POPAT Tips: Why you struggle with the VAULT

The POPAT (the Police Officer Physical Abilities Test) can be a challenging feat. Between the Agility Run, the Pull/Push Machine and the Vault, there are numerous possible sticking points. Each person has their own sticking points, and no two people have the same training background and experience.

While this article is specific to the POPAT, the principles remain the same for the PARE. Generally, the vault on the PARE is less challenging because you don't complete the vaults in succession, and you perform them earlier in the course. There are 3 common reasons for this: your don't use your arms, you're not jumping and you're too exhausted. In this article, we tackle these obstacles and how to train to master the vault. 

Quite often, I get asked about the Vault. If you are unfamiliar with the rules for the POPAT, it is worth checking out this video:

It's important to know if you keep touching the vault with anything besides your hands you will have to repeat vaults. This means you are wasting time and energy, so make sure to complete each rep as cleanly as possible. A short rest will often take less time than having to repeat a vault.

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If you are struggling with the vault it is usually for one of the following reasons:

A) You don't use your arms

When you are going over the vault, you want to use your hands to support your body and guide yourself throughout the jump. This helps you use less leg power, and ultimately keep your body above the bar and prevent you from hitting it on the way by with your legs.

Tips to fix this...

  • Keep your hand under your torso/shoulders, not out in front of you

  • Lock out your elbows and actively push yourself up and away from the bar

How to train this...

  • Clock Push Ups: help you learn how to support your body weight on your arms while moving.

  • Plank Leans: they teach you how to position your body above your arms, which are your base of support. You can also do this exercise with a chair/box

  • Mountain Climbers: like the push-up, they teach your how to support your body weight on your arms during movement. They also teach you to utilize the mechanical advantage of straight/locked arms.

B) You aren't jumping

If you are going to be successful at getting over the railing, you need to use your legs to generate power. Think 'Up-before-Over'. You need to jump upwards first, taking advantage of your leg power to generate momentum, and then transfer that momentum to your vault over the bar.

Tips to fix this...

  • Jump through to your toes

  • Think about 'pushing' the floor away

  • Be patient and avoid trying to go over the vault before you have actually jumped

How to train this...

  • Squats to the Toes: perform squats (body weight and weighted) and include a calf raise at the end of the movement. This will help teach you to integrate the squat into a jump

  • Wall-Balls: The Wall-Ball is a metabolically challenging and power-oriented movement. It will help build your engine and improve your jumping abilities at the same time

  • Jump Squats/Jumping Split Squats: if you are going to learn to jump, it is helpful to practice jumping. Switch between Jump Squats and Jumping Split Squats. These are going to tire you out in a hurry, but rapidly improve your leg strength and jumping abilities.


C) You're exhausted when you get there

If you are completely winded by the time you get to the vault you are going to struggle with it. The obvious, but unfortunate, the solution to this: improve your conditioning. I have written extensively about conditioning and how to build you engine here, here and here.

That being said, there are a few training tips you can utilize to help you with the vault at the end of the POPAT.

How to train this...

  • Get tired, then Jump: to get used jumping when you are tired, and you will feel considerable more comfortable at the end of the test. Try the following, and see who you do: run 400m all out and then perform 10 squat jumps

  • Get tired and then support our body weight: do the same thing as above, but substitute planks or mountain climbers with the squat jumps. You will quickly realize the challenge involved with this: it is hard to breathe and stabilize at the same time. The more you train, the easier this will become.

If you follow these tips, you should make some significant improvements on the vault. The key to success is consistency. Add in a little bit of hard work and you are well on your way towards your best PAT time yet.


-Mark Murdoch

B.Kin, Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology CPT

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Author: Mark Murdoch, Kinesiologist, Chiropractic Student. Have questions? Email me. I want to help! mark@leofitness.ca