Pole Vault Competition Strategies
BY OWEN HEARD
The winter season has passed, and we are currently in the lead-up to summer season competitions. We can do several things to give ourselves the best chance of having a great outdoor season and maybe hit some PBs. The outdoor season is different because we have to factor in things such as weather, being in a different form, having more competitors, and having more comp opportunities. As a pole vaulter, we must be fully ready before jumping back on that bed.
This blog will highlight the key focus points for returning to competitions and can be used as a checklist to help you keep track of your preparation or mid-season form. Remember to take your time - it is perfectly okay if you still need to meet all the points. Take your time and see how far you can get this season. Not every competition period goes perfectly.
HOW CAN YOU BECOME A BETTER POLE VAULTER?
CRITICAL ASPECTS OF GETTING ON THE BED AGAIN
Before you change your training strategy as you get ready to compete, you should do your best to master all of the basics first. You will have been working on important things until this point of the year, so you want to ensure these are on point – such as your technique drills, speed and physical fitness, and base level of strength. Once you've ticked all the boxes of the preparation phase, you can move on to getting competition ready and start hard bar training, full approach training, and so on.
The most important basics:
- Having a consistent run-up (same rhythm, same take-off distance)
- Being able to repeat your "good technique" jumps
- Being strong and fast enough to use bigger poles when required
FACTORS THAT AFFECT POLE VAULT PERFORMANCE
Assuming the basics have progressed well, you must become confident in yourself and your body. Competitions are a different story from training – you use bigger poles, run faster, jump higher, and everything in between. You need to have complete trust in yourself to be able to perform. It takes some people a few competitions to build their confidence, while others do so through hard training and staying focussed. However you do it, don't force or rush it. Allow your confidence to set in naturally. If you don't feel 100% ready to compete yet, it is not always a bad decision to just train and prepare for a little longer.
Having a coach who you also trust can help you build confidence, too, as it means you have someone helping you with decision-making when things are tense. It also helps to have a second voice agreeing with your plan or what pole you will use on the next jump. However, these are luxuries and not necessities; ultimately, it is down to you to perform.
Hard bar training can also help with confidence leading up to comps. Taking a jump off one of your bigger poles during training can also give you an idea of how it feels when you will inevitably use it.
Every individual has their own way of finding or building confidence. The bottom line - it is paramount for competing - especially outdoors. It doesn't matter how well you have prepared or how hard you have trained; confidence is the necessary tool for showcasing your ability.
MY PERSONAL FOCUSES
- Trust in your own ability
- Don't rush in confidence building
- Stay relaxed and present in the moment (don't reflect too much on the past and don't over analyse)
FEEDBACK FROM POLE VAULT COACH
Working with a coach during comp prep helps identify areas of improvement. Having a pair of eyes overwatching what you're doing allows you to neaten your technique, get rid of issues or bad habits, and optimise the height you're jumping. Improving your pole vaulting solely off of 'feel' can be challenging. Thus having another individual watching you is a huge benefit– especially if they are knowledgeable in the pole vault field.
If, however, this is different from your training and you need access to a pole vault-specific coach, having a person video your jumps can be a massive help. Watching your jumps back and judging what you need to do based on how the jump felt, combined with the information you are being given on-screen, can help you improve and learn. Figuring things out yourself is challenging but can lead to a personal understanding of your vaulting style and give you excellent intrinsic control of how to adapt your technique. So, if you aren't fortunate enough to have a coach, do not let this stop you – your vaulting ability is predominantly down to you.
All in all, feedback is an integral part of competition prep. Whether it be coach's feedback, video feedback, or intrinsic personal feedback, it can help you fine-tune those parts of the jump leading up to your big day.
ADJUSTING YOUR POLE VAULT TRAINING PROGRAM
In the weeks or days leading up to competition, you should appropriately adjust training loads and volumes. An "easy week" is often programmed before competing so the body can freshen up and be ready. A typical taper for a pole vaulter might involve less or no weights at the start of the week, followed by more accessible running sessions (less volume or intensity) and at least two days of rest between the last vaulting session and competition day. Rest days are essential before competing, as you're sacrificing performance if you haven't given your body a chance to be at total capacity. The core principle of tapering is ensuring you're lowering your training volume leading up to competition season. You might ramp this up again if you have significant gaps between comps. Still, if you have a big "block" of competitions scheduled closely together, your training should be less frequent and less intense to allow for proper recovery and optimal performance.
VISUALISE THE VAULT
It's all well and good being in brilliant form. Still, if you're not thinking and imagining yourself vaulting (thinking about your technique and what's possible for you this season), then you're missing out on some extra potential. A lot of your training comes to light through imagery and intrinsic practice. If you've watched yourself clear a PB a hundred times in your head, you're one step closer to it becoming a reality. This can be a handy tool to utilise leading up to competitions.
HARD BAR TRAINING
As mentioned earlier, this can help build confidence before a comp. It also helps to re-ignite an athlete's bar awareness after being used to a bungee. Jumping over the bar is more intimidating than a stretchy piece of string, so this will prime you to attack it with conviction on comp day.
Practise comps as part of hard bar training are also beneficial for getting ready for the outdoor season. Warming up and getting a gauge for how long it may take on the day, followed by a 3-attempt effort at each height is excellent preparation. It will give you familiarity for when you go to do it for real.
FULL APPROACH TRAINING PLANS FOR POLE VAULT
This one's obvious. Before competing off one of your long run-ups, you want to have worked on this beforehand. The more consistent and confident you are on a certain run-up, the more likely you are to smash your comp season out of the park. So try to make sure you've done a decent amount of work on your chosen run-up before you put it to the real test.
However, don't take this aspect of comp prep to the extreme and only train off bigger run-ups. You need a short approach and technical sessions too, and you can't break your body by going max intensity all the time.
POLE VAULT PRE-COMP ROUTINE
Having your routine figured out in advance can help you to perform to your best and minimise stress on the day. Some athletes are meticulous and plan everything to the tee, including exactly what they will have for breakfast and exactly what minute they will leave to travel. I am more of a chilled-out type. However, I do follow a rough routine. This includes stretching and foam-rolling the night before, laying my clothes out and having my bag ready, listening to my playlist during travel and pre-warm up, and warming up 30 minutes before call room (usually 75 minutes) before comp starts.
I also aim to have a well-fuelling night-before meal, a breakfast that includes carbs, fruit, protein, and daily snacks. Some people like to meditate, watch a particular TV show or read something as part of their pre-comp routine. Whatever it may be, having some form of planned activity or consistent pattern can help you to get into the zone.
ENJOY IT ALL!
Don't get too caught up in performance, results, or your competitors. The biggest secret to pole vaulting to a brilliant standard is to love every second you are fortunate enough to spend doing it. If you can ensure you're enjoying your preparation phase leading up to the summer season and, more importantly, the competition season itself. In that case, you are pole vaulting for the right reasons.
That's all from me for now, but stay tuned for my follow-up to this piece, where I will discuss what should be in your kit bag for this year's competition season!
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!