This is an excerpt from Winning Jumps and Pole Vault by Ed Jacoby.
The pole vault has always had tremendous appeal to athletes, coaches, and spectators. It combines athleticism, technology, and the excitement of seeing athletes soar close to 20 feet (6 m) above the ground. The vault tends to attract athletes with a bit of daredevil in them, an attitude that fits comfortably into our current sport culture of constantly pushing the limits of athletic ability. The challenge for all coaches and athletes is to harness this spirit and combine it with sound technical knowledge for safe, yet successful, results. Many ideas are currently floating around about vault technique. The goal of this chapter is to simplify this information into a sound, basic structure that will aid the reader in understanding the true nature of this event.
Warm-Up and Cool-Down
Warm-ups and cool-downs are generally individual to the athlete. Some coaches conduct structured warm-ups and cool-downs, and others leave them up to the athlete. Vaulters need to address two critical areas during the warm-up: getting familiar with the approach run and warming up the shoulder girdle and back. The athlete should run down the runway to get a visual feel for the facility and a tactile feel of the runway surface. The shoulder girdle and back can be warmed up by doing short-approach drills and vaults with lower grip heights. This will allow these muscle groups to warm up to the demands placed on them by vaulting.
Young athletes should do full-speed running prior to jumping. If they avoid this for fear of overdoing it, they will fail to stimulate the correct firing responses prior to competition. At least three 30-to 40-meter sprints are ideal, along with sprint drills and short-approach pole drills.
Most vaulters do little in the way of a cool-down, perhaps because of the length and nature of vault competitions. Once again, this seems to be an individual decision on the part of the athlete.
Pole Vault Basics
The fundamental technical concepts that apply to most of the jumps certainly apply to the vault. The direction of movement changes from horizontal to vertical. The athlete must increase the speed of movement during the run-up phase and transfer this energy to the implement (the pole) upon completion of ground contact. Conservation of energy and the correct application of force as well as posture, balance, and rhythm are crucial to success. The overall goal for the coach and athlete should be the consistent completion of jumps that allow the vaulter to maintain spatial awareness and achieve a safe landing in the pit. This approach, when combined with a solid physical training program and adherence to basic vault fundamentals, will, with patience, lead to success.
The technical side of the vault relies heavily on the laws of physics, with a primary emphasis on a controlled, maximal velocity takeoff and the highest effective angle of attack at takeoff. This must be executed while still effectively transferring energy into the pole and conserving that energy through all phases of the jump. It is vital that both coach and athlete understand the following basic principles of vaulting. The vaulter and the pole are connected as a system and must be correctly timed. Each of the following principles are covered in depth in this chapter.