Approach Design

The basics of approach design
Infinite Possible Approaches

How many ways can you make an approach to a high jump bar? The possibilities are endless. Unfortunately, most of these endless possibilities don't work.

Some approaches don't work because they are simply too difficult to run consistently. Others don't work because they don't set you up for the takeoff correctly.

Acceptable Approaches

Only a small subset of the "possible" approaches set you up for the takeoff correctly. I call these "acceptable" approaches. These approaches:
  • deliver you to your takeoff point
  • establish the correct velocity at plant (speed and direction)
  • establish the correct body position at takeoff
  • facilitate the correct spin rate about the bar
However, most of the "acceptable" approaches are not "optimal" approaches primarily because they are difficult to run consistently and accurately, but also because they are not easily adjustable.

Optimal Approaches

There are only a few "optimal" approaches. They have all the attributes of "acceptable" approaches and they:
  • can be run consistently and accurately
  • are easily adjusted to yield predictable changes in takeoff and flight dynamics
As you will see, my approach (no pun intended) to designing an optimal high jump approach is very deliberate. It is based on well-understood principles of physics and my experience as a jumper and a coach.

Designing an Optimal Approach

Before designing a building, an airplane, a car, or a high jump approach, you have to know what it should do. You would not attempt to design a school building, for example, without knowing how many students and teachers you will have, what the ground at the building site is like, and the climate. So, let's lay out what a high jump approach must do, and then I'll explain how to design one.

Here are some basic design criteria for an approach:
  • Cross the bar so the highest point of your flight (the apex) coincides with the lowest point on the bar (the middle).
  • Do not put any effort into getting from one side of the bar to the other. Use the residual horizontal velocity at takeoff to carry you across the bar.
  • Make smooth transitions into and out of the curve.
  • Lay out the approach so it is as easy as possible to visualize your path using a minimum of marks on the ground.
  • The curved section of the approach should be just long enough to allow you to get stabilized in the curve before jumping.
Now, let's put together an approach that will meet all these criteria:

You want to cross the bar so the highest point of your jump coincides with the lowest point on the bar. If you have taken physics, you already know that highest point of your jump is the middle of your flight path.  You also know that once you are in the air, your path over the ground will be a straight line. So, your flight path across the ground should be a straight line from your takeoff point across the center of the bar to your landing point.

You don't want to put any extra effort into changing your horizontal direction during the takeoff, and you want a smooth transition from your curve to your flight path. So, the curve should end at your takeoff point, and your flight path should be tangent to your curve at the takeoff point.

Your transition into the curve should be smooth as well. So, your initial straight run should be tangent to your curve at the intercept point (where your curve starts).

You can meet the last two criteria by making your straight run at a right angle to the line formed by the bar. This allows you to make your initial run an angle that is relatively easy to visualize. It also gives you a comfortable running distance in the curve.

With the exception of the angle of the initial run to the bar, I have purposely avoided assigning any dimensions to the approach.  The page entitled Your Approach deals with the dimensions of your personal approach. The page entitled Running It describes how to run the approach.

The High Jump Coach 2010TM software is based on the concepts above and enables you create personalized approaches for yourself or for all the jumpers you are coaching. It is important to note that the approach path described here is the path your CM (center of mass) follows during the approach. The path your feet follow as they strike the ground during your approach is slightly different (see Running it!)