This article is guest posted by Robert Marchetti of Rider University and organizer of the LinkedIn Track and Field Coaches Group with over 6000+ coaches.
I coach track and field as an Assistant Coach at Rider University, a small NCAA Division I school, in Lawrenceville, NJ. One of the events I coach is the triple jump.
A common challenge our freshman have when they arrive on campus each September for fall training is that they have a very short middle phase in the triple jump. The middle phase is otherwise known in track lexicon as a “step” phase (some call it a “skip”, as hop-skip-jump). These athletes have a very long first phase (the hop), a long last phase (the jump), but the middle phase (the step) is dramatically shorter. This is a major error.
A main cause of the error is that they have gotten into the habit of doing the TJ by performing 2 long jumps that book-end a middle phase which is nothing more than a running step. This happens when they try to jump too far on their first phase.
A solid triple jump is the result of a lower angle take-off through the board than the long jump, with the body moving further past the foot before release, and manifests in more evenly distributed jumps. Most world class long jumpers use around a 21-23 degree take-off angle (1). Triple jumpers should have a slightly lower take-off angle (2). So the first thing our athletes must learn is to not “long jump” on their first phase. Long jumpers can stop after one landing, while triple jumpers must land their phases in ways conducive to continuing onward.
If I have an athlete who’s personal best in long jump is 21 ft, and in the TJ he tries to jump 21 ft at the board, he is going to end up too high, and will crash down on the runway before his step phase, killing his momentum. The first phase affects the second.
Instead, he should aim to travel much less than 21 ft on the first phase — more like 15-16 feet — but not on account of running slower. He must still be moving toward the pit with great horizontal momentum after the hop landing — this is a requirement, as momentum is neccessary to keep going. After all, there is a reason jumpers run down a runway, and that is to have horizontal velocity to carry them through.
Conceptually I never tell athletes to think of the triple jump as three jumps. I tell them that only the last two phases are actually jumps. The first phase is not a jump, but rather, it is essentially running THROUGH the board with almost no height. It’s a sprint off the board, or it’s a long stride landing back on the same foot. The next two phases are actual jumps, or what I like to call them which is “bounds.”
Our strategy is: Run through the board first, then do 2 bounds as far as possible, then land in the pit.
For at a low trajectory on the first phase the triple jumper moves toward the sand pit, progressing along nicely through their phases down the runway.
Sometimes even with a better take-off angle through the board the jumper still has trouble taking off into the step phase. This is often caused by faulty postures.
Ideally the jumper’s torso should remain upright through the last steps of the aproach all the way through the phases. Leaning can cause negative shin angles, putting the knee joint into a weak position, with susceptibility to buckling, or as we call it “mushing out.” With upright posture a more suitable positive shin angle can occur, where at landing after the hop the lower leg is perpendicular to the ground or slightly tilted back.
At this point it should be mentioned that I believe it is a mistake to over-cue athletes to land with the foot under their center of mass during phases. For some this perceptually may be a good cue if they are chronic over-reachers, but in looking at the photo sequences of some of the world’s best triple jumpers, one will note that their foot tends to land slightly ahead of the body’s center of mass on touchdowns (2). They also plant their foot with a slight heel-first contact. Touchdowns that are ahead of the body are important as it permits time for the body to pass over the planted foot — allowing muscles of the leg to load up like a spring. In passing over the foot — from one side of it to the other side — the jumper has time to use their arm and knee drive, and they can push off to launch into their step.
Conversely, if the foot lands too close to the body, the athlete will tip over in a forward direction, start to collapse, and rush the takeoff to salvage themselves. This will also result in a short step phase.
One other solution to a short step phase is to switch the first foot. If in high school they took off from the board on their right foot, I switch it to the left. So… left-left-right, instead of right-right-left. I do this on account of motor skill interference with the long jump. My reasoning is as follows…
The long jump is an exacting event, and calls for more of a lowering on the penultimate step than the triple jump, to produce a slightly higher angle at take-off. Since athletes who also long jump are accustomed to this motion, sometimes it’s very difficult for them to lower subtly less — or eliminate lowering — since the long jump habit interferes with triple jump.
However, by using the other foot, the body has no pre-conditioned motor-skill program needing adjustment. Kids tend to run through the board better because they don’t know how to go higher off board from their other foot. I’ve had many athletes “PR” in a very short time by switching them, and letting them use the bounding skills they’ve learned in training for the step and jump.
Lastly, before we ever get on runways to practice the triple jump, we spend about 4 to 6 wks practicing plyometrics such as single leg hops, alternate bounds and soforth on grass to gain the skills needed to land properly during jump repetitions, and strengthen both legs. The athletes are taught to do all jumping exercises with heel first landings, with upright postural alignment, and to push off into the next bound when doing them in a sequence. We also train to improve our sprinting mechanics, and general conditioning to prevent injuries. Once these basic parameters are starting to show improvement, we can then start to rehearse hop to step transitions with short run-ins on grass using a cone for a take off spot, and then graduating to the runway a few weeks later.
Good luck and have a great season.
1. Penultimate and Takeoff Mechanics in the Long Jump by Tom Tellez
2. IAAF Biomechanics Report WC Berlin 2009 Triple Jump