Two-time world champion and double Olympic medallist Blanka Vlašic explains the intricacies of an athletics event which requires speed, power, timing and great judgement

There are many different types of high jumper. Compare Bohdan Bondarenko (1.98m tall) and Stefan Holm (1.81m). You have Kajsa Bergqvist (1.75m) and you have me (1.93m). Contrary to many people’s opinion, it doesn’t follow that if you are tall, you will be a good high jumper. You could equally argue that being tall makes it more difficult.

High jump is a technical, explosive event and one thing you definitely need is to be well co-ordinated.  Smaller high jumpers tend to need a faster approach, while the taller high jumpers don’t need to be so fast because they have height. You might say some athletes are speed jumpers and others are power jumpers. Different body types have a different rhythm in approaching the bar.


The basic high jump technique is the same for everyone. There are some differences in style, but overall everyone is using the same “Fosbury Flop”. 

You have to obey certain basic rules. Take-off is from one leg – not two – and depending on whether you are right or left-handed, you approach the bar from the right or the left.

The power to jump is based on centrifugal force because you are running a bend. You are not running straight at the bar, you are leaning into the bend and using that centrifugal force during take-off.

It is important when running the bend to keep your hips high. It is like taking a stick and throwing it on to the ground to make it bounce. It will not bounce if it is broken, it has to be straight. You have to approach the bar with your shoulders, your hips, your knees and your ankles aligned and straight. 

Just before the take-off, athletes are trying to be a little bit away from the bar and that is the point at which you use that horizontal, centrifugal force and convert it into vertical force.

It is all about using your speed and your power in the right way so that on the approach you have maximum efficiency and everything you’ve had on the approach can be transformed into a vertical jump.

It is important to learn the technique early in your career as changing your technique later on is very hard. You need to practice, practice, practice in order to make your technique as automatic as possible because, during the competition, you don’t want to have to think about detail.

Blanka Vlasic (Vic Sailer)

I would do 30 jumps per training session. Details are for training but, in competition, all I’m thinking is: “Are my hips high and am I running well?  Am I too fast or too slow?” That is all. I’m trying to make every jump the same – consistency. If all my jumps are different it’s impossible for my coach to tell me what to change!

In competition there is the temptation to be looking for more and to speed up but then you will probably completely lose your rhythm. It is such a technical event that you need to be as cool and relaxed as possible, keep to the same pace and rhythm and trust your technique. Do not to try to change anything for a big competition.  

The approach

The most important part is the approach – your rhythm and how you are running. If you are too fast there’s a danger that your body will not handle the pressure of take-off, where the forces on you are around 300kg.

We train hard to be able to handle as much speed as possible but high jumpers are not sprinters. You cannot sprint to the bar and still take off because you would create more force than you can handle at take-off.  You start slower and over the last three or four steps make a progression towards the take-off.

High jump running is different from sprinting. We run with high knees and our steps are usually bigger than a sprinter’s. When I came to the bar with my height of 1.93m, I was already pretty tall, so I never needed a really fast approach. 

My run-up was 10 steps but it’s all about personal style. The basic technique is the same for everyone taking off from one leg. More steps means that you develop more speed naturally. There should be a difference between the start, the middle and the end of your approach and at the end you need to be aggressive. Be aggressive on the last three steps when you need to push the surface.

If you push the surface hard it gives back to you. There needs to be gradual acceleration during the approach. Aggressive means that you are running with your feet intentionally grabbing the ground.

Blanka Vlasic (Mark Shearman)

Getting over the bar

People think that when you are over the bar in the bridge position you can still influence your result but actually it is too late by then. When you are in the air you are really just going with the flow, once you learn that technique over the bar. 

When you are over the bar you cannot do much. What happens then is the result of what you did on your approach.

If you take off too close to the bar, there is a danger that you will hit it with your shoulder, so the run-up needs to be just right to put you in the correct take-off position so that you have plenty of space to do all you need to in the air and to develop the height needed to fly over the bar. It is impossible to develop the height if you are too close to the bar.

High jump is based on centrifugal force. I am the object and I am already moving in this curved way. I also need to have this curved position, leaning away from the centre of rotation.

So during the take-off from my left leg, I am leaning away from the bar. If you watch it in slow motion you will see that the right leg goes up, also a little bit away from the bar, helping you turn your whole body so that your back is on the bar. And your second leg is like a twister which twists your body so that you get into the right position over the bar with your back.

Yaroslava Mahuchikh (Mark Shearman)

Saving vital energy

When I was feeling confident in my technique I would take two, maybe three, warm-up jumps. I would start at a height of 1.85m and aim to reach 2.00m in four jumps, using as little energy as possible. Early in the season I would usually start at 1.80m but, later in the season, with more jumps in my legs, I would start with 1.85m.

I would start easy, not putting maximum effort into 1.85m. With high jump, you need to be at your best at the end of the competition. You’re spending two hours in concentration, trying to save energy for the psychologically demanding end. 

Jumping a personal best

People sometimes say “you are in good shape, you could break the world record today” but there are so many factors which determine the outcome – such as the length and intensity of the competition.

Sometimes you’re battling a competitor at 2.00m and that can be mentally exhausting, so you’re not fresh enough to have a chance with a world record. When I jumped 2.08m it was my fifth jump that day in a small field. 

Mutaz Essa Barshim (Mark Shearman)

Feedback from my coach

At the beginning of my career I needed more feedback than later. Just by seeing with which part of my body I hit the bar, my coach would be able to tell me the reason. Over the years we learned to communicate with signs. 

He might hold up two fingers pointing back to indicate that I needed to take two steps back at the start of the run-up or if my speed was too fast or too slow or he might point to his hips to remind me to keep my hips high. With technical instruction it was very simple for him to indicate what I was doing wrong.

READ MORE: Mastering the art of long jump

There is another role for the coach and mine was brilliant at it. He is a really calm person, even during the most intense competition. Sometimes I would approach him just to feel his calm and his confidence.

I am a confident jumper but you always benefit from a boost from a person who knows you well. You just need someone to tell you “you can do it”.  I could see that he believed it and then I would believe it. 

» This feature first appeared in the April issue of AW, which you can read here