The long jump appears to be one of the simplest of all athletics events – you run fast and you jump. However, the event is a difficult one to get really good at and a lot more technical than many initially think.
Elite Coach and author John Shepherd explains how to achieve the perfect Long Jump takeoff.
How do I take off?
In many ways, it is a simple event to get started with and many young athletes show their ability and potential the moment they run down the run-up and launch themselves into the sand. The technical aspects of the horizontal jumps are no more apparent than in the movements required of the take-off.
Elite male athletes such as Greg Rutherford approach the take-off board at speeds near to 11 metres a second. At the point of contact with the board, they will have around 0.13 seconds to impart force, gain lift and transfer speed into the distance. Many times coaches will hear athletes say in various forms: “I can’t take-off from the speed I’m going at” or “I need to get more height”. Both of these key concerns can be overcome by learning how to actually take-off. Although it’s beyond the scope of this article, this goal will be achieved by specific training plans that develop the physical and neuromuscular abilities needed for the take-off.
Let’s define the take-off…
The take-off is not just what happens when the jumper’s foot hits the board, it’s actually set-up on the second to last stride out from the board (this is a little known aspect of the long take-off). So for the purposes of this article, the take-off comprises of the last two steps (penultimate & take-off).
The penultimate step
The jumper should approach the board with relatively high hips and knees (see getting a great run-up for the long jump proposed further article). Their sprinting prior to the second last stride and through the acceleration and alignment and then attack phase of the run-up will be made with forefoot contacts with the feet in a dorsiflexed (toes up) position (see sprinting speed for long jump). However, on the penultimate stride, the jumper should position their heel onto the track surface to make the step flat-footed. In doing so they must only slightly drop their hip height – a couple of centimetres will suffice – any lower and there will be a significant loss of speed through the take-off. It’s crucial to maintain as much speed as possible to maximise take-off velocity.
Why does the jumper go flat-footed on the penultimate stride?
The flat-foot step will slightly alter the movement of the jumper’s hips which will move forward quicker “under” the jumper. The take-off foot will shoot through onto the board and when combined with the correct take-off stride movements (of which more later) will lead to the sensation that the jumper is being pulled from the board. The take-off will be set up in a way in which speed is optimised through into the take-off but so too is the ability to generate lift i.e. gain height. We say some lift as the long jump is not a “sprint with a high jump” at the end. Thinking about going vertical-ish at take-off (even if it were possible) would result in a huge loss of take-off velocity and a flight path that has the jumper returning to the ground far too early. The optimum take-off angle for the long jump is actually around 22 degrees.
Coaching tip: Place a mark on the run-up (I used a handful of sand, which I then flatten into a large “spot”) about two metres from the board. When running from a full run-up, the jumper’s penultimate step should be on or around this mark. I instruct the jumper to run to the penultimate and position flat-footed, they should automatically then step onto the board with good mechanics. Note: the two-metre mark should be adjusted to the age of the athlete and the length of the run-up and whether short approach jumps are being performed – as a general guide for younger athletes the mark can be placed around 1.60m – 1.80m from the board.
As a further learning point – don’t initially get too caught up on board accuracy when coaching i.e. no jumps. Get the jumper confident at coming in fast into the take-off, setting up the penultimate step and then completing the take-off. I’ve found that working regularly on the penultimate will, in any case, result in board accuracy improvements.
The take-off stride
After the correct positioning of the penultimate stride, as described, the jumper should feel that their hips move very quickly into the take-off step. The foot should again be cued flat-footed on the board (Note: it will invariably strike the board slightly heel first, but I’ve found if you say “heel first” then the jumper will really strike heel first which will reduce velocity across the board, due to more time being spent on it.)
Before the foot strikes the board i.e. after leaving the ground on the penultimate and just as the take-off foot hits the board, the non-take-off leg (the “free” leg) should be swung vigorously forwards and up into the jump. It’s crucial that the free leg’s hip extends away from the athlete and does not just lift vertically – making this movement will increase take-off speed (or in reality due to the loss of speed onboard contact minimise it). The take-off leg should fully extend as the jumper leaves the board.
The jumper’s torso should be upright, with chest, neck and head held tall. A good coaching cue is to instruct the jumper to be “as tall as possible at take-off”. They should direct their gaze straight ahead.
In terms of arm action, the front arm’s hand should block at eye-level. There should be a 90-degree angle at the elbow and the forearm should be away from the chest and not rotated inward (or outward) to the jumper. The rear upper arm at the point of take-off should be parallel or near parallel to the run-up. By blocking the movement of the front arm around eye-level a reaction will be created which can contribute to the drive through the take-off foot from the board.
The take-off position as described should be maintained for a split second after leaving the board before the jumper begins their specific mid-air actions, whether this be a hang, a hitch-kick or a stride jump (see mid-air long jump actions).