Click here to subscribe to and support this site

Pole Vaulting: Teaching it Right

by Buzz Andrews

arrw_l3.gif (1185 bytes) back to Coaches' Corner main page

Pole vaulting is a step by step process that must be learned correctly from the beginning.  I have seen too many bad habits formed early that are almost impossible to correct.  So, I am putting this article together for other coaches to use as a guide for teaching the pole vault correctly from the beginning. 

Let me say now that I have seen a million hours of pole vaulting and no two vaulters jump the same, so remember that when you are watching film of world class vaulters, they may or may not look like the athlete you are coaching.  Take in to consideration height, speed, and strength of the athlete when making your coaching decisions.  The following 3 steps must happen before any vaulter can vault above his or her handhold.  Let’s get started. 

Step one: Hit your takeoff mark consistently 

If the vaulter can't hit their takeoff mark with consistently they can't vault. The takeoff foot should be just inside the back hand at takeoff.  I refer to the hands as back (top) and front (bottom) because I have a left handed vaulter to coach.  The first thing to do is practice the run.  The main idea is for their last three steps to be the fastest and quickest.  You need to see the athlete gain speed through the end of the run and not slow down at the plant. 

The run is not over when the athlete hits his takeoff mark.  They must run through the last step and long jump into the pit in order to have a good swing and bend larger poles.  This is done by leading with the lead foot, holding the toe upward and keeping the thigh  parallel with the runway. 


  • Pole buildup runs of 24 strides grouped in sets of 3's (counting the takeoff foot only 12-9-6-3-Plant)  12 being the slowest and 3-plant being the fastest.

  • Hitting the fourth step mark (go mark).  Have the athlete establish a fourth step mark to hit each time and practice hitting it with accuracy.

  • Pole carry drill.  Make sure the athlete is carrying the pole with his back hand beside his hip and not behind his body.

Step two: Plant the pole correctly

The objective is to bend the pole past 90 degrees (top of pole must be at least horizontal with the runway with both hands at least level with the runway while you are still on the ground.)  The longer the pole the easier this becomes so don’t expect this too soon especially with short poles.

The jumper must let the pole do most of the work, so bend it and let it throw you over the bar. The bigger the pole the more throw you will get at the top. The ideal position of the hands at your plant should have their front hand higher than their back hand.  This can only be accomplished when they bend the pole over 90 degrees.

Text Box:  So how is this done?

First of all, they must have their front hand above their head in the 12 noon position and their back hand in the 2:00 position at takeoff.  To do this they do not push out with the front hand.  They simply keep the pole away from them as they run under the pole while planting.  The vaulter’s forward momentum will force the body forward as the pole hits the box.  The trick here is to keep the body upright (with the head and chest in a vertical alignment)  and not let the hips swing forward at this point and get into a horizontal position too fast which will kill their swing later.

How is this done?

They must drive their lead knee (holding the toe up so it won’t drop downward at takeoff) toward the pit while keeping the takeoff leg dragging and straight with that toe pointed down  Holding the takeoff leg back will stop the hips from flying upward and will aid the swing/ rockback momentum later and allow the jumper to penetrate much deeper into the pit.

Head position at this point should have the eyes focused on the box and then look slightly under the front hand throughout the swing.  Do not throw the head back to get upside down.  Getting upside down is accomplished by swinging the takeoff leg straight until the body gets almost horizontal with the runway.  Keeping the body straight and not bending at the waist too soon is very hard to do correctly.  Coaching point:  Look for the head and chest to be lined up directly below the front hand in a straight line downward.


Beginner:  One step plant.  Stand behind the vaulter at the box and have them take one step back.  Athlete will stand with both feet together.  A right handed vaulter will take a step with their left foot and throw their right knee up and hold it in the air as they jump off their left foot into the air. Place your hands under their shoulder blades and on the count of three have them long jump into the pit.  You will move forward with them and let them back down gently to the runway where they started.  You will use a soft pole that they can bend easy for this drill.  This shows the beginner just how to run under the front hand. And what a pole bend feels like.  Note: Do not push the athlete at the waist ( this will cause the athlete’s hips to fly forward which is exactly what you do not want to happen in this drill.

