Leap of Faith
Jamie French and Dr Matt Long break down the phases of the long jump into bite-size chunks.
The Long Jump is often a flat-out sprint followed by a high jump (Longden 1980), though current thinking is not quite as straightforward. Approach too fast, and the athlete struggles to transfer forward motion into lift off the board. Therefore, the approach is a series of compromises, dictated primarily by the athlete's strength (and hence ability to transfer horizontal speed into vertical speed) and capacity to effect technique in shorter periods.
To assist in the development of vertical lift, some athletes lengthen the penultimate stride, sinking the hips and thus facilitating the shortening of their final stride by 25cm compared to their normal running stride. Although the hip sink should not be overemphasised in athletes, it will lead to a stretch-shorten cycle that can increase power production in the triple extension at take-off.
The take-off foot hits the board marginally ahead of the athlete's hips (the further forward, the higher the take-off angle, but the more significant the braking effect) while the last two-foot contacts with flatter feet. As well as a flat foot (to avoid braking) at take-off, the foot is 'active' and characterised by a downwards and backward motion causing ground reaction upwards and forwards.
The horizontal lift is affected by the triple extension of the hip, knee, and ankle and to the upward acceleration of both the arms and free leg. According to Linthorne et al. (2005), the optimum take-off angle for an elite jumper varies depending upon the style of jump and gender but is within the range of 18-25%.
There are three main styles of jumping (or variations thereof), all designed to control forward rotation and positioning of the centre of gravity while in flight. These are the: Stride Jump, Hang-Style, and Hitch Kick.
The first two styles involve the athlete lengthening their body, increasing the body levers, slowing down forward rotation. With the Hitch Kick, the free leg is straightened following take-off and then swung back and down with the take-off leg folding up beneath the hips and coming forward bent. This is repeated either one and a half or two and a half times with the lower body momentum counteracting the forward rotation of the upper body, subsequently slowing down overall body forward rotation. At this point, nothing can be done to increase optimum distance. Although body position will affect how the athlete lands, ultimately, the final optimum distance has already been dictated.
By keeping the head up, hips high, and maintaining a tall and thin posture at both take-off and, in the air, the athlete will be able to drive upward, avoid piking at the hips and thus can affect a soft, controlled landing, collapsing either to the side or through the initial mark in the sand (see world record holder Mike Powell cited in www.trackandfield.about.com).
The main points to remember in landing are to allow the horizontal and vertical momentum to dissipate safely into the sand while also remembering not to collapse backwards as the measured distance is taken from the mark made nearest the board.
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About the Authors
Jamie French and Dr Matt Long work for British Athletics in coach education. The assistance of national coach mentor John Crotty and Selina Norris is acknowledged.