Track & Field: Discovering new heights for jumpers
Gary Pepin has been coaching men’s and women’s track at the University of Nebraska for nearly 30 years, and in that time he has won a lot and learned a lot, especially about his specialty — jumping events.
“The first thing you have to do is know the event and have the basics down,” Pepin said about coaching jumpers. For coaches that means getting out on the track and doing a little long-jumping, high-jumping and triple-jumping yourself. “You should go out and play with these events, even if it’s at a low level,” he said.
A jumping coach then needs to find some DVDs and settle in for some quality time doing film work, Pepin said. “You need to watch other athletes do these events and watch them over and over again. You have to look at a bunch of jumpers and their biomechanics.”
The same holds true for teaching. “The first step is to have an athlete learn and study the event. Then, start on other components such as speed, strength, power and flexibility,” Pepin said.
“With all of the jumping events, the more event-specific training you do the better,” said Pepin, which means a larger emphasis on sprinting rather than distance running. He recommends focusing on the 30-meter distance and timing student-athletes in that short burst from three different starting positions: on the fly (a running start), standing and from the blocks.
For anyone interested in finding detailed workouts and training tips, Pepin recommends using the USA Track and Field training library at www.usatf.org.
“Weight training is year-round,” Pepin said about the Nebraska program. That should be true for serious track athletes from the youth level all the way up through college.
At Nebraska, weight training is individualized with a program designed for each athlete, but even at the high-school level, it’s important to realize that the program should shift over time from a general preparation phase, a specific preparation phase, a competition phase and conclude with a transition phase.
“If strength alone made jumpers, linemen on the football team would be great high jumpers,” Pepin said. But jumpers also need to be explosive.
“If you go to a high-level track meet and you look at the sprinters and the jumpers, you see powerful people,” he said.
Developing those powerful athletes does require strength training, but an athlete’s explosion must be refined as well. Pepin suggests a combination of plyometrics and strength training to develop power.
“Everybody is trying to get stronger,” Pepin said, “but if you don’t work on flexibility, the strength goes positive while the flexibility goes negative.”
Flexibility comes from more than just static stretching. “The old days of stretching with a partner at the start of practice are over,” Pepin said. “Now we do that at the end of practice the pre-warmups are now always ballistic (dynamic).”
Pepin said technique work, combined with all of this preparatory work, is still the most-important factor in developing a successful jumper.
Some Nebraska jumpers, for example, do as much as 50 percent more actual high jumping than others because they need to refine their technique. Even so, Pepin feels that two or three days of specific work on the event, including meets, “would be plenty.”