The Safest and Fastest Way to Vault a Barrier

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Maybe you’ve run a 5km or maybe even a marathon. But how will you fare when obstacles are added to the mix? Don’t worry, I can say that this technique is an effective, fast and safe way to get over an obstacle. In this tutorial I’ll cover how to get over a fence, road barrier, low wall, hay bale or other similar obstacle commonly found in races – using a simple vault movement.

How to do the Step Through Vault

Used on

If we split obstacles into three lose categories of low-height (anything below your waist), mid-height (anything around your waist), and high-height (anything above your head), then this technique is best used on mid-height obstacles – such as a fence, road barrier, low wall, hay bale, farm animals and so on. I will demonstrate using a farm gate.

Demonstration

Advantages
  • Can be performed with either side of the body
  • Doesn’t break running gait
  • Can spot your landing, and can pull-out if required
  • Uses less energy than hurdling over an obstacle
Disadvantages
  • Slower than some other vaults
  • Obstacle needs to be stable enough to support your weight

Step by step execution

Step 1:

Vault tutorial step 1

Stand directly in front of the obstacle while facing it and place a hand on top. It can be either hand – use whichever feels more comfortable for you.

Step 2:

Vault tutorial step 2

Next, lift the leg from the opposite side of your body (ie if you’ve used your left hand, as I have in the photos, then use your right leg), and place your foot on top of the obstacle (Note: yes, the farm gate shown in this tutorial is fairly high and so requires decent flexibility to reach a leg above waist height. If you find an obstacle where you struggle with lifting your leg to height, I cover what to do to adapt for this at the end of this tutorial).

Step 3:

Vault tutorial step 3

Now comes the hard(er) part. Transfer your weight onto your hand and foot on top of the obstacle, and push up so that your torso raises up above the obstacle and you’re supporting yourself on top of the obstacle, as shown in the photo (you may have to use both hands on top of the obstacle to help you push and also balance – this is fine).

Tip: aim to keep your body on a diagonal angle, as in the photo (notice that a diagonal line could be drawn from my head, through my torso, down my leg, and to my foot), rather than on a vertical angle (as if you were sitting on top) – as this will allow you to keep your torso lower and thus not use as much energy pushing up. This will also allow you to move faster over the obstacle, as you won’t have to jump as high and break your forward momentum.

Next find your balance so that you can pause in the position shown in the photo. This is the part most people struggle with – as balancing on a narrow surface using only two limbs is not something most of us practice. If you’ve used your other hand to help you push up, remove it from the obstacle now – as you can use it to stick out and wave around to act as a counter-balance to help you stay balanced.

The point of being able to stay in control and balanced is that you can now safely spot your landing point. Look at the ground in front of you where you will land. Is it clear? Is it flat? If there’s rocks, or a giant mud pit, or cow poo, now is the time to re-evaluate your landing point by perhaps shifting sideways or even reversing back over the obstacle to pick a new spot to climbup. This is one of the main advantages of this technique – it allows you to pull out and cancel if your landing point is not safe.

Tip: keep your arm, the one supporting your weight, as close to vertical as possible. If you look at the photo above, my left shoulder is directly over my left hand, which allows me to support the weight of my torso easily. If your hand is too far out to either side, so that your shoulder is not over your hand, you will find it difficult to support your weight and more difficult to balance.

Step 4:

Vault tutorial step 4

Now we can get down to the ground again! With your other leg step through the gap created between your body and the obstacle (hence why this technique is called the “step through” vault).

Tip: a common mistake is not lifting the foot high enough and finding that you catch your toes or knee on the top of the obstacle – this both hurts and can cause you to lose balance. Practice this part so that you can quickly judge how high to lift your foot while keeping your eyes on the ground where you’ll land rather than looking backwards at your foot. A second common mistake is not supporting yourself high enough, so that there’s not enough room to easily transition your leg through the gap. Practice step 3 so that you know the correct position well and then can easily move through it at speed.

Step 5:

Vault tutorial step 5

Carry forwards with the movement from the previous step, so that your leg continues to the ground and your foot on top of the obstacle is forced to come to the ground as well.

Tip: the trick is to not land with both feet together side-by-side (as this will bring you to a stop), but to land with the one foot first and the second staggered in front of it, as I have done in the photo above, so that you can continue back into running without any stop.

Push off with the hand on the obstacle to get clearance away from the obstacle for landing and to help you move back into running forwards. You’ll notice that the first point of contact with the obstacle, your hand, will also be the last point of contact – the movement has a symmetry to it, and looks graceful when performed quickly.

Step 6:

Practice, so that you can put it all together into one continuous movement. And good luck and have fun at your next race!

Advanced

For those of you who want something more, here’s some advanced tips to make the step-through vault even more effective.

Work on continuing running uninterrupted

If you rewatch the video demonstration, notice that the foot movement used during running of alternating which foot contacts the ground is not interrupted even while vaulting over the obstacle. Ie I run into the obstacle, jump off my right foot, put my left foot on the obstacle, land on my right foot, and then land on my left foot, before continuing into running again: the foot placement alternates sides throughout the movement. Being able to not break your step makes for a fast movement over an obstacle! And allows you as little time as as possible away from covering ground with running. After all, running is what wins races.

Use on higher obstacles

Sometimes an obstacle is slightly too high to step from the ground onto, or perhaps your hip flexibility doesn’t allow you to reach a leg up to waist height. To solve this: Using a front support position before starting the vault, shown in the photo below, where both hands are on the obstacle with straight arms and your shoulders are supported over your hands, you’ll notice that I’ve gained a decent amount of height between my feet and the ground. From here I can now more easily left a leg up and sideways into step 2 (see above) and lift one hand off to find the position of step 3.

Vault tutorial step 6

Get down from higher levels

Vault tutorial step 7

The step through vault is very versatile in that it can be adapted for getting down off a higher level more safely then merely jumping off. If for some reason I found myself on top of the fence as in the photo above (or on top of a rock, shipping container, cargo net frame, rooftop or etc), then I can lower myself down into a step through vault to lesson the impact of landing from such a height. This works because you can lower your centre of body mass before jumping off.

Vault tutorial step 4

To do this, squat down and bend sideways part way through the squat so that one hand touches the ledge. Next, lift the foot and step through the gap while pushing yourself off the ledge. You’ve effectively dropped from a slightly lower height than standing. If the obstacle is low enough, or if you’re legs are strong enough, you can even land in a staggered foot position to instantly continue into running out of the drop.

Questions

Get in touch, or let us know on the Obstacle Racers NZ Facebook.


This article was originally published on The Obstacle Method in May 2016.

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