Back in the 1940's, cotton was king. Though nylon and some other synthetics were on the scene, they weren't in wide use for clothing – and that was as true for track and field as it was for street clothes. Today's high jumper, though, usually wears synthetics – mostly forms of nylon and polyester.
Shoes have also evolved. Nylon uppers and synthetic soles weren't in general use for footwear in the WW II era. Leather and canvas have now given way to nylon and other synthetics, which make for lighter, more breathable shoes. Manufacturers such as Nike and Adidas make shoes specifically for high jumping.
Modern foams and air bags have made high jump pits a much more comfortable proposition… and enabled the development of the “flop” style jump that now predominates in the sport. Early jumpers used the scissors style partly for self-preservation. Landings could be hard.
The use of glass composites and aluminum for crossbars is also a fairly modern innovation.
Improving your speed in the long jump – critical to good distance – can be accomplished in much the same way you would train for any sprint event… except that you won't be starting from blocks. General information on increasing sprinting speed can be found in good track and field coaching manuals.
Basically, you'll need to increase core strength (circuit or weight training) and work out a running program with your coach that includes speed interval training. Don't neglect your long jump form drills, either. As your running speed increases, so may your stride… which could possibly throw you off a bit on your approach.
The short answer to increasing speed while holding off fatigue is: conditioning. In other words, if you want to be able to run faster, practice running faster.
The long answer is a bit more complex, but it amounts to the same thing. A weight lifter trains his or her body to lift greater and greater amounts of weight in competition by increasing the weight they lift in practice. In a similar manner, the runner trains his or her body to run faster in races by running faster during training.
The classic speed training is an interval workout. During interval training, a runner repeatedly covers distances shorter than their planned race distance, but at a faster pace then their normal race pace. Done consistently – with adequate recovery periods between interval workouts – this conditions their body to run faster while minimizing fatigue.
A typical interval workout for a miler or 1500-meter runner might include repetitions at 400 meters and 800 meters run at faster than race pace. Recovery times could vary based on intensity.
Interval training is serious work and increases the risk of injury. For this reason, you should consult with your coach before adding interval training to your workout schedule.
Some runners add conditioning to their training by using “fartlek” – roughly translated from the Swedish as “speed play.”
Fartlek is less structured than interval training – and generally less intense in practice. But the goal is the same: to increase overall speed by adding periods of training that are faster than race pace.
A fartlek workout could be as simple as increasing your training pace between every third and fourth telephone pole.
Most kids naturally love to run. And encouraging exercise is one of the best things a parent can do for their child's long-term health. Where we have to be careful is that our adult enthusiasm can easily turn what was once fun for our kids into work.
Unless your child is specifically looking for guidance on becoming a better runner – and it does happen - six is probably too young to begin “training.” However, it's not too young for you to be there to answer questions when they come up.
A number of all-round training books, such as Patricia G. Avila's “Fitness for Sports and Health,” include some information on breathing techniques. Many yoga books also contain a great deal of information on breathing that you may find helpful.
For more general information on cross country for younger runners, there are a number of books available, such as “Training for Young Distance Runners” by Laurence S. Greene.
If your child is truly interested in running cross country at such a young age, by all means, encourage her or him. Better yet, run with your child… but keep the speed and distance age-appropriate. That is, fairly slow and fairly short.
Learn what you can about the sport, and be ready with answers. But be careful not to volunteer too much advice or set your child's expectations for her. An over-eager parent can inadvertantly quash a child's enthusiasm for an activity.
A good first step for new or aspiring high school track & field coaches is to visit the National Federation of State High School Associations' website at www.nfhs.com. There you can order a copy of the latest “Track & Field Rules Book” for a minimal fee.
There are quite a few coaching guides available, including “The Athletics Congress's Track and Field Coaching Manual” by The Athletics Congress and Vern Gambetta and
“USA Track & Field Coaching Manual” by USA Track & Field and Joseph L. Rogers.
Two other coaching books with good reputations are “Coaching Track & Field Successfully” by Mark Guthrie and “Track & Field Coach's Survival Guide” by Edward Wallace, Jr.
Pole vaulters generally wear shoes designed specifically for field events. And some governing bodies have also begun requiring the use of a pole vault helmet. But other clothing worn by pole vaulters tends to be more generic.
Shorts and singlets are predominant for men. Many women opt for bra tops or even "sprint suits," which better address their special support and coverage concerns.
Various forms of nylon and polyester are the most common fibers used in track and field wear today. Lycra and Spandex are commonly added to stretch and form-fitting items.
By the mid-1940's, both nylon and polyester had been invented - and nylon was in wide use for certain products, such as women's stockings. But, at that time, cotton held about 75% of the fiber market. It wasn't until later that man-made fibers became predominant in the manufacture of track and field apparel.