to the actual competition jumps.
Hip Undulation. Catch a side view of any of the jumping events, specifically during the penultimate step and after the point of takeoff. The path of the hips look like a scenic view of mountaintops, with peaks being the highest point of the hips and bases as the lowest point. Athletes can feel this flow using either drill. Teach them to understand how easy and effortless the execution should feel. Take that into the competition!
Swinging Segments. Gravity wants to bring our hips and torso closer to Earth. If we spread our arms and legs, gravity is still going to win, but at least we’ll have some control over how we can prepare for landing. Skips for height and skips for distance could be a gateway to teaching the importance of feeling under control during each phase of the triple jump.
Correct Muscle Activation Pattern. This is a constant energy flow from hip to knee and then ankle joints. At this time of year, I want the exercise to be executed with the highest number of takeoffs possible. But, I also want the exercises to be executed under a relaxed state to minimize the energy cost of the movement.
Stretch-Shortening Cycle. Elastic structures in tendons can store energy after being forcibly stretched. The recoil of the tendon results in a more efficient movement. The active eccentric contraction followed immediately by a concentric contraction is referred to as the stretch-shortening cycle. Understanding and mastering this concept is the very definition of the jumping skill.
Posture. This is the most key element in movement. Everything is connected and linked and posture is the medium the brain uses to stay in contact with the rest of the body. Where there are disconnects, there are sure to be energy leaks. A change in posture could mean a change in understanding of sprint and jump mechanics for your athletes.
Ron Grigg and myself shared some of our favorite cues with the other coaches at this summer’s Complete Track and Field Clinic. I picked five cues to explain so you can add them to your repertoire:
Head High, Hip High. Whether executing skips for height or skips for distance, at no point should the position of the head and hips be compromised. During skips for height, the thigh of the free leg (non-takeoff leg) is allowed to get as high as parallel to the ground. When the thigh is driven past the height of the hips, athletes tend to pull more and be too active in air. Relaxation needs to be cued.
Dorsiflexion. This cue reminds the athletes to keep the ankle joint flexed at all times. Dorsiflexion helps with shock absorption, which aids in the ability to handle impact. It also improves the ability to apply force with the correct muscle activation.
Long Arms. Similar to running, arms need to go through a normal range of motion. Using the swinging segments of the body (arms and legs) effectively is key to slowing the rotation of the torso. While range of motion may be different between the two skips, the length of the lever never needs to change.
Step Down. Keeps the shin of the free leg below the knee, which places the foot underneath the hips upon landing. You will hear often hear coaches talk about this during maximum velocity drills. Ron would compare this action to the needle of a sewing machine. Breaking forces occur when the free leg shin is placed in front of the knee.
Leave Takeoff Step Behind. It’s only useful when doing skips for distance. Remember, the goal is to cover as much ground as possible with each skip. The cue reinforces an active push back against the ground and creates a rebound force found in the stretch reflex in the hip flexor.
If you want to use the runway and sandpit, add a flight and/or a landing technique at the end of the last skip. If you have a high jumper, draw a semicircle and execute the drill on a drawn out curve. Have a triple jumper that only uses the double arm technique? No problem, use the double arm swing instead of an alternating arm swing! Get creative!
Skips for height and skips for distance are learning tools that can be utilized at every point of the season. During the special preparation phase, Jumps coaches can add skips for height for repetitions up to 30 to 40 meters after on general/technical days. Now the drill serves as an elastic endurance component. In the competition phase, skips for distance can a review to help reinforce certain themes that were touched on earlier in the training plan.
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Reuben Jones is the associate head track coach at Columbia University in New York, NY, as well as the Horizontal Jumps Lead Instructor at the Complete Track and Field Summer Clinic , the largest track and field clinic in the United States.