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Dr. George

Concepts of Vaulting
by Gerald S. George, Ph.D.
Concepts of Vaulting

"A moment of flight filled with sound and fury,"

and then

the story is told...




Like Balance Beam, Vaulting also has an unforgiving nature, but for different reasons. As a vault essentially involves one element, the gymnast has precious little--if any--opportunity to make corrections or adjustments during actual execution. Watching a performer accelerate down the runway, spring from the board to the vault table, and then propel herself high in the air for this "one shot" attempt at a complex multiple-somersault/twist maneuver can be breathtaking, even for the seasoned observer. Because it involves outright sprinting, immediately followed by tumbling "uphill" and the ultimate task of sticking the landing, Vaulting is considered by many to be the most exciting event in elite-level gymnastics!


Success in Vaulting requires

the "skills" of an advanced tumbler

as well as

the "running speed" of a champion sprinter!


Successful vaults depend fundamentally on impacting the board, the vault table, and the ground in proper sequential fashion. For this reason, careful review of chapter 5 (in book "Championship Gymnastics"), "The Mechanics of Impact," cannot be overemphasized. It provides a basic conceptual framework for optimizing execution in tumbling and vaults, with numerous examples and illustrations of mechanical technique, e.g., trajectories, momentum, and impact for take-off, repulsion, and landing. Its review will ensure better understanding of the following.

#1 Minimizing the Board Setting 

In the execution of any vault, the performer must pass through three airborne trajectories-hurdle, pre-flight, and post-flight--each inextricably related to the next in an immediate cause/effect fashion. Simply put, the nature and function of the hurdle trajectory directly influences the pre-flight, which in turn sets the stage for the post-flight. Because any performer, regardless of ability, has only a finite amount of energy to impart into the intended vault, it would be wise to direct the lion's share of this energy toward maximizing amplitude in that most important of trajectories, i.e., the post-flight.


To establish favorable environmental conditions for this endeavor, board placement in relation to the vault table is a vital consideration. Within a reasonable performance window, the closer the board can be placed to the table, the greater the opportunity to maximize vertical and horizontal amplitude in the post-flight phase.


Figure 11.1 shows the effect of board placement on post-flight amplitude. Because performer 1's board-to-table setting is comparatively large, some of her energy must be spent negotiating a longer-than-necessary pre-flight. As a result, her post-flight amplitude will always be something less than it could have been, regardless of her efforts. With a shorter board setting, performer 2 can better build upon the energy developed in the hurdle and pre-flight phases for that all-important post-flight phase. The basic idea is to "squeeze down" the hurdle and pre-flight trajectories (to whatever extent possible) so that maximum amplitude in the post-flight trajectory can be achieved!


Vaulting trajectories are classical examples


"robbing Peter to pay Paul"!

Figure 11.1 

 Figure 11.1. Comparative effects of board-to-vault-table placement on post-flight amplitude in Vaulting: (1) more distance = less amplitude; and (2) less distance = more amplitude.

    However it must be realized that the closer the board/vault table relationship, the faster the performer must rotate during the pre-flight phase to successfully accomplish the vault.Perhaps this explains why many performers who lack the ability to achieve sufficient pre-flight rotation compensate by positioning the board farther from the table, in an effort to garner more time for that rotation-and, perhaps, also explains why these performers find themselves unable to execute multiple-somersault/twist vaults successfully! 


*This article excerpted from Championship Gymnastics: Biomechanical Techniques for Shaping Winners. For additional information, see Chapter 11, "Concepts of Vaulting," pages 229-248. Also covered are:  

  • The Staircase Effect
  • Maximizing the Run-Up Distance
  • Training for Sprint Speed
  • Hitting the Mark
  • Board-Impact Techniques
  • Take-Off and Pre-flight
  • Hand Impact and Repulsion
  • Shaping the Post-flight Trajectory
  • Sounding the Rhythm

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