High Jump Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

High Jump

0 Conversations

The shield of the Sport and Leisure faculty of the h2g2 University.
Olympic Field Sports
Overview | Discus | Shot Put | Hammer Throw | Javelin | Long Jump | Triple Jump | Pole Vault | High Jump

Male figure doing the high jump over a pole.

The high jump is one of the eight field events within the Olympics, as well as one of the ten events within the decathlon. This Entry will supply rules, methods, facts and figures as well as some more interesting knowledge and history about the high jump.


The high jump shares the basic concept with pole vaulting of jumping over the highest bar possible. High jumping is simply a contest between the athlete and gravity, with no interference, so the rules are generally simpler.

  • The athlete must take off on one foot. A simple rule that high jumping techniques make very difficult to disobey as they involve wrenching athletes over and around the bar1.

  • The jump is only counted if the crossbar remains in place as the athlete leaves 'the jumping area'. This means the athlete must jump over the bar, land and then get up and walk off the far side of the mat without the bar falling off in order to be credited with a successful jump.

  • As in the pole vault, athletes are given three attempts. They can start at whatever height they wish, assuming no minimum jumping height, and attempt each height in turn. If they succeed in the jump they return to having three attempts and move onto the next height. If they fail at a height three times they are knocked out and take their highest successful height. An athlete can pass on a height, including if they have had one or two failed attempts at it, but they only have either two or one jumps respectively at the new jump height. If an athlete makes a height then they are restored to three attempts.

  • Jumpers must not breach a vertical line made with the bar, except by going over it – otherwise they're considered to be doing the limbo, not the high jump, and are disqualified from that jump.

  • The technical rules are quite limited, and mainly pertain to the athlete's shoes. They must not have more than 11 spikes in each shoe, which can't be longer than 1.2cm. There is also a maximum thickness of both the sole and the heel – 1.3 and 1.9cm respectively; this is presumably to prevent the shoes functioning as springboards as only the long jump has similar rules. In any other field or track event you can wear whatever shoes you wish.

  • The judge will state at the beginning of each competition what the different heights will be, these will always be at least 2cm higher than the one before.

  • The winner is the person who makes the highest jump. In case of a draw then the athlete who made it to the final height with the least number of jumps wins.


There are three methods used in the high jump: the scissors, the straddle and the flop. The scissors is primarily taught to novices, while the straddle and the flop are for the more advanced. Although the straddle is actually considered to be more technically efficient than the flop, the last world record set by the straddle jump was in 1978 – the international high jump scene consists of jumpers using the flop style.

The Scissors

The scissors jump is the initial method used by those learning how to high jump. It is a safer method to use, especially on shallower mats, as the jumper will usually land on their feet. Following is a step by step run-through of the scissors method.

  • Position yourself at about 40° to the bar, usually on the right of the posts so as to jump on the stronger leg (unless the left leg is stronger – in which case stand on the left).

  • Jumpers should be ten steps away from the bar, which will be run in a direct straight line.

  • Run towards the centre of the bar, at a quick run but not at a full sprint – a sprint will take you into the bar before you can get sufficient height and it is better to accelerate on the final three steps.

  • At the take-off point, the inside leg closer to the bar must be kept straight. The outside leg is responsible for driving the body upwards while the straight leg is swung over the bar.

  • The arms can be swung upwards to give a little more momentum, but must be watched throughout the jump so as not to knock the bar off.

  • As the outside, driving leg leaves the ground it must be bought up rapidly in order to get it over the bar, this should be done as the inside leg (which is already over the bar2) is smashed downwards as quickly as possible to help swing the body over the bar as fast as possible3.

  • Be grateful that it's a nice landing as you4 drop down onto your feet and the mat. Try to remember not to lock up or you risk hurting your ankles and knees.

The scissors jump is easy to learn, and helps get jumpers used to throwing themselves as aggressively as possible at a bar. As such it forms the basis of all young jumpers' training, even though they will have to re-learn everything when they learn a new style – both the run-up and jump will change but the spirit behind it will not.

The scissors gives a maximum height that is relatively low as it only removes the legs in terms of height achieved – the maximum height gained by a jumper is then reduced by the height from their head to their waist. In more technical terms, the centre of gravity which must get over the bar actually clears it by a long distance in the scissors – wasted height in other words. Even by flattening your body as you jump, in the method known as the 'Eastern cut-off', the last world record formed by a conventional scissor's technique was 1.97m by Michael Sweeney in 18955.

