Like all field events in track and field, the Long Jump is incredibly technical. Sure, the pros make it look easy, but when you break down each phase of the Jump, you get a much deeper appreciation of how challenging it can be.
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Below are the three phases of the Long Jump, along with a few drills athletes can practice to improve their performance.
1. The Approach
The approach has several components, including the drive, maximal velocity, preparation and takeoff. In the drive, you use your first six steps to accelerate in the Sprint. In the max-velocity phase, you reach your maximal velocity in the approach. In the preparation phase, you use your last 3-4 strides to transition to the takeoff position. In the takeoff, you maintain your horizontal velocity leading up to the penultimate step, or the step with which you leap from your board.
Athletes should spend time doing approach runs—i.e., the drive and max-velocity components of the approach. This drill helps jumpers find their starting point and determine the foot from which they will take off. Be sure to maintain a 45-degree angle in the first six steps, similar to a sprinter coming out of the blocks.
For the penultimate step, the Run-Run-Bound drill is perfect. On the runway, do 2-3 repeats over the course of 30-40 meters. Begin with a right-left-right jump sequence, followed by a left-right-left sequence. Maintain high knees in the bound and be sure to keep dorsiflexion in the ankles.
A good takeoff drill employs mini-hurdles to enforce the sequence of run-penultimate step-takeoff. Place the hurdles (about 6 inches high) 5 meters apart. Jumpers should emphasize high knees as they clear (or take off at) each hurdle.
2. The Flight
The flight portion of the Long Jump is exactly what its name implies. Once the jumper has taken off from the board, he or she continues to move forward in rise and fall fashion. During their time in the air, athletes need to focus on reducing their forward rotation. This can be done in one of two ways: the hang technique or the hitch-kick technique. In both methods, the arms are swung back, then forward, to stop unwanted rotation. (Side note: the hitch-kick method is the style most commonly used in high school track & field.)
Swinging arm action is a critical aspect of the flight, so it's best to practice it regularly. Grab a 4-inch box. Exercise short-distance run and jump takeoffs from the box. While in the air, practice driving the arm opposite of your takeoff leg down and back, extending it at the elbow then swinging it over and forward. The arm on the same side as your takeoff leg should also drive down on the approach but then block at the takeoff.
3. The Landing
The landing is heel-driven, followed by a chain reaction of the legs folding in until the butt meets the divots your heels make in the sand. This portion of the event can easily turn a good jump into a bad jump. Since measurements are taken from the board to the mark in the sand closest to the board, where your heels land won't matter if you stumble backward or place your hands behind the mark. That is why it's crucial for a long jumper's takeoff positioning to be on point.
An easy drill to practice sticking the landing is the Divot Drill. Begin by making a shallow divot in the pit. Use 2-3 steps to approach, then jump into the divot. The goal is to drive your heels through divot, bending at the knees and then bringing your butt down into the divot behind your heels. Beginners may want to try this drill from a standing position until they are more comfortable with the movement.
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