Genetics + Strength/Fitness + Technique = Performance
At Apex for years now we have always discussed the above equation. If you want a particular performance in the pole vault you need to plug in three variables: genetics, strength/fitness, and technique. Now a great discussion could be which of these three variables is the most important, but that’s a discussion for another day. Instead lets look at the influence each of these variables has on one’s performance.
Well, lets face it, if you’re like Rudy Ruettiger “five foot nothing, a hundred and nothing” and you don’t possess a single fast twitch muscle fiber, vaulting will be tough. You can’t expect world record numbers with that starting line. So everyone has to look at what his or her starting point is and realize there are some limitations.
That being said, I have seen people who at first glance don’t seem special at all produce some amazing numbers once they begin training. Training allows people’s genetics to display themselves. So without the training being put in you won’t necessarily know what your genetic potential is.
Now there are those in the pole vault/track community that do not believe in anything more than body weights and box jumps. And although there are many great body weight exercises and box jumps are important, a serious weight program is essential to creating a better athlete. Once an athlete learns his or her sport and learns how to run there is only one other way to get faster, get stronger. Sprinting speed, which is a huge determining factor in one’s pole vault potential, is composed of stride frequency times stride length. How do you create a larger stride length? Increase the force you can apply to the ground. How do increase your ability to create force? I’ll tell you what, not with body weight exercises. You must increase strength—squats and deadlifts are a must.
How do you increase your ability to have a more efficient jump? The lat muscle is largely responsible for accelerating your swing, which will lead to a greater push off. Therefore, you need to increase your lat strength. High repetitions of pull ups and gymnastics will only help you so much. Maximal Effort pull ups with weight are very important. Add weight to your pull ups for lower reps.
One last comment on fitness, no other event in track and field is worse with fitness than the pole vault. I have seen countless pole vaulters at the collegiate level that take months off from fitness, never mind pole-vaulitng. These athletes start off the year far off from their lifetime best and play catch up the rest of the year.
So lets say you were born gifted and you train like a maniac. That means little if you have no skill in your sport, and in the pole vault skill is very important. How many times have you seen some high school boy out there gripping 14’6” and they only jump 15’. If the athlete’s skill and technique were better they could have a more efficient jump and get a lot more out of their genetics and training. A good place to start to figure out whether or not your jump is efficient is to take a look at DJ’s mid chart. David F. Johnston, coach of 1984 Olympic Silver medalist Mike Tully, developed a mid mark chart that includes hand grip and the corresponding bar height you should be able to clear. If you aren’t matching the chart then you clearly need to work on your technique, otherwise you are not maximizing your athletic potential. As an example that boy that grips 14’6” should be able to clear 16’ according to DJ’s chart.
As you can see all three components: