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Bubka's view
(Compilation by Pole Vault Education.org)
July 20-21 Kingston, Jamaica

During the 9th IAAF/Coca Cola World Junior Championship held in Kingston Jamaica; RDC San Juan in conjunction with ILICS Spirit organized a Pole Vault Clinic. Together with the coaches in charge of the aforementioned workshop, the world record holder and many times Olympic and World Champion, Sergey Bubka was also invited to participate.

He shared with the participants, in a very precise and profound way, experiences and knowledge built on more than 20 years of his involvement in the elite circle.

In an open discussion, questions from the participants led Bubka to talk freely about his beginnings, technical aspects, training, etc.

Following are the more significant contents of the discussions:

Q. What is your point of view on the advantages and importance of the free take off?
A. In pole vaulting the crucial factor is how to transfer energy to the pole, through the complete body of the vaulter; the arms, shoulders, hip, back and legs. But, if the pole begins to bend while the vaulter is yet on the ground, it is impossible to transfer the energy, all the energy is lost and goes to the box. The point is, how to achieve this? The free take off is a very short period of time, we can say no more than hundreds of a second, going from the end of the take off and the moment in which the tip of the pole reaches the end of the box. But this very short time makes a big difference that allows the competitor to greatly improve the results.

When we begin to bend the pole, while being on the ground, we can see an arched position of the body, on the other hand, if we perform a free take off we can feel the pushing action of the whole body, and we can transfer the speed of the run up and take off.

Additionally, we can increase the angle between the pole and the ground in the moment of taking off. This angle is a very important technical factor, because the bigger this angle, the better the result.

But this angle must be achieved with a complete extension of the body, and mainly, keeping that short difference between the full extension of the body and the tip of the pole reaching the end of the box.

It is a crucial factor, but at the same time, it is not easy to achieve. During my career, I was able to do it some times.

That difference in time, is a safe difference, it is not dangerous, and in order to achieve it, you must be in very good form, not only physical but technical and mental as well. When you can do it, you can increase the angle of the pole in relation with the ground. For this reason, the way you run with the pole becomes very important.

The lowering of the pole in the last strides and the action you perform with the arms in order to perform a good take off are crucial.

The action of the arms must be to the front and up, if you lower your left hand, you loose control on the pole.

Last autumn, I began to work with a pole vaulter who asked me to help him. I gave him the material related to the free take off, this material was produced by Petrov. In the first days of training, the vaulter was very busy, training and writing down the workouts we were doing, so he had no time to read the material about the free take off. In the third day of training, he had the chance to read it. The first concept that you develop about it, is that it could be dangerous, or extremely difficult to do, but when at the same time you are practicing it, you realize that the vaulter becomes the boss of the action, on the opposite, if you don't master this action, you depend on the pole. My colleague told me that if he had only read the material, without practicing the action, he would have thought that it was impossible to achieve.

Q. Which kind of specific drills do you practice in order to master this action?

A. Basically we did a lot of drills while walking, imitating the action, then we added some run up strides, but more important is to understand the basics and what you want to do. It is also important to make many repetitions of drills, and the coach must have the capacity to create and vary the drills in order to achieve the goal. It has to do with the task of developing thinking athletes, rather than giving them an instruction and wait on them to do the task. It is very useful to help the athletes with questions like: "What was your feeling?" or "What was the mistake?", "Why?", "What is the cause?".

Q. Which is the correct way of performing the last three strides?
A. The last three strides are very important, they must be very compact in order to be able to increase speed. The movement must begin with your right hand, which cannot be behind the hip axis. If the hand is slightly forward, it is possible to move the arms to the front and upwards.

When you do the penultimate touch down, on the right foot for a vaulter who takes off with the left leg, the right hand must be at eyes' level, in front of the face and with the arm flexed at the elbow 90 degrees. In the meantime, the pole must be lowering towards the box. Both arms must be very active, it is not necessary to extend the right arm upwards when you are still on the right foot, in that case you will perform the take off closer to the box than recommended.

Q. How would you describe the action of bending the pole?
A. Before the fiber glass pole, pole vaulters put their focus on moving the pole, then, when the flexible pole appeared many people put their focus on bending the pole. The pole bends as a result of the speed and mass of the jumper,therefore, it is more important to concentrate more on moving the pole towards the plane of the bar, rather than being aware of bending it. If the vaulter can put all his speed to the pole, the bending of the pole will happen in a very natural way and this, together with a good height of grip will ensure good results.

Q. Some years ago an article appeared in which the author stated that you use to jump with a stiff pole, and with a run up of six strides you could determine the height of grip or take off efficiency....
A. It is true, we utilized this drill, but why? The bending poles allow you to hide technical mistakes, on the contrary, stiff poles immediately hurts you. I don't exactly remember, but I think I had a grip height of around 4.20 or 4.25 mts. With stiff poles, if you do the right action, you can feel where you are, and from then on you can increase the grip a height.

Q. Where is your point of focus?
A. To the front, many jumpers look at the box, the box doesn't move, it is always there. I think it has to do with mental pressure or being scared.

Q. It was published that you carried the pole in a very vertical position in order to minimize the weight of the pole; then in a distance of between 19 to 25 mts, away from the box you began to lower the pole at the same run up speed. Could you tell in which moment or where you begin to lower the pole?
A. Around 6 to 10 strides before the take off position. It has to do with Vitaly Petrov's concept of how to be ready for the most important phase of the jump.

