Plyometrics in Pole Vault
BY OWEN HEARD
WHAT IS PLYOMETRIC TRAINING?
An athlete's plyo ability, in essence, refers to their "bounce". It is how springy they are – their elastic strength.
Tendons and muscle fibres are what determines this. Those with solid tendons and fast-twitch fibres (such as sprinters) are likely to have great plyometric ability, essentially allowing them to react off the ground powerfully (hence the term bounce). Plyometric training focuses on improving this aspect of athletic ability.
WHAT TYPE OF ATHLETES USE PLYOMETRIC TRAINING?
Some examples of athletes who might want to have great plyometric ability include:
- Triple jumpers (having to bounce off the ground with high force at each phase)
- High jumpers (requiring one powerful take-off to launch them as high as possible)
- Sprinters (having swift contact times on the ground)
The list goes on! All in all, plyometric ability is a massive factor within athletics - including pole vault.
EXAMPLES OF PLYOMETRIC TRAINING
Plyo training involves a rapid eccentric muscle contraction followed by a quick, explosive concentric contraction. These exercises often use body weight, but light weights can be used to increase loading force.
GENERAL EXAMPLES OF PLYOMETRIC TRAINING
- Reactive jumps (drop-jumps, box jumps, straight leg reactive jumps)
- Plyo drills covering the ground (bounds, skips, single leg hops, double leg hops)
This exercise involves jumping onto a box or platform from a standing position. The goal is to land softly and quickly and immediately jump back to the starting position.
DEPTH JUMPS (DROP JUMPS)
This exercise involves dropping off a platform, such as a box or a step, and then immediately jumping as high as possible on landing.
This exercise involves hopping with long, exaggerated strides from one leg to the other, producing as much power as possible with each ground contact to cover the distance.
These are just a few generic examples, but many plyometric exercises are out there. Some are highly specific. Some involve special equipment or additional weight.
The bottom line - it is a vital part of being athletic and explosive.
WHY DOES PLYOMETRIC TRAINING IMPROVE POWER?
The science behind plyometric training is based on the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). The SSC refers to the process by which a muscle is stretched and immediately contracts. This type of movement is known as an eccentric contraction, followed by a concentric contraction. When performed quickly and explosively, the SSC can generate significant power.
Plyometric training takes advantage of this process by having the athlete perform quick, explosive movements. This type of training stimulates the muscles to generate more power and speed, leading to improved athletic performance. Additionally, plyometric training can help improve coordination and balance, as the body must work together to generate power and maintain balance during these exercises.
WHAT FACTORS CONTRIBUTE TO PLYOMETRIC PERFORMANCE?
Several physical factors can affect an athlete's plyometric ability:
Strong muscles are essential for generating power during plyometric exercises. Athletes with weaker muscles will have a more challenging time producing force.
Joint stability is essential for preventing injury during plyometric exercises. Athletes with weak or unstable joints may struggle with plyometric exercises and may be at a higher risk for injury. Instability can also mean forces are produced in different directions, causing sub-optimal force output.
Reactive strength refers to the ability of a muscle to generate force after a stretch quickly and is usually determined by the nature of an athlete's muscle fibres and tendons. As plyometrics involve rapid, forceful movements, this is key.
Coordination and balance are essential for performing plyometric exercises effectively. Athletes with poor coordination may need help to absorb force effectively or react with the correct timing. Poor balance can also lead to injury if a reactive jump is not performed correctly.
The nervous system is responsible for coordinating muscle contractions and is, therefore, crucial for plyometric ability. Athletes with inferior nervous system function may not be able to absorb or generate force as effectively.
WHY ARE PLYOMETRICS IMPORTANT FOR POLE VAULT?
Pole vaulting requires a high demand for explosive power and speed. Plyo training is a great way to develop these qualities.
Being able to increase power output and speed on the runway will directly translate into higher vaults. Here's how:
In plain and simple terms, pole vault performance boils down to two things:
- Grip height
- Push height
This is how high you hold on the pole. It's determined by your physical height, your speed, and how high you can jump off the ground. The higher you can grip, the higher you can vault (before push height comes into play).
This is how high you can vault above where you are gripping. For example, if an athlete gripped at 5m and cleared 5.80m, their push height would be 80cm (in simple terms, not factoring in the depth of the box). Push height is determined by how much energy you put into the pole and how much energy is returned.
For example, if you can run at 10 m/s, you are putting extremely high energy into the pole compared to someone running at 7 m/s. This means you can use a much stiffer pole, which will store much more energy and shoot you way higher into the air. Therefore, energy from the pole is affected mainly by speed (and other factors such as technique).
HOW DOES PLYOMETRICS IMPROVE POLE VAULTING?
Well, to run fast on the runway (to produce the energy input) and jump high at take-off (to allow a higher grip) – you need plyometric ability.
Speed is massively determined by plyo ability. Being able to rapidly lengthen and contract your muscles when making contact with the ground means high forces can be produced. This results in a high-speed potential (if efficiency and running technique meet this).
As mentioned before, an athlete who can run very fast on the runway is an athlete who can put a high amount of energy into the pole during take-off. This directly translates into a higher vault (if harnessed properly). Henceforth, plyometric training to increase speed is essential to jump higher.
Jumping at take-off is also determined by plyo ability. The single-leg upward jump is to be treated similarly to long jump, in the sense that you run full speed and use the last stride contact to project yourself upwards, as high as possible. This single-leg take-off can be amplified by improving plyometric ability.
Carrying out plyo drills, which mimic the take-off, will exercise this explosivity and ultimately lead to a more powerful upward jump. This then results in the athlete's grip height capability being slightly improved, along with a better direction of force application into the pole (jumping too flat at take-off can load the pole sub-optimally).
The plyometric training that may be carried out to target these jump variables can also interlink. For instance, hopping drills (to help with take-off power) will also correlate to better ground reactivity when running.
If you're a pole vaulter, I highly recommend there is an element of plyometric training in your program to take your performance to the next level. It's not just for triple jumpers!
Some final tips for incorporating plyometric training into your routine:
When starting with plyometric training, it's essential to start with basic exercises and gradually increase the intensity. You don't want to overdo it and risk injury, and you don't want to cut out other equally important aspects of training.
Include a range of plyo exercises to find out which works best for you and produces the best results to make it more fun! If you do the same plyo session for months and months, eventually, you will plateau.
FOCUS ON FORM
Proper form is vital for maximizing the benefits of plyometric training and minimizing the risk of injury.
As with any exercise, it's essential to warm up before plyometric training to reduce injury risk and get the best effects out of the session because it can involve high-impact forces.
As you become more proficient with plyometric exercises, gradually increase the intensity. You may also want to increase the volume you are doing as part of training too.
ABOUT OWEN HEARD
Currently 3rd in the UK rankings, Owen has been pole vaulting for many years, and you may recall seeing him compete in the Men's Pole Vault Final in this year's Commonwealth Games for Team England.
He is also a hurdler and a Team Pacer athlete, making him incredibly knowledgeable and skilled at what he does, especially as he's only 21 years old!