One step vault.  Set up the same way as the one step plant but the coach stands at the back of the box in front of the athlete and pulls the athlete into the pit by pulling the pole forward into the pit.  So the coach is bending the pole for the athlete.  They are just hanging on with their feet in the proper position and they land in the pit as the coach pulls hard on the pole on their feet.  This gives them the sensation of the bend while vaulting.  Don't let them hold too high.  Try to have a spotter behind pushing on their shoulders.

Intermediate: Short run plants.  Have the jumper use a short run of 6 to 8 strides and plant a soft pole and try to get the pole to bend over 90 degrees.  Focus on the legs being in the proper position and the front hand higher than the back hand.  Ride the pole into the pit and don't try to rock  back at all land on your feet. This should be done with a soft pole so it is not very stressful for the vaulter to jump 25 - 40 times.

Vaulter:  Full runs with just a plant on a challenging pole.  Try to get it to bend over 90 degrees.

Step 3:  Get inverted (upside down)

The vaulter must get the hips above their shoulders in order to clear their top hand hold.  Notice I said hips not feet.   A couple of things have to be done to allow this to happen.  The momentum of the takeoff leg swing must continue until your shin reaches the top hand.  Your front arm must flex inward to allow the body to rotate back to the runway side of the vault.  They can not keep pushing with the front arm and rock back.  If they do this, they are simply pushing against the rockback action.  Both feet must be in the 1:00 position on top of the pole.  At this point you are rocked back. 

Text Box:  If the vaulter finds themselves in a V position with the feet up by their top hand and the hips below the shoulders,  they have bent at the waist too soon and moved their pivot point from their shoulders to their waist.  Doing this will absolutely stop the rockback and leave the hips low when they try to get off the pole.  This makes it impossible to invert upward and will always result in a flat flyaway from the pole and a premature dropping of the feet over the bar.

The vaulter wants to get as close to the pole while upside down as possible before they turn toward the bar.  Imagine a two foot hoop attached at the top of the pole and they are trying to get their hips through that hoop before clearing the bar.

They should keep their back to the bar as long as they can.  Do not rush the vault.  Turning too quickly will result in their feet dropping and not clearing the bar. 


Text Box:  Pop up.  Stand the pole straight up and  have them reach as high as they can on it.  Use this spot as  the bottom hand hold.  Then back them up about 20-30 feet and jog into the plant.  Do not ask them to plant hard… they are stiff poling.  Make sure their front arm elbow is on the vaulter side of the pole (right side for a right-hander).  Swing upside down until the lead knee is on the runwway side of the pole and the trail leg is at the top of the pole.  In this position they are fully rocked back.

If they do this correctly this will happen just as the pole is straight up. The key is to be in this position just as the pole is vertical.  Hold this position and land in the pit on their back with their feet toward the back of the pit and  head toward the runway.

Pop up and turn.  Same as pop up but turn as they are coming down and land on the belly in the pit looking back down the runway.

Short Run rock backs.  Use weak pole and short run (4 - 8 strides)  Do not have a strong plant for this drill.  Flex in quickly with the front arm (Coach make sure the elbow is on the vaulter’s side of the pole- right side for a right hander) and try to put the hips through an imaginary hoop at the top of the pole.  The key here is the athlete can do a bunch of these as opposed to full runs.  Also they are not worried about steps or bending a big pole or clearing a height. They are only focusing upon getting  the hips above the shoulders and through the hoop.

Kicking the bar off.  Put the bungee or bar up to a height just above what they can reach with their feet on whatever pole they are on.  Move the standards forward to the runway side.  This will make the vaulter shoot his feet through the hoop.  This isolates the drill to one objective….getting the hips up….Example:  Have a 12’0” vaulter kick off 14’0 with his feet.

Ok,  now…certainly this is not everything one needs to know about the pole vault but if your vaulter’s will master these things they will become  quality vaulters.  These are just some thoughts of mine that I have picked up from other coaches and vaulters.

Ø       Clear your hand hold before you grip higher on the pole

Ø       Don’t ever throw your head back

Ø       The pit is there for you to land on make sure you do ( use correct pole, hand hold, plant etc.)

Ø       The most important part of the vault is the plant….be aggressive…  too late if you don’t

Ø       Have patience it will all come together with 1000 more reps

Ø       Oh yeah, girls can vault just like boys

You may wish to visit my Online Track Coach site at

Good Luck Vaulting!




Copyright © 2008 Phil Murray