The Importance Of Speed In Long Jump

Xavier Smith, Freshman of Jordan High School.  6.54s 55m; 21'7" Long jump

By Doug Hague, NC MileSplit Photographer and Data Science Professional

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Some of you may know me since I've been posting photos on NC MileSplit for eight years and Instagram @hague.doug.  Recently, I've been having a discussion with one of our local coaches (OK, she is my wife, too) about sprinting speed versus the long jump distance, so being an analytics professional in my day job, I wanted to go to the data to analyze.  

I worked with MileSplit and FloSports and said I'd write this article so we can see what the data may show as well as develop a rule of thumb about how much speed matters? In addition, I'd like to know if the data can one tell if your jumper needs to work on speed or form.  Well, its done.  

This graph represents boys' and girls' season best's for the 2018-2019 Indoor season in the state of North Carolina. FloSports was generous enough to pull SBs for athletes who ran both the 55m and long jumped.  I looked at this in many ways: Each gender separately, together, specific individuals whom I'm knowledgeable about, and other methods. 

This graph shows long jump season PR in inches versus 55 meter dash PR times in seconds.  The best fit line shows the result for the typical athlete of either gender.  Surprisingly, the fit improved significantly if both genders were included vs by themselves.  This may be a factor of number of athletes in each, but for now I'm only going to talk about the combined results.  If you wanted to calculate a projected long jump distance from a 55 meter time, you would take the 55m time in seconds, multiply that by 40 and subtract this result from 500.  For those math geeks:  LJ = 500 - 40*t55.  This is in inches so then you can convert to feet/inches.  Using this equation, a typical 6.5 second 55m dash person would jump 240 inches or 20'.  Similarly, a 9.5 s 55m results in a 10' long jump.  The simple rule of thumb is that for each 0.1 seconds of improvement in the 55m, a typical jumper would improve 4" on the long jump. 

So now generally people will start saying "What about Eric Haddock.  He jumped 24' 5.5" and ran 6.55 s.  That is an incredible 55" over what this says!"  Well you are right, Eric and a few others are what is called outliers.  They have nearly perfected their form and get every inch out of their speed.  Note I was careful above to say a typical jumper above.  This brings up my next analysis, which should someone work on, speed or form?  

Another thing about Haddock is that he's had a big break out season and he credits that to really working and improving on his speed.  He says it's been a big focus for him this season in training and it shows.

You'll note that I have two additional dotted lines on the graph above.  These are simply 2' better and worse than the "typical" result.  Now if you are a statistician, don't start objecting to my not using 95% confidence intervals.  I chose to have a fixed, round, distance for usability and simplicity.

So here is my interpretation and if you have others, put your opinion in the comments.  Two main assumptions that I have is 1) once an athlete can feel the right form, they will be able to maintain this as they get faster (aka move diagonally up the chart) and 2) form improvements will move the athlete further away from the typical or vertical on the chart. 

If an athlete is below the line, it is all about FORM!  knee drive, height, eyes up, legs out, landing (plus lots more that you can find on YouTube...).  If an athlete is near the typical line, work on both, but likely form first as speed is generally a slower to improve.  If you are 10 or more inches above the projection, speed work is likely the method for you, especially if you are not already under 7.0s for boys and 7.7s for girls.  As an athlete reaches an elite sprinter status, the only way to improve is form.  Good form will get an athlete 2' better than typical and great form 3' or more.  One example that I'm personally aware of is an extremely quick 55m runner in the data that has only long jumped at 2 practices and one meet.  The result?  Over 20' and state state concisely: Speed overcomes many form issues.  Form is the differentiator only after an athlete has the speed.

Let me know what you think in the comments.  If you have other ideas that you would like to see data for a rule of thumb that you use, let me know that as well.

One last statement on Athlete A:  You totally didn't want to long jump did you??? and YES I know your name!