Pole Vault Stages: Approach Run, Plant, Drive, and Clearance

Pole Vault Stages: Approach Run, Plant, Drive, and Clearance

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on the stages of pole vaulting. If you are an aspiring pole vaulter or simply interested in understanding the mechanics of this exhilarating sport, you have come to the right place. In this article, we will delve into the four crucial stages of pole vaulting, namely the approach run, plant, drive, and clearance. By gaining a thorough understanding of each stage, you will be equipped with the knowledge to improve your technique and maximize your performance in pole vaulting competitions. So let’s begin our exploration of the key elements that make up a successful pole vault.

Approach Run

The importance of the approach run

The approach run in pole vault is a crucial element that sets the foundation for a successful jump. It is the initial phase where the vaulter builds momentum and sets themselves up for a powerful takeoff. The approach run determines the speed, timing, and positioning of the vaulter before the plant and drive phases.

A well-executed approach run allows the vaulter to carry maximum speed and energy into the subsequent stages of the pole vault. It is essential for generating the necessary kinetic energy to overcome the gravitational forces and clear the bar at higher heights.

Key elements of a successful approach run

  1. Rhythm and consistency: Maintaining a consistent rhythm during the approach run is vital for perfecting the technique. The vaulter should strive for a smooth and controlled stride pattern, ensuring each step is evenly spaced. This consistency helps in developing muscle memory and allows for better timing during the jump.

  2. Acceleration: Gradual acceleration throughout the approach run is essential to reach maximum speed at the takeoff point. The vaulter should focus on increasing their speed with each step, building up to a sprint towards the end of the approach run. Maintaining a controlled acceleration helps maintain balance and stability.

  3. Correct stride length and frequency: Finding the right balance between stride length and frequency is critical. Strides that are too long can lead to loss of control and balance, while strides that are too short may limit the potential speed. Vaulter should experiment and adjust their stride pattern to find the optimal combination that suits their individual abilities and comfort level.

  4. Visual cues: Utilizing visual cues can help the vaulter maintain a consistent approach run. Fixating on a specific point on the runway or using markers can aid in maintaining the desired stride length and frequency. By focusing on these visual cues, the vaulter can make precise adjustments during the run-up.

Common mistakes to avoid in the approach run

  1. Starting too fast: Beginning the approach run at full sprint right from the start can lead to loss of control and balance. It is crucial to gradually build up speed, allowing the vaulter to maintain control and make necessary adjustments if required.

  2. Inconsistent stride pattern: Lack of consistency in the stride pattern can disrupt the flow of the approach run. Varying step lengths or frequencies can lead to mistimed takeoffs and reduce the overall effectiveness of the jump. Vaulter must focus on maintaining a consistent stride pattern throughout the approach run.

  3. Overstriding or understriding: Stride length is a critical aspect of the approach run. Overstriding, or taking excessively long steps, can throw off balance and reduce speed. Conversely, understriding or taking short steps can limit the vaulter’s potential speed. Finding the right balance is essential to optimize the approach run.

  4. Lack of focus on visual cues: Neglecting visual cues can lead to inconsistency and imprecise adjustments during the approach run. By not fixating on a specific point or ignoring markers, the vaulter may lose track of their stride pattern, leading to a suboptimal jump.

By understanding the importance of the approach run, focusing on key elements, and avoiding common mistakes, pole vaulters can enhance their overall performance and increase their chances of successful clearances.


The role of the plant in pole vault

The plant is a crucial stage in the pole vault technique as it marks the moment when the vaulter plants the pole into the ground. This action initiates the transfer of energy from the vaulter’s approach run into the pole, allowing them to propel themselves upwards and over the bar. The plant phase determines the effectiveness and success of the entire vault, making it a critical aspect for pole vaulters to master.

Proper technique for the plant

Executing the plant with proper technique is vital to maximize the energy transfer and generate upward momentum. Here are some key elements to focus on during the plant phase:

  1. Foot Placement: The vaulter should aim to plant their takeoff foot (usually the left foot for right-handed vaulters) in a position that allows for a strong and stable base. This foot should be placed slightly behind the pole planting box, ensuring it is aligned with the intended direction of the vault.

  2. Pole Angle: As the pole is planted, the vaulter needs to maintain an optimal pole angle. The angle should be slightly forward, around 15 to 20 degrees, to ensure efficient energy absorption and transfer. A proper pole angle prevents the pole from getting stuck in the box and allows for a smooth transition into the drive phase.

  3. Arm and Hand Position: The vaulter’s top hand should be positioned high above their head, with the elbow extended. The bottom hand should be gripping the pole firmly but not excessively tight. Both hands should work in unison to guide and control the pole during the plant.

  4. Body Alignment: To achieve a powerful plant, the vaulter must maintain proper body alignment. This involves keeping the shoulders square and facing the direction of the vault, while the hips and chest remain tall and upright. Avoid leaning back or leaning too far forward during the plant.

Common errors in the plant phase

Mistakes in the plant phase can significantly impact the overall performance in pole vault. Here are some common errors to be aware of and avoid:

  1. Late Plant: A late plant occurs when the vaulter fails to plant the pole at the ideal moment, resulting in a loss of energy transfer. This can lead to a weaker drive and reduced height clearance.

  2. Early Plant: Conversely, an early plant happens when the vaulter plants the pole too soon, before reaching the optimal takeoff position. This can disrupt the rhythm and cause a loss of power in the vault.

  3. Incorrect Pole Angle: If the pole angle is too vertical or too horizontal during the plant, it can hinder the vaulter’s ability to generate the necessary energy and momentum. It is crucial to maintain the recommended pole angle for an effective plant.

  4. Weak Grip: Insufficient grip strength on the pole can result in a loss of control and stability during the plant. It is important to grip the pole firmly but without excessive tension to maintain control throughout the entire vault.

By understanding the role of the plant, mastering proper technique, and avoiding common errors, pole vaulters can enhance their performance and increase their chances of success in this exhilarating athletic event.


The drive phase is a critical stage in the pole vault event. It is the moment when the athlete converts the energy generated during the approach run and plant into upward momentum, propelling themselves over the bar with maximum efficiency. Proper technique and power generation are essential during this phase to achieve a successful clearance.

The drive phase in pole vault

During the drive phase, the pole vaulter aims to translate the forward energy and horizontal speed gained from the approach run into vertical lift. This is achieved by utilizing the pole’s flexibility and the athlete’s explosive power. The vaulter begins to extend their body, driving the pole into a bending position and leveraging it as a springboard to launch themselves upwards.

The key to a successful drive phase lies in maintaining a strong and controlled posture while applying force against the pole. As the pole unbends, the vaulter must actively push against it, using their lower body strength to extend their hips, legs, and ankles. This extension allows them to transfer energy into the pole, creating a powerful upward force and propelling themselves higher over the bar.

Techniques for generating power during the drive

To generate maximum power during the drive phase, pole vaulters employ various techniques that optimize their body mechanics and leverage the pole’s potential energy. Here are some essential techniques for generating power:

  1. Hip extension: Proper hip extension is crucial for generating power in the drive phase. As the vaulter pushes against the pole, they must focus on extending their hips forcefully. This extension allows the vaulter to transfer energy from their lower body into the pole and generate upward momentum.

  2. Leg drive: Coordinated leg drive is essential to maximize power during the drive phase. The vaulter should aim to extend their legs forcefully, driving against the pole as it unbends. By utilizing the power of their quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles, the vaulter can contribute to the upward propulsion.

  3. Ankle plantar flexion: The vaulter can enhance their drive power by effectively utilizing ankle plantar flexion. By pointing their toes downward during the drive, the vaulter engages the calf muscles and generates additional force, contributing to the pole’s unbending and subsequent upward launch.

  4. Upper body control: While the lower body generates most of the power during the drive phase, the upper body plays a crucial role in maintaining control. The vaulter must keep their arms and shoulders active, ensuring they remain connected to the pole and assisting in directing the generated power towards the desired trajectory.

Common challenges in the drive phase

Although the drive phase is a vital part of a successful pole vault, it presents several challenges for athletes to overcome. Some common challenges faced during the drive phase include:

  1. Timing: Proper timing is crucial in the drive phase. If the vaulter extends their body too early or too late, it can disrupt the transfer of energy into the pole, leading to a failed attempt. Achieving consistent timing requires precise coordination and practice.

  2. Maintaining posture: The drive phase demands athletes to maintain a strong and controlled posture while exerting maximum power. It can be challenging to strike the right balance between exerting force and staying balanced. Deviations in posture can result in decreased power transfer and compromised clearance height.

  3. Optimizing pole stiffness: The selection of the right pole stiffness is crucial for a successful drive phase. It requires careful consideration of the vaulter’s body weight, strength, and skill level. If the pole is too stiff or too flexible, it can hinder the vaulter’s ability to generate optimal power during the drive.

  4. Explosive power development: Generating sufficient power during the drive phase requires explosive strength and power development. Athletes must focus on strength training exercises that target the lower body, enhancing their ability to extend forcefully and generate upward momentum.

Overcoming these challenges through proper technique, conditioning, and continuous practice is essential for pole vaulters to excel in the drive phase and achieve higher clearance heights.


Clearing the bar in pole vault

Clearing the bar in pole vault is the ultimate goal for every pole vaulter. It is the moment when an athlete successfully jumps over the bar and completes a successful vault. This stage requires a combination of skill, technique, and athleticism. Here are some key aspects to consider when it comes to clearing the bar in pole vault:

  • Takeoff: The takeoff is crucial in achieving a successful clearance. It involves planting the pole firmly and explosively pushing off the ground, using both the legs and upper body strength. The takeoff determines the height and speed at which the athlete clears the bar.

  • Body Position: Maintaining the correct body position throughout the clearance is essential. As the athlete extends over the bar, they must arch their back and push their hips up, while keeping their legs straight and toes pointed. This position allows for maximum clearance height and reduces the risk of knocking the bar off.

  • Bar Clearance: Clearing the bar requires precision and timing. The athlete must aim to push their body over the bar while simultaneously raising their legs. This action allows for a smooth and efficient clearance over the bar, minimizing the chances of touching or dislodging it.

Key elements of a successful clearance

Several key elements contribute to a successful clearance in pole vault. These elements are essential in achieving higher heights and improving overall performance. Here are some important factors to focus on:

  • Speed and Approach: A fast and controlled approach run is crucial in building momentum for a successful clearance. Athletes should maintain a consistent speed and have a well-timed takeoff to optimize their chances of clearing the bar.

  • Grip and Plant: The grip and plant play a significant role in generating power and transferring it into the pole. Athletes should select the appropriate pole for their body weight and skill level, ensuring a solid plant and maximum energy transfer.

  • Upper Body Strength: Strong upper body strength is essential for a successful clearance. Athletes must have the ability to control the pole, generate upward force, and maintain body control throughout the vault.

  • Flexibility and Body Control: Flexibility and body control are key aspects of a successful clearance. Athletes should focus on improving their range of motion, especially in the shoulders, hips, and back, to achieve the optimal body position during the vault.

Strategies for improving clearance height

Improving clearance height in pole vault requires dedication, practice, and a focus on specific techniques. Here are some strategies that can help athletes enhance their clearance height:

  • Strength Training: Incorporate strength training exercises that target the upper body, core, and leg muscles. Building strength in these areas can improve the power and control necessary for a successful clearance.

  • Technical Drills: Practice specific drills that focus on the key elements of a successful clearance, such as takeoff, body position, and bar clearance. These drills can help athletes refine their technique and improve overall performance.

  • Video Analysis: Utilize video analysis to identify areas for improvement in your clearance technique. Recording and reviewing your vaults allows you to analyze your form, timing, and body position, enabling you to make necessary adjustments.

  • Progressive Approach: Work on gradually increasing the height of the bar during training sessions. This progressive approach allows athletes to build confidence, adapt to higher heights, and improve their clearance technique over time.

By implementing these strategies and focusing on the key elements of a successful clearance, pole vaulters can enhance their performance and achieve higher heights in the sport.

The pole vault is a complex and technical event that requires athletes to master various stages in order to achieve success. In this article, we have explored the four main stages of the pole vault: the approach run, plant, drive, and clearance. Each stage plays a crucial role in the overall performance of the athlete, and understanding the mechanics and techniques involved in each stage is essential for achieving higher heights. By breaking down the pole vault into these distinct stages, athletes and coaches can analyze and improve their performance, leading to better results in competitions. Whether you are a beginner learning the basics or an experienced vaulter looking to refine your technique, mastering each of these stages is key to excelling in the thrilling and challenging sport of pole vault.