By Robert Marchetti, Assistant Track Coach at Rider University
When extreme runners (Xtreme) run or cycle down mountains, over rocks and other objects, they must view the ground ahead. They must know where to get a solid foot plant, to gingerly step, or where they should avoid stepping. This is true of any activity one does where they are using human locomotion. They must see where their footing will be, or see where to turn, or step up/down.
Likewise, a horizontal jumper must see the board on the way down the runway, to hone in on it, to be aware of it.
Dr James Hay did a multitude of studies on this visual tracking skill. In a study from 1988 it was shown that most horizontal jumpers on the highest levels make a stride length adjustment between 5 to 6 steps out from the takeoff board . This visual adjustment is known in track lingo as “steering” or “visual control strategy“.
After the initial drive phase of the approach run, and once upright — somewhere around midway down the runway — the jumper can locate the board, and should watch it with the eyes only – not lowering the head — from that point until the last two steps. From that point on, the position of the head being held up causes them to see the board via peripheral vision below during the penultimate and plant. It is during this upright acceleration that the athlete is steering or guiding themselves to be “on step” with the board.
The problem with coaching athletes to NOT look at the board on the way down the runway is that, at the last second, they end up peeking at it and many times lowering the head to find it. As coaches, we want the opposite – watching it with the eyes til the last two steps and then looking out into the pit during the plant stage. By that point, the jumper is aware of where the board is, and can use peripheral vision to plant the foot onto it.
The required stride pattern adjustment is very slight during the second half of the approach if done correctly. Big adjustments in step pattern (huge over-strides, or stutters) mean the approach is measured wrong and needs to be adjusted greatly. But minimum deviations are necessary for any given approach based on factors such as a headwind, cross breeze, tail-wind, different varieties of drive phase performance, fatigue, and emotional state.
Even in the world record long jump by Mike Powell, one will notice a step adjustment approximately 5 steps out from the board, followed by a re-engagement in acceleration toward the board on the last 4 strides .
Since no two approaches are exactly the same, steering is usually necessary, which this means a slight difference between each, but not a vast one. Slight differences, however, still require a steering skill.
Finally, if step deviations are made between 4 to 6 steps away from the plant, the benefit of this effort is that the last two steps are not disturbed. But if the adjustments are made in the last two steps, the take-off quality is compromised greatly.
So to review, it is recommended an athlete must start to see the board at least halfway down the runway to get the natural steering process underway.
- Hay, James, Approach Strategies in the Long Jump, International Journal of Sport Biomechanics, 4 (2): 114-129, 1988
- Video of Mike Powell’s world record jump available for viewing on youtube.com