Q. Which is the exact moment to start the inversion phase, and in which position is the body in the moment of maximum bend of the pole?
A. Let us start with the second part. The body must be inverted in the moment of maximum bend of the pole, with both legs vertical and upwards. If you perform a wrong take off action, the pole bends too soon and in doing so you don't recoil energy from the pole. The first question has to do with this point too. The concept must be to make a very dynamic movement, going into penetration and long pendulum phases, in order to be as soon as possible in the inverted position. By doing so, you ensure the movement of the pole. In this point is very important a good development of the gymnastics abilities of the jumper.

Q. How do you increase the confidence of a pole vaulter?
A. From my point of view, as long as you increase strength, speed and technical efficiency, you also increase your confidence. You also need to have a sound mental picture of the action, be able to repeat the jump mentally. I think it is very useful to focus on the weak points of the jump and be able to see them as if you are looking at a film.

Q. During a competition, how do you manage to keep focus and avoid distractions?
A. It depends on your ability to plan everything beforehand, what to do and all the things that can happen. You ought to be ready for rain, for a noisy crowd in the stands. If during a jump, you can listen to the public, it means that you were not focused enough. But there are also other types of distractions. For example, prior to the European Championships in Stutgart 1986, 1 had many meetings with students, workers, sportsmen. That was great, but it has a big effect on my performance during the competition. I was fully focused, and during the event I found myself in a situation I had never been before. In a given height I needed the third attempt to pass. This fact is very demanding, put you under big stress, after this moment I came back and finally won the competition.

Two months later, I began to have the help of a very good Psychologist, and when I told him about that experience, he told me that all the meetings, presentations I had done, made me loose mental energy, energy that I must save to train and compete. After that experience, two months prior to a big competition my only activities were train and rest. Coming back to competition, you must be ready for everything, I took my umbrella, something to dry the box and the take off point, because many times officials don't do this. But in case it begin to rain, you must assume it is not raining at all, you must be mentally strong because many times, the event can't be postponed, for example when it is scheduled for the last day of the meeting, and you must jump and be able to produce good results anyway.

Mental preparation has to do with decisions athletes have to make under big pressure. If you have a fault at a given height, and you choose to pass the remaining attempts for the next height, let us say 5 cm higher which is not very significant but can make the difference between being out of the medals or winning the competition you can take risks, but they are calculated risks.

Q. How do you describe the penetration of a pole vaulter?
A. We need to develop strength, speed, and at the same time we need to develop technique and gymnastics abilities. We can say that the training of a vaulter is very close to that of a decathlonist, we need a very broad development in terms of capacities.

Q. What were the factors that allowed you to jump with longer and stiffer poles, was it your level of strength and or speed?
A. I think people tends to think I am stronger, physically speaking than I really am. When I was 15 or 16 years old, it seemed as if I would be very big and strong, that made me try to eat less in order not to increase my body weight, I would never be able to pole vault. Towards the end of the 70s, my coach tried to convince me of doing decathlon, but I told him I wanted to stay with the pole vault. When I got my first poles in 1984, the Federation sent me to compete in the USA, in the indoor season. I was still worried about not increasing my body weight, because if that happened I would not be able to use the poles.

Actually, some of them were so stiff that I only could use them in the 90s. I think that the important thing, is how much of your strength and speed you can use while actually jumping. Somebody can run the 100 mts in 11 seconds, but if he does the proper movements, in the exact moment, he can jump very high. Same approach with weight training, we did a lot of weight training, but our goal was not to be extremely strong, we are not weight lifters, but to be able to use that level of strength in the jump action.

There are vaulters like Britts, who are stronger than I am, physically speaking. For example my best result in bench press was around 130 or 135 kg, while he has something around 160 kg. The bench press is important for pole vaulting, but it is a general movement that helps to develop physically, but when we jump we must do specific movements which we need to develop and improve in our vaulters.

When we met with Vitaly, we put everything on paper, and I was over the mean values in everything. In speed, strength, gymnastics abilities, mental preparation, coordination and all those factors gave me stability. If I had a technical mistake I could compensate it with my physical capacities.

But if you ask me about which is more important, the development of the physical capacities or technical abilities, my answer will be only one, technical abilities. These abilities help you to survive in different situations, while the development of physical capacities is not so difficult.

On the other hand it is more difficult to teach proper and sound technical elements, frequently you develop physical capacities and you can record this progress, for example in speed or strength, but one can't find the same improvement in the vaulting performance, we must be able to transfer that potential to the technical factors.

Q. How did you begin?
A. I began to do Sports in the streets, I was a very "sporting" boy. Then my coach at school communicated with Petrov and asked him to teach me pole vault. At first he said no, because I was too young, only 10 years old and he coached boys of 14 15 years of age but my coach finally convinced him, that was my beginning.

Q. Beginning with the first World Championships in 1983, there have been 7 World Championships and you won 5 of them, you also got an Olympic gold medal. How do you keep your motivations?
A. I learned from very great athletes, whom after having achieved good results, the next day went on training, trying to do even better next time. What you did yesterday is past, moreover, you always make mistakes that you can avoid the next day. For me it was important the example of Bob Beamon, who after producing a fantastic result, tried to improve it.

Q. You have developed a pole vault school in your country. What is the role that the coach plays during a competition?
A. Many times I see coaches who send a lot of messages, move their arms and shout from the stands. I think that all the work has to be done previously, we can do very little in the moment of competition but there is another point the athlete must be knowledgeable of his event with a high level of motor awareness. What happen if the coach, in a given moment, sends a message which has nothing to do with what the athlete felt?

What to do, from the point of view of the athlete? Follow his own kinesthetic feelings, or follow the message sent by the coach from the stands?

This is a very important element to consider, and as coaches we must work beforehand and have less participation during the competition.