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Basic Hurdle Technique
by R. Lewis
Illustrated by Advantage Athletics

Viewing these sequence pictures of running low hurdles may improve your running speed, mechanics, form or coaching skills.

Viewing this article may improve your hurdle running speed, mechanics, form or coaching skills. 

The hurdles are one of the more difficult events in track and field. They combine sprinting, both short and intermediate, and jumping. Teaching and training for the hurdles are also taught in these two phases. Conditioning, speed and agility drills are necessary components for the running aspects of the hurdles. For now, we will concentrate on the jumping aspect of the event the hurdle!

Navigating the hurdle can be broken down into three main phases the three Ts;

1)      Takeoff            2) Transition                 3) Touchdown.

The Take Off  Attacking the Hurdle

Anjanette Kirkland,
110 Low Hurdles, 12.63, 2001 World Indoor and Outdoor gold medalist; 2001 U.S. Indoor champ; 3rd at 2001 U.S. Outdoor Champs; Bronze medalist at 2001 Goodwill Games

Victor Houston
2002 Mt. SAC Relays 400 Intermediate Hurdles Champion, 50.57, 2000 Sydney Olympic Games in the 110 hurdles and the 400 hurdles for Barbados

The takeoff is moving from the running phase to the jumping phase of the race. The takeoff will set up the next two steps in this process. The drive and lift gained here will allow your momentum to carry you over the hurdle and return to running.

The first concept you must have is how to mentally approach the hurdle. In many cases hurdles first run into trouble when they slow down, or stutter step while approaching the hurdle. The hurdle is an inanimate object; it just sits there yet many who run the hurdles fear it. It is not going to move, or jump up in front of you. Mentally the hurdle must attack! There can be no hesitation, no slowing, take no prisoners! Good hurdles respect the hurdle, but do not fear it. Does this sound a bit corny? Yes, but it is also true.

The basic parts of the takeoff are speed and drive. The hurdler must maintain their speed as they approach the hurdle, or even attempt to accelerate. Any loss of speed will add extra time after the hurdle, as the runner must reaccelerate. The hurdler should be in good running form, leaning slightly forward, power in their legs.

The drive involves both lower and upper body movement. Notice first the upper body of both sprinters in the pictures at the beginning of this section. Their arms help power them into the takeoff, driving and reaching upwards. Both hurdlers lift with their left arms, as their right legs are their lead leg (the leg that goes first). The lead leg reaches and drives the hurdler up into the hurdle, creating the force necessary to cross over. (That's why bounding drills are so important).

Transition  Over the Hurdle

       

Once you have attacked the hurdle, you must transfer yourself to the other side. This process mainly involves your trail leg (the leg behind you). The faster this leg can come over the hurdle and hit the ground running, the faster your total transition time over the hurdle is.

There are several things to notice. First, the drive leg, or lead leg, has now extended. This leg is important because it will be the leading force in moving from the jumping to the running phase (see touchdown phase). The trail leg is also raised to clear the hurdle. Being flat over the hurdle is not always the best thing to be. Some hurdles will work to be flat, and will stall out over the hurdle. They actually hang there too long, slowing down the rest of their race. The lead leg needs to get up so that it clears the hurdle (you of course never want contact with the hurdle), and the body follows. The lead leg on good hurdlers will immediately after clearing the hurdle, begin to fall to the ground.

The trail leg is the downfall of many aspiring hurdlers. While it is important, having a slow trail leg is not the end of the world for a hurdler. As your body clears the hurdle, your trail leg must whip over the top, and return to the ground in running form. During this phase, the key is to actually convince your body of the need to accelerate to complete the transition in a faster rhythm than the running rhythm.

Touchdown  Back to Running

         

   The final phase of the hurdle is to return to the running stride. The faster this can be accomplished, the faster the time between hurdles will be. Remember, if you slow down in any of the three phases over the hurdle, then you must waste time to reaccelerate.

   The term touchdown refers to when the lead leg has come over the hurdle, and touches down on the ground again. This signifies the end of the jumping phase and the return to running. As the season progresses, many coaches will work with touchdown times charts that will help them determine what a hurdlers splits will be between hurdles to run a certain time for their race.

   The lead legs, and more importantly, the lead foot, act as a shock absorber for the entire body. If you land extended, which means your foot is out in front of you and your body is way behind, you have a good chance of sliding, or spraining an ankle. On the other hand, if your foot comes down too soon, and your body gets ahead of you, you are likely to stumble and fall.

   The proper touchdown is with the foot in an upright position, your body slightly behind, but almost on top of your foot. You do want to return your foot to the ground as fast as possible after clearing the hurdle. The faster you are on the ground again, the faster you can start running again. Hurdlers are taught to paw, like a horse would paw the ground. For the hurdler, to paw means to bring the foot back at an angle towards the body. By doing this, the foot is locked and loaded, and ready to run as soon as it hits the ground.

Once touchdown has been achieved, the focus returns to the trail leg. Speed, snap and quickness are bonuses to returning to the run phase. The faster you can take the first two steps after the hurdle, the lead leg mention already, and now the trail leg, the faster you return to a full sprint mode. In basic drills, hurdlers will work to increase the speed and snap of the trail leg.

Getting Ready

     Of course you understand, you don't just decide to run hurdles one day, and magically have the ability to do so. There are some gifted athletes who can run the race with little practice and get fairly good time, but to reach your potential in the hurdles requires a lot of work.

    1. To begin with, conditioning is VERY important in hurdles. Interrupting the running stride to jump a stationary object is taxing. Getting stronger through weightlifting is also a benefit. It takes power to drive through the hurdle. In addition, to get better, you need to practice running the hurdles, which requires a lot of stamina and endurance. You have to be in good physical condition!

   2. Flexibility is a big key. Hurdlers need to do a number of extra stretches in addition to the normal stretching routine used by sprinters. More emphasis is placed on the quads, groin and hamstring muscles to prepare for the hurdles. Being flexible will allow a faster transition over the hurdle, increase your endurance and stamina to keep working on the hurdles, and prevent injuries.

   3. Agility drills are very important. Working on form running, foot speed drills, bounding, and other footwork drills are needed preparation for learning and improving the skills needed for hurdling.

   4. Attitude! Hurdlers have to be hurdlers because they want to be hurdlers! You have to have a let it all hang out, gutsy, I'm going to blow these things away attitude. Mental preparation before the season, in preseason and during the season is just as important as during race day. You have to make a commitment to work hard, and do all the things you are asked to do to become a better hurdler.

Terms to know;

Takeoff                        Transition                     Touchdown                  Lead Leg

Trail Leg                       Paw                             Drive                            Running Mode

Jumping Mode             Running Mode

Drills for Hurdlers

1.      Skips  again, emphasis on reaching with arms and legs for height.

2.       Skip Out  Skip drill, but emphasis on driving leg to the outside.

3.      Bounding for Height  Emphasis on reaching with arms and legs for height, working on the drive aspect of the takeoff.

4.      Bounding for Distance  Emphasis on reaching out. Hurdlