The takeoff in the long jump is more of a run into the air than it is an actual jump. The best long jumpers on any level are sprinting through the takeoff phase rather than gathering up and leaping.
TRENDS IN HIGH PERFORMANCE
The top male long jumpers in the world hit speeds of around 24 miles per hour on the runway . The best females hit speeds of about 20 miles per hour . These athletes are tremendous sprinters on the runway, and their takeoff phase acts as a facilitator of that speed, such that they don't slow down much as they redirect from horizontal motion into a takeoff angle.
THE PHYSICS OF JUMPING
Distance in the long jump is mainly achieved through the combination of speed and takeoff angle. Too steep of an angle will have the takeoff end up much like towering pop fly in baseball--the flight of the ball will have immense vertical velocity and altitude, but will barely clear the infield. By contrast, a line-drive with the same exit velocity off the bat will go over the outfield fence.
Quality long jumps tend to fall into a takeoff angle range of roughly 20 to 30 degrees. The general rule is this: The faster the jumper, the lower the takeoff angle needed. And while vertical height is definitely achieved in the long jump, it is not a result of a steep angle. A flight's apex shouldn't occur immediately after the takeoff board. It must be farther out.
Note: On his world record jump of 29 feet, 4.5 inches, Mike Powell had a maximum hip height of 6 feet, 8 inches at the peak of his flight--but his takeoff angle was only 24 degrees . So jumps that go far are marked by a gradual ascent in flight trajectory, followed by a gradual angle of descent during the second half of flight.
THE EXECUTION OF THE TAKEOFF PHASE
To set up a takeoff, the last two steps of the approach are executed differently than all the previous steps in a few ways.
- On the last two steps--known as the penultimate and plant steps--foot contact to the ground should be flat-footed. This differs from all the previous approach steps where the athlete contacts the ground first with the ball of the foot, just like a 100 meter runner.
- While sprinting down the runway, the arm angles move through large ranges of motion. On the last two steps, however, they tend to shorten up.
- On the last step, as the takeoff foot is brought forward to plant down on to the board, the height of the knee is much less than on a normal sprint stride--in biomechanics this is called an acyclic movement.
- In order to prevent too high of an angle, great long jumpers drop very subtly on the second-to-last step. On the plant step, the center of mass passes over and past the planted foot before relinquishing contact with the board. This guarantees they are taking velocity through the takeoff and into the pit.
SUGGESTED KEYS FOR THE ATHLETE
- The takeoff does not exist in a vacuum. It's set up by uniform acceleration down the runway.
- The torso should be upright going into the last two steps.
- The athlete must learn to sprint over flat-footed contacts during the last two steps. The goal is to sprint to the other side of the board.
- Avoiding stressing huge height in the jump. An appropriate takeoff angle is much lower than most athletes realize.
- The faster one gets via training, the more potential they have to jump far.
 Biomechanics Report World Championships 2009 Berlin, German Athletics Federation, 2009
 IAAF Biomechanics Report: WORLD INDOOR CHAMPIONSHIPS 2018 LONG JUMP WOMEN, Dr. Catherine Tucker and Dr Athanassios Bissas Carnegie School of Sport, 2018
 A Mathematical Solution of the Optimum Takeoff Angle in Long Jump, Kazuhiro Tsuboia, Dept. of Intelligent Systems Engineering, Ibaraki University, Naka-narusawa 4-12-1, Hitachi, 316-8511 Japan, 2010
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Robert Marchetti, a former NCAA Division I track coach at Rider University and Columbia University, is a private track and field coach located in Hamilton, New Jersey. For more information, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit his website at www.coachup.com/coaches/robertm-4.