Technical Series – Horizontal Jumps: The Approach Run


To the untrained eye it may appear that horizontal jumpers simply run and jump into the sand. During the early stages of development this may be true, but in order to reach an elite standard, a level of technical mastery needs to be achieved. Over the course of the next few articles I will discuss my philosophies on the complex technical aspects of both the long and the triple jump.

The technical components of the horizontal jumps may be broken down into four main categories;

  1. The Approach Run
  2. The Takeoff
  3. The Flight OR Phases for Triple Jump
  4. The Landing

Each of these categories is complex and can be broken down further for more detailed explanation. During this first article I will discuss important aspects of the approach run.

The Approach Run

The goal of the approach run is for the athlete to reach optimal takeoff speed and position just as he/she reaches the takeoff board. For this to be achieved, a consistent and effective approach rhythm needs to be developed and practiced hundreds of times during the course of the training year.

This aspect of technical development is one of the most important when developing a horizontal jumper. Without an efficient approach run it is impossible to achieve consistent and optimal takeoff technique.

An effective approach run should:

  • Be consistent – An effective approach must be practiced the same way every time. This is especially true of the start of the approach. The majority of inconsistencies and errors occur during the early stages of the run. The rhythm and feel of the approach must become second nature to the athlete.
  • Use a check mark for the second or third stride – This is important because fouling issues are related in large part to error during the first 3-6 strides. By hitting the same marks every time during the third to sixth step the athlete is able to control this section of the approach.
  • Use the same number of running strides every time – Only when the athlete improves jump distance and sprinting speed should the approach distance be extended and only then if it is for the betterment of the jump.
  • Generally use 16–24 strides depending on level and speed of the athlete – The best long jumpers in the world who are often the fastest, generally use 20–24 strides. A world class long jumper who relies on vertical height more than horizontal speed may use 18 strides. Triple jumpers tend to rely less on speed and therefore often have shorter approaches. 16-20 strides is normal. Lesser jumpers should take note of this. Too often a 20-foot high school jumper has a 20-stride approach. An approach run can hurt you just as much as it can help.
  • Reach optimal takeoff speed roughly 5 meters from the board – Only during the final 5m should the athlete maintain speed. Until this point he/she should be gradually increasing horizontal velocity. During the final 5m the jumper begins to prepare for takeoff and ideally be increasing speed through takeoff.
  • Be extremely active vertically with faster cadence during the final 2 strides – During the final 2 strides the athlete is preparing for vertical lift. This is as much of an action of the body as a feeling within it. Extra vertical impulse of the running strides during this section of the approach helps maintain a tall posture with extra bounce in each stride. Achieving height at takeoff is much easier when this happens.

Three main approach styles:

  • A gradual and relaxed acceleration pattern – This is my ideal approach style. The goal of this approach run is the speed, posture, rhythm, and feeling at the end of the approach. The jumper uses a gradual but precise acceleration pattern which leads him/her to an optimal takeoff speed. When performed correctly I believe this approach to be the best for the horizontal jumps. If you view Carl Lewis, Sebastian Bayer and Dwight Phillips during the personal best jumps of over 28 feet you see the approach style I am describing.
  • Accelerate hard – Relax and open up the stride – Accelerate and increase frequency – This approach style is common among Russian and Cuban jumpers. It is as the title describes and other than for personal preference I do not see a great deal of benefit in this style.
  • The all out sprint – This style is not overly common among elite jumpers. However, there are a few who do it and who have done in the past with great success. Jonathan Edwards would be the most famous of them. As long as the early acceleration can be consistently replicated or the jumper is excellent at visual guidance to the board this approach can be successful. A major key to this style however is the transition to top speed and the running action over the final 10 meters of the approach. In all approach styles the final 5m should be similar with the same goals in mind.

The final two strides during the Long Jump Approach:

  • The penultimate stride is longest and extremely aggressive – In order to minimize the loss of speed caused by the need for accuracy over the final stride it is important that the penultimate stride is actively pushed upwards and onto the takeoff action. This is performed with a flat foot contact on the ground.
  • The penultimate stride leg is recovered as fast as possible into an upward and forward driving motion known as the free leg swing or knee drive – The free leg plays a large role in achieving vertical lift at takeoff. It is also key in initiating a balanced takeoff action, which is vital for an effective flight and landing phase. The free leg should remain vertical and straight while driving upwards and out towards the pit. The knee should not be raised above parallel before the takeoff foot has left the board.
  • Upon the forward push of the penultimate stride leg onto the takeoff stride, the hips are lowered and immediately raised as the takeoff foot strikes the board – Commonly known as gathering, this action is often performed incorrectly. Premature gathering or lowing of the hips will result in speed loss which is detrimental to the jump. If the hips are lowered too much it will also result in posture which will not favor the takeoff action. The correct gathering action is very subtle and not always visible in real speed. The most important aspect of gathering is the rise of the hips onto the takeoff action. This again aids vertical lift.

The final two strides during the Triple Jump Approach:

  • Continue tall running through the board – The initial takeoff for the hop phase of the triple jump is far different than the long jump takeoff. The hop needs to be a low skimming action across the track. Therefore, gathering and planting the takeoff foot ahead of the hip is not required. I like a natural running motion with big rangy strides. Single arm triple jumpers will continue the normal running action. Double arm jumpers will begin to cross their arms and pull them back during the penultimate stride.
  • Increased downward force during the “run off” – The jumper will run off the board with the final foot strike planted with a flat foot in a forceful and solid manner. Free leg will drive directly forward with no extra vertical lift being aimed for. Double arm jumpers will aggressively drive the arms forward timed perfectly with the free leg action. Article 2 will discuss the takeoff is far more detail.