The Straddle

The straddle is almost the forgotten method in high jumping. Normally jumpers graduate from the scissors and go on to learn the flop, which is the method used in international competing. This is despite the fact that the straddle is technically better – since legs can barely pass over the bar and then fall under it, the body's centre of gravity is actually significantly below the bar in a perfect straddle jump. This is impossible in even the flop. The reason for the demise of the straddle jump is mainly because of its lack of use – since no-one uses it the method can't improve. The lack of use is mainly down to the jump being considered harder to learn than the flop.

There are actually more than the three methods that normally make up the high jump. The 'Western roll' is a cross between the scissors and straddle techniques. The straight line diagonal run of the scissors is still used, but now the inside leg is the driving leg as the outside leg is forced up. This means the athlete is thrown sideways over the bar (without rolling as in the straddle method to be explained.)

Following is the method for those who wish to bring the style back into fashion as you win the Olympic medal with a 'deceased' method.

  • The initial run up is similar to the scissors. Normally a slightly shallower angle of 30° is used, with a ten step run off. A medium pace start is used for the first seven steps. In the straddle the athletes often start on the left-hand side, as will be the case with this example.

  • Athletes should accelerate during their final three steps. At the third step prior to the jump you should lower your shoulders forward, bring your arms down and slightly bend your take-off knee (this will be the inside leg).

  • At the penultimate step you should pull your arms back while lowering your hips to bring your body back.

  • The take-off pace should be shorter than the others taken. With a firm step the body should be placed over the foot before thrusting the body upwards with both arms outstretched.

  • After jumping, bend the outside leg at both the hip and knee. Bring it upwards and towards the bar and then rapidly straighten it. This will cause the body to start to roll over the bar.

  • Bend your inside leg while tucking your left arm into your body and placing your right arm over the body.

  • As your right side makes it over the bar, try to force your head, shoulder and right arm downwards (to push your other side further upwards.)

  • Kick your take-off leg up and out to keep it clear of the bar as the last of your body tumbles over the bar.

  • Pretend you're Tom Daley and perfect the triple twist pike on your way down to the comfortable mat.

Well. We did warn you it was complicated – you can see the degree in difficulty in learning the straddle method is high, but just picture yourself spinning to glory. Valeriy Brumel did just that, setting the world record in 1964 with a height of 2.28m, and winning an Olympic gold medal in the process.

The Fosbury Flop

The 'flop', or the Fosbury Flop which is its more official name, was invented single-handedly by Dick Fosbury6. He won the 1968 Olympics with his introduction of it. Dick was only able to use this method since vastly increased matting on the landing had been added; a flop onto your neck is not much fun when your landing pad is some sawdust.

The Fosbury Flop requires a complete change of method from either the scissors or the straddle. Both the run-up and the jump are very different, with the run-up being executed in a 'J' shape towards the bar and the jump being done head first, backwards over the bar. For those who like effective techniques that appear suicidal, read on.

  • When using the flop the jumper should start five or six steps away at right angles to the relevant post holding the bar, normally the right one.

  • The first four or five steps are taken at a middle speed run towards the post, before beginning the curve.

  • The latter five steps form the curve, beginning acceleration in the last steps. During the curve athletes lean into their curve. They should be parallel to the bar at the beginning of their jump.

  • The third step prior to the jump the jumper should lower their hips, but is otherwise a normal step.

  • The penultimate step should be lengthened in order to lower the body's centre of gravity just before the jump.

  • The final stride, as in the straddle, should be shorter than the other steps. The foot should not be parallel to the bar (unlike the body which will still be mostly facing parallel); the toes should point towards the potential landing spot. The shortness of the final stride will force the body's centre of gravity upwards.

  • On lift-off the free leg (not the lift-off leg) must be driven upwards as much as possible. The arms should be outstretched upwards, with the head back and shoulders straight. The take-off leg should be straight.

  • The thigh of your free leg should be horizontal as your take-off leg leaves the ground. Couple with pushing your arms up and back – this will trigger your body's rotation.

  • Continuing to keep the free leg bent horizontal and the take-off leg straight, take the left arm over the bar, followed by the head and shoulders – the elbow of that arm must point at the bar all the time as it crosses over to keep the rotation steady. The right arm then follows the left arm. As long as the elbow is correctly pointed their positioning doesn't matter – some athletes have them above, some by their sides and some over their chests.

  • As the body now crosses over the bar, the head, shoulders and arms should be forced down in order to force the hips up and over the bar. Do not look to either side with your head – this forces you to start spinning to one side or another – which means you will be seasick two metres up in the air.

  • Once your hips are over, extend the legs to prevent them touching the bar and they will just follow your hips over.

  • Having jumped you will have imitated the appearance of a crash test dummy; you can now imitate the landing of a crash test dummy with a brief wait before a clash of unwieldy limbs into the mat. Enjoy.

History of the High Jump

Unlike in some other sports it is, by its nature, impossible to define the beginning of the high jump. It is reasonable to assume that as soon as our precursors gained the ability to spring, they will have tried to see how high they could get – maybe not by a deliberate test of ability, but certainly by using a high jump to reach places. This means we will focus on the written history of changes in high jumping and its competitions.

Despite tenuous references to its inclusion, the high jump is not believed to have been part of the Ancient Olympic games as an individual event. The long jump was included as part of the pentathlon, and it is assumed that the Greeks would have ceased to call it the pentathlon if they had added another event. As such the first high jump competition is generally held to have taken place in Scotland in the early 19th Century. Little is known about the competition, but presumably a Scottish high jumper held the official 'world' record at one stage.

Interestingly early pioneers are believed to have actions similar to both the straddle jump and the flop in the 1860-80s. It was easily realised that it more efficient to be flat as they crossed the bar; however, the flop wasn't taken to its current extreme position, due to the high likelihood of injury. Both the Victorians and the Americans were keen experimenters in high jumping styles.

The high jump was one of the initial sports in the first modern Olympics in 1896. Ellery Clark from the USA set the first Olympic high jump record with a jump of 1.81m. At roughly the same time athletes were experimenting with the 'J' style of running in; this is despite the fact that the straddle and the flop forms were not used in competitions then, and the 'J' style is not used for those two methods (at least in modern methods).

With the beginning of the 20th Century the method known as the 'Eastern Cut-off' was pioneered by the jumper MF Sweeney. This is similar to the scissors jump combined with the flop – the scissors jump takes place, but the body is flat as the athlete crosses the bar. This method allowed him to set a world record of just over 1.95m.

The western roll was then introduced by MF Horine, the direct precursor to the straddle jump, with the simple exception that the athlete doesn't roll so much over the bar7. This allowed him to take the record to just over 2m, breaking the important barrier. In 1936 Cornelius Johnson beat him by another inch. The Americans and the Russians would then be responsible for competing against each other for the next four decades. In 1956 the straddle jump was introduced which allowed the breaking of the 7ft barrier by Charles Dumas. Valeriy Brumel broke the world record multiple times by increasing the speed of his run, and by 1964 had added 7in to Dumas' record. The straddle world record set at 2.33m was made in 1977.

The rather solid sawdust was replaced by cushioning mats, which have increased in thickness every couple of years since 1968. While for most athletes this simply allowed them to be more aggressive with their jumps, it was the mad Dick Fosbury who took it too far8. Introducing the Fosbury Flop for the 1968 Olympics he took gold with his novel method. The introduction sounded the death knell for the straddle jump in international high jumping, at least for the moment.

You have now seen the three main methods, not to mention a good few variations to those methods, so which one will you pick? Or you can always try to find your own way of doing things – the choice is yours. The current world record is 2.45m. Remember, if you fail, even the Olympians get three chances – try, try, try again

Famous High Jumpers

  • The male high jump record was set by a Cuban, Javier Sotomayor, with the height of 2.45m, set all the way back in July 1993.

  • The women's high jump record has been standing even longer, set in August 1987. Stefka Kostadinova, from Bulgaria, managed a height of 2.09m.

  • Franklin Jacobs from the USA once jumped 2.32m, despite being only 1.73m tall himself, thereby setting a record of 59cm over his own head.

  • Russia's Ivan Ukhov has the reputation for being the only modern field athlete to be caught attempting to compete while drunk. After a not-so-stellar performance while failing to hold his liquor, he then won the 2012 Olympic gold medal in London with a height of 2.38m.

Interesting Fact About a 'Highjump'

Operation Highjump, held by the US armed forces, was a crucial role in convincing the government that the US Navy was worth reinforcing. In effect it was an enormous peaceful invasion of the Antarctic during a Southern winter. Somehow this showed the widespread capability of the US navy in different conditions – it also antagonised the Russians who were worried about the increase of US bases into the Antarctic regions. Coupled with the budget it helped preserve, Operation Highjump also set the stage for confrontations between the USSR and the US.

1In other words, if you jump with both feet, you're just jumping upwards into the bar, head first.2Well hopefully at least.3 The more quick-witted amongst you readers may have realised that you have just up, down, up – forming a...scissor-esk movement.4Again, hopefully.5That would be the year before the Modern Olympics restarted.6As you will see, Dick must have been rather lacking in any care about his body, not to mention common sense.7Despite the name, which would imply a dramatic level of spin to the athlete.8Or at least too high.

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Conversations About This Entry

There are no Conversations for this Entry

Edited Entry


Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Categorised In:

Written by


Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more