The Horizontal Jumps Approach Run and Maximum Velocity

NOTE: I spent most of my early days in Athletics as a Long jumper and Triple jumper.

PREAMBLE: We all agree younger and non-elite sprinters reach their maximum velocity much earlier than elite sprinters.  As well, females reach their top speed sooner than males.  What used to be the gold standard distance of 60m for maximum velocity is now 65 or 70m with Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay.  They are holding their acceleration longer, thus running faster times.

How does this apply to the approach run in the horizontal jumps?  Mainly, the Long Jump and Triple Jump?  I’ll leave out Pole Vault since I’ve never done it nor coached it.  Along with the 1500m, this is the main reason why I never considered the decathlon.  If you need to coach multiple events in Track and Field, refer to the Track and Field Omnibook.

Logic will prevail… the faster the athlete, the longer the approach run and the increased number of strides to the take off board.  The Indoor Triple Jump, with the take off board 12 or 14 meters from the pit, can be a challenge as you may run out of real estate and end up on the track oval to start your approach run.

Primary Objectives of the Approach Run

Some primary objectives of the approach run:

  1. FAST and CONTROLLED as possible to translate the horizontal speed to vertical speed (i.e height off the board).  The Long Jump is simply a ~35 meter sprint with the high jump at the end!
  2. PROPER positioning at takeoff which means upright position for the last 4 or 6 strides.
  3. Obtaining rhythm, tempo, faster and longer strides as you approach the board

How Many Strides to the Board?

There are countless charts out there, but I recommend using them as a guideline.  Whatever feels right for the athlete in maintaining control, stability and rotation is also important (more on that later).  The coach’s eye is also a good resource to determine the runway distance.

  • 10.00 100m PB = 22 strides
  • 11.00 100m PB = 20 strides
  • 12.00 100m PB = 16 strides
  • 13.00 100m PB = 12 strides

Starting the Approach plus Checkmarks

The 1st checkmark is your starting point.  There are two variations: a crouch “rock back” start or “walk 4 steps” then run.  Again, rhythm and tempo is important throughout the approach run.

The 2nd checkmark is usually 4 steps from the board, and often called the coaches mark.  Some coaches use 6 steps.   This is the point where the athlete must make spatial adjustments due to variables like the wind.  Elite athletes have the innate ability to make adjustments to hit the board properly.   Even the best jumpers in the world foul a large percentage of the time.

The Approach Run (and Penultimate Step)

How much focus should be on the approach run?  Along with strength, power, and speed workouts (Olympic lifts, weight training, and plyometrics)?   If you study physics, you can only jump farther by (1) running faster and (2) getting height off the board.  Experts have calculated Usain Bolt could have jump 9.46 meters!

I like to break up the approach run in 3 parts:

  1. The Drive phase, which is about 6-8 steps in the Long and Triple Jump.  The purpose is obvious but the key is momentum.  It’s also about the distribution on energy throughout the approach run.
  2. Acceleration or continuation phase.  Primary goal is to be in an upright position plus get to maximum velocity.  The number of strides will vary depending on the jumper.
  3. Transition phase, including penultimate stride and take-off.  These are the last 4 (or 6) steps, where you have your 2nd checkmark.  This is the phase where the most error occurs, primarily due to spatial adjustments or steering  to hit the take-off board.   You really have to practice being smooth during these last 4 strides.  Like the 400m, rhythm is important. 

    In the long jump, the penultimate step’s primary function is to lower your center of mass and maintain maximum velocity, but also control your rotation and maintain stability, especially at 12m/s!  You have to sacrifice some speed for control and stability!  This is where Marion Jones could have dominated the long jump as she was a classic over-rotator (among other things!)

Looking at the Board

Should you look at the board?

This is an area of controversy.  Some like to take a peek, but often leads to overreaching or chopping the last stride.

The biggest room for error lies in the athlete “reaching” or “chopping” for the board.  It is a natural (and highly skilled) technique to use spatial judgment in the last 4 strides to “look” or “peek” at the board prior to takeoff.  The problem is if the athlete fouls by 4 inches (10cm), then often the athlete moves back the approach run and checkmarks by 4 inches.  If the athlete is reaching or over-striding on that last few steps, they will most likely foul again.

Once in the air, there is nothing you can do (unless you have wings) and the goal is to control rotation and get in a better landing position.  I discussed this in a previous article on hang or hitchkick.

Famous Gabrielle Szabo – Amoah Prah Collision

Check out this video on YouTube.

A couple of lessons:

  1. Note how the jumper has his head down in the drive phase and early acceleration phase of his approach run.  He is not even looking straight ahead (obviously!)
  2. To fans and athletes NOT competing in the long or triple jump:  please, watch where you are going.  Especially the runway.  You wouldn’t walk on the NASCAR or Formula One runway, would you?


  • I say either look at the board or don’t look at it. Taking a peek at the last minute will cause problems. Just the same as lifting the eyes or tilting the head backwards will reduce your ability attain max vertical velocity.

    I also think the slower you accelerate the longer your approach should be.

    The biggest thing that people miss out on is the stride gets longer and faster as you get closer. Most athlete will shorten the stride to increase turnover or slow down leg speed.

    Just because you hit the board does not mean you are on the board properly to maximize the take-off.

    The best penultimate phase has the least amount of energy leakage when the hips are lowered.

    A lot of athletes lower the hips twice, the second one consumes an enormous amount of energy. Just as a lot of high jumpers lower the hips twice and wonder why they can get over low heights but not high ones.

  • I wonder what Bolt could do as a Decathlete. Javelin and Pole Vault probably will be a problem. Regarding Gabriela Szabo: I cannot see any reason why there shouldn’t be Officials there on the ground to supervise the Athletes’ movements:it is for everybody’s safety and security. It is not difficult to keep eye on people.