So after a long hiatus from pole vaulting, 6 years to be exact, I have chosen to start doing some vaulting again. For the last 5 years or so, I got into ultra running and it all culminated in me finishing a 100 mile race in 29 hours and 22 minutes. It was very hard and it hurt very bad. I will draw lessons from that experience for the rest of my life, and I have no intentions of ever doing it again. Through that experience, not only did I develop a new understanding of what my body and mind is capable of doing, but I also developed a “skinny fat” body and significant strength and power loss. Distance running provided me long stints of time to think, listen to my breath, and space out. It also made me weak, tired, and hungry all day long, every day. I realIy don’t want to feel like that anymore and this is the driver behind my decision to pole vault again. I feel better about myself when I am powerful, can move fast, and have some sort of “muscles”. I want to feel athletic, energized, and strong again. So here we go Jake, let’s make it happen!!!!
Well…It isn’t as easy as I remembered. I had forgotten about the difficulties of the first few weeks of a new strength and speed training block. I have gained five pounds, I am tired, hungry, sore, weak, irritable, and very far away from being confident in my body composition. After my first week of pole vault training, am I really about to pack it up and call it quits??? No, I have been through this before, and it sucks, but through all my years of training to be a strength and speed athlete, I can recognize the woes of a new pole vault training regimen, accept them for what they are, and press on knowing that confidence and good times are on the horizon. The following are two obstacles that I see all the time with people starting new pole vault training plans and some remedies that I have learned over the years to help you through them.
Obstacle #1: Gaining weight at the beginning of new training block.
Yeah, I’m sorry to inform you that you will most likely gain weight during the first phase of your pole vault training plan. The good thing is that it is temporary. As I write this, I am going through this thick phase. Any time that you change anything drastically in your pole vault training, you need to give your body some time to adapt. If you have done no lifting in a while, your muscles are like, “Bruh, what the heck are you doing???”. Basically, you just dropped a bomb on them and they are hoarding water and nutrients like people were doing with toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic. Your muscles are being subjected to micro tears that are requiring more water and nutrients to repair, and they aren’t going to let go of those resources until the job is done. These micro tears cause an inflammatory response that is a necessary evil causing both the opportunity for your muscles to heal, while also causing you to gain a little weight, make you sore, and strip your energy. In addition to the inflammatory response, if you have started to use supplements like creatine (like I do), your muscles may be retaining a bit more water causing a touch of water weight gain as well. Your body is in a panic, and it is preparing for the worst, but as long as you continue to give it consistent doses of stress, it will adapt and become much better and making this stress response much more efficient and not as pronounced in the future.
So I guess I will just use some real life numbers since I am going through this right now. I went into my first day of pole vault training at 190 pounds. In the past, I have always vaulted my best at 180-185 pounds, so I was very disappointed to find out that I was 193 pounds after my first week of lifting and eating better. Well, luckily I knew this was coming, and I prepared my mind for it. Most people think once they start an exercise and diet plan that the results immediately start going in the direction they want. In reality, you have to be cool with taking one step backward to take many steps forward. At the end of two weeks, I was back to 190 pounds, and right now in the middle of week three, my body is letting it’s guard down and my weight has reduced right along side my soreness. I am now 188. I still have A LOT of work to do, but my body has chilled out and I am through that initial phase of gaining weight, fighting through soreness, and I am feeling a bit better about my situation. This time around, my adjustment period or “thick phase” was roughly 2.5 weeks but in the past it has taken three, or four, and sometimes six weeks to see some positive change so BE PATIENT!!!!
One last note about body weight in the pole vault. Weather you weigh yourself or not is really up to you, but remember that you should view your “weight” in a five pound range and don’t get addicted to having it be an exact number. If your confidence is going to be shot because you weigh 140 and the next day you are on cloud nine because you weigh 139.8 you are going to be riding one crazy roller coaster your whole career. For me, the body weight range where I am the most effective is, 180-185. If I’m in that range, I’m good. If I am out of it, I may need to tighten up some things with my diet or pole vault training.
Obstacle #2: I’m not seeing my body composition change.
So after roughly two-four weeks, the soreness and weight gain has started to subside and I am physically feeling a little lighter, stronger, and more “poppy”, but mentally, I am still in a difficult spot when I look in the mirror and see the exact same body composition. I look in the mirror and see where I’m at, remember where I have been in the past (aka the best condition of my life), and am thinking of how far away I am from where I want to go. This can be a very overwhelming feeling.
When I was younger and especially when I started to vault as an emerging elite after college, I had a lot of issues with body image. Hahahaha, yes, please laugh at me because I said I have struggled with body image issues. Joke is on you, because everyone has these issues from time to time. It will rear it’s ugly head up in different phases of your life, and it’s important to develop healthy ways to deal with it.
Now when I say that I struggled with body image I mean a couple different things. First is, I wanted to look good. Obviously everyone wants to look good, but that is just the ego speaking, and that is a different topic. For my vaulting, the issue was that I associated vaulting high with being very muscular and having no body fat, thank you Russ Buller (hahaha, just kidding). But for real, I would look at other vaulters that jumped higher than me and say to myself, “Well, I guess I need to look like that to pole vault high”. Look better vault better, right? That is the dumbest and most ineffective way to get the best pole vaulting performance out of your body. Obviously in a sport trying to defeat gravity, a leaner frame is advantageous, but once your body composition gets to a certain point, the way you look has no correlation with how you perform.
One of the best ways to stay motivated and confident while in the beginning phases of your new pole vault training regimen is to use performance as your unit of measurement instead of how you look in the mirror. What I mean by this is to log your workouts and base your improvement on how much weight you are lifting, your power output, how fast you are running, etc. Logging these performance indicators is a great way for you to start rolling the snowball of success. It will generally take less time for you to see an improvement in strength or speed than it will for you to see your body composition change. Over time though, like a good amount of time, like 6-12 weeks time, you will see that as your performance numbers increase, magically, your body slowly starts to transform and you begin to see those results in the mirror that you were looking for in the beginning phases of your pole vault training. This focus is more objective and pole vault specific. If what you are after is a better performance in the pole vault, you should be focused on goals that have a direct impact on your ability to pole vault higher, not on what you look like in the mirror. I have seen a lot of ripped vaulters that can’t pole vault high, and I have seen a lot of average looking bodies fly very high in the air. Focusing on how your body is performing and not on how it looks is the move.
Change is good, but change is hard. Too make successful change patience along with persistence is required. Understanding how your body works and how to prepare your mind for your upcoming pole vault training block will really help set you up for a more successful, and more importantly, enjoyable experience. When beginning a new pole vault training block or substantially adjusting your exercise regimen, anticipate the arrival of the obstacles addressed above and react accordingly!