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How to use drills during a Pole Vault Practice

What should a Vault practice look like? How do you incorporate drills?

When coaching the vault we have to take into account the seven phases (Pole Carry, Run, Plant, Take Off, Swing, Turn, and Push Off) and how we will teach them. All too often it is very common to just have vaulters start off practices with some jogging and get on the runway. And once on the runway a few three or four left vaults, maybe 2-3 are take off only, and then back to a longer run and full vaults for the rest of practice. In this situation it is very difficult to teach, coach, and progress all the phases. Practice ends up just becoming a game of how high can we raise the grip and what’s the biggest pole we can get on. And although this is a good practice for long run days mixed in through a season periodically, it will create plateaus in training and burnout. Instead coaches need to program their practices with drills and progressions that address each phase separately, as well as mixing in short run, drill only, and long run practice sessions.

So what should practice look like? How should we program drills into practices in the context of a single practice, in a week, and month? Well for starters lets address the warm up. If all your athletes do is some jogging, skipping, and static stretching and then get on the runway you are missing out on an opportunity to address the phases of the vault off the runway. At Apex we have our athletes do a deliberate hip walk and jog to warm up focusing on opening up their stride, skip then stretch. Once that is done we do four running drills to work on the four phases of sprinting (lifting the knee up (B skips), getting the foot down (straight leg), pushing off the ground (bounding), and recovery(high knee but kicks). That is how we address the run. Then we do one and two arm pole drops where we address the carry position and the plant. The next phase we address is take off and teach the athletes how to move the pole and get their body high up off the ground with roll overs. Then we do pole runs with and without a jump. Pole runs are a great way to combine the running, carry and plant phases and start to put them together off the runway. We do 3 every single practice. Finally warm ups are finished off with a 4 step jumping drill without the pole to work on the take off. This warm up can be done very effectively and efficiently with 10 athletes and one coach in a half hour once athletes learn the routine. The first time through might take 45 minutes to an hour.

Now before we can begin to address what a single practice will look like we have to split practices into three different categories: small (drill only days), medium, and big days. During small days you want to do drills only from 1, 2, and 3 lefts. You can end the practice with full jumps from a 3 to see If the athlete can apply the skills that were worked on during the drills. Medium days start off with drills from 2 or 3 lefts and you can go back to a 4, 5, or 6 left approach depending on what an athlete’s longest approach is. If someone’s longest approach is a 5 you should do a 4, 6 or 7 do a 5, 8 or 9 a 6 or 7 will do. A long run day should start with 3 or 4 left drills or full jumps and then go back to a longer run. At Apex it is rare that we actually practice someone’s competition run. We usually keep it one left below the full run so we can get more jumps in, and just adjust at the meet. This will be another article so we can discuss this at length.

Now what does a Small day (drill practice) look like? What drills can you do? There are almost endless combinations. You can divide drills into take off, swing, and turn drills and the can be done for distance where the athletes try and land as deep as they can into the pit instead of going for height. These drills are less physically demanding and allow athletes to learn how to take of swing and turn much more easily. These drills can be done from 1, 2, and 3 lefts. One left drills should be done with an overhead carry, from a 2 you can do a low carry, and at three you can do a high carry, but you can do an overhead carry from 2 and 3 lefts, and from a three you can pick between the three carry options; overhead, low carry, or high carry. Now to make sure that the drills will be done for distance make sure that the athlete has a grip that they can easily move with great pole speed. You can then start to raise the grip to create a full jump to have them apply the skills that you drilled in a full jump. Now another variable to think about is pole speed and the impact on height. Between drills done for distance (horizontally) and full jumps (jumps done for height/vertically) you have a spectrum of angles and pole speed. As an example you can have athletes do sing drills for distance, or swing up and reach their feat up for a bungee. I always recommend working on a drill that addresses a skill that the athlete is deficient in. SO as an example, if the athlete is having difficulty with the swing you might want to do some variation of a swing drill. You might even go through two or three drill variations and then go back a left and apply it to a full jump. On drill days we don’t spend much time on the full jump. You might end the last 15-20 minutes of practice with full jumps. Sometimes less. Remember drill days are about learning a skill. That is best done through drills, not full jumps.

On medium days at Apex we like to do a few drills from usually a 2 or 3 left approach, and about midway through the jump session go back to 4, 5, or 6 lefts and apply the drill to a full jump from those approaches. The drill you choose on a medium day should be a drill that the athlete did on their drill day that they still need to work on and can remind them of what was worked on during their previous drill session. After allow them to apply the drill to a full jump at their medium approach.

And finally on big days we go to a longer approach. Typically we start the practice from 3 lefts with a drill. Towards the later part of a season though we might even do full jumps from a 3 then go back. Now depending on the athlete, time of season and how often they have done an approach we might skip back to a 5, 6, or 7. Some athletes however you might have to do a mid approach for 2 or 3 jumps and then go back to the full approach. As an example an athlete might start practice off with 2-4 take off drills from 3 lefts, then do 2-3 5 left full jumps, and then go back to 7 for the rest of practice. Also we always approach doing a long run like warming up in the weight room. Start with an easy grip, pole, and step, and then work your way up.

Now when looking at a season you always want to start things off closer on the runway on all three types of practice and also doing drills for distance. As the season progresses the approaches should get longer and the drills should progressively go more for height. You also want to keep working a drill to address a skill, and once the athlete show enough mastery then move on to the next phase. As an example if you have been working on swing for distance, and now the athlete has moved on to swing up and reaching for a bungee and they look like they have enough understanding for swing you can move on to turning drills. Also, by incorporating drills and the three types of practice days you will give your athletes more indicators for progress than just grip height and pole stiffness. Also as a coach you will start to discover which drills are actually helping your athletes bust through plateaus and continue making progress and when to apply said drills.

As always if you need help with anything pole vault related please feel free to reach out at


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