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The Physics of Pole Vaulting

Please make sure Java is enabled in your browser. Using very simple physics principles (see below), this program lets you estimate how high you could theoretically vault based on how tall you are and how fast you can run, assuming you had the proper training and optimal efficiency. To figure out how high you could vault, simply enter a sprint speed and your height in the appropriate boxes.

Pole vaulting is a wonderful illustration of how one type of energy is converted to another type of energy. Through the proper use of the pole vault, the energy of motion associated with the sprint is converted into the energy needed to overcome gravity and reach a certain height. The energy of motion is called "kinetic energy," while the energy associated with working against gravity is called "gravitational potential energy." The faster you can sprint toward the bar, the higher you can vault over the bar, again assuming a proper technique.

Pole vaulting is also a great example of the central principle in physics: the conservation of energy.

The conservation of energy says that energy can never be created or destroyed; it can only be converted from one form to another. When you pole vault, what you ideally want is to convert all of your kinetic energy into gravitational potential energy. In the real world, you can never get a 100 percent conversion because some of the kinetic energy gets converted into other kinds of energy, such as heat, friction, sound, and vibrations of the pole itself. Nevertheless, the "ideal case" gives you a good idea of how high you could jump.