High Jump Technique

The Approach

High jump approach take off technique is demonstrated

When it comes to high jump technique, dialing in your approach is a must.

If you don’t start well, your jump probably won’t end well. From beginners to advanced high jumpers, the way you start your approach will determine how well you go over the bar.

If we go back to the late 1960’s when Dick Fosbury discovered the Fosbury Flop, we find the reason for his unique jumping style. From a physics standpoint, it allows you to approach the bar with more speed and clear the bar while keeping your center of gravity at or below the bar – which is much more efficient. This was a genuine revolution in high jump technique. 

What he instinctively knew was that the approach does all the work and if done right, physics will take care of your rotation over the bar. 

Everything that happens in the approach is setting up the body to be in the correct position at the point of takeoff. It’s the main factor that will determine how successful your bar clearance will be. Once you get the approach right, the probability of making higher heights skyrockets!

We’re going to break down the approach step by step.

The purpose of this article is to help you develop consistency in your approach from start to takeoff. Remember, when it comes to a successful jump, the approach does all the heavy lifting!

Table of Contents

The Approach Overview

High jumper demonstrating a static start

A high jump approach follows a basic J-style turn that creates centrifugal force to propel the athlete around the curve of the J and up over the bar.

The approach can vary from 8 – 12 steps. Generally speaking, women run 8-10 steps and men run 10-12. Those steps are divided, running half on the straight and half on the J-curve, including the penultimate and takeoff steps.

To accelerate well in the approach, proper posture is vital. Shoulders back, hips up, active arms and graceful running all contribute to a successful launch.

High jump approach starting styles can vary from athlete to athlete but ultimately; the most successful jumpers will remain consistent in their approach. So it’s vital that you find the approach that works for you and then continue to practice and refine it so it’s the same every single jump.

Starting Styles

There are a few different ways/styles in which athletes begin their approach. To find what works best for you, you want to identify a style that feels most comfortable and sets you up for proper posture. If your posture is wrong at the start, your entire approach will be off.

Static Start

You start your approach from standstill:

  1. Body positioning – proper posture.
  2. First two steps should be in an acceleration pattern, pushing with the first two steps.
Watch a demonstration of the Static Start
Walk-in Start

You take a few walking steps leading into your first two acceleration steps:

  1. This can help you accelerate better if you start with some momentum.
  2. This is also helpful to get you into the correct posture and get your hips set to accelerate.
Watch a demonstration of the
Walk-in Start
Skip-in Start

This is a more aggressive approach and requires more practice to get consistency:

  1. The bounds and the push have to be dialed-in to get the right distance to the J-curve and to the bar.
  2. Allows the first four steps to be more aggressive and create more speed and better acceleration posture.
Watch a demonstration of the
Skip-in Start

Approach Steps

Now that you know the different ways to start your approach, let’s break down each step of a 10-step approach:

STEPS 1 - 4

STEP 1: Most athletes will take their first step with the same leg they takeoff with.

STEPS 1-3: In the first two to three steps, you have to accelerate. This is called the drive phase. Building speed is critical to height as you approach the bar. Your movement should be deliberate, dynamic and graceful.

High jump approach running technique demonstration

STEPS 3-4: You should be moving into an upright running posture by the third step and you should continue to accelerate in a straight line until the mid-point. The mechanics of the first half of your steps should be consistent with a normal acceleration pattern and upright sprinting mechanics.

STEPS 5 & 6 - INTERCEPT/START OF J CURVE

High Jump approach J Curve Diagram intercept step

STEP 5: This is the step where the curve is initiated and you should begin to travel outside of the forward straight line of movement. But don’t slow down, this will reduce the height/accuracy of your jump. This is where many great jumps are lost.

 

STEP 6: On the midpoint you should establish your J-curve. The goal is to run the curve with the greatest amount of controllable horizontal velocity with as much inward lean as possible to still be able to execute a safe jump. Now the force isn’t just vertical into the ground, it is also lateral toward the bar.

 

The transition to the turn should be a combination of straight ahead running and single track running while continuing to accelerate. The first step into the curve should be slightly inside of your hip with the foot turned just slightly towards the mat.

 

A common mistake is to step too far outside of the curve, making the turn too wide. This can cause multiple errors in your jump, such as improper takeoff angle.

Incorrect Foot Path Correct Foot Path

Use the slider to see an example of incorrect and correct foot path for transitioning and initiating the curve.

STEPS 7 - 8

STEPS 7 – 8: To run on the J curve, each successive step should be directly in front of the previous one. As you approach the takeoff and penultimate step, your body should be leaned away from the bar. The J curve allows you to lean away from the bar, creating the proper launch angle to clear it.

High Jump approach take off body angle demonstration

STEPS 9 & 10 - PENULTIMATE & TAKEOFF

STEP 9: The takeoff and penultimate steps must also be on the curve. Instead of continuing to push directly behind, you’ll push from the outside. In this step the center of mass is lowered with minimal deceleration. This is done by continuing to run the curve correctly.

 

STEP 10: The approach should result in a position of inward lean at the takeoff point. The takeoff step should land in front of your center of mass to create lift and be positioned between the two corners of the mat. The drive knee should be straight, in line with the body, not driving across the body. Reach high with your lead arm, guiding your body skyward.

Watch the Takeoff Step in Action

Now go Jump!

We’ve covered some of the main technical elements of the high jump approach. Remember, your flight path can’t be changed once you leave the ground so your approach must be perfect. That’s the reason coach Ryan Baily spends so much time discussing it in “Jumping Smarter, Jumping Higher.” It’s the linchpin of the event.

Now we’d like to hear from you: what elements of the approach are you working on? What would you like to learn more about? Did we miss something?

Let us know by leaving a quick comment below and best of luck in your high jump training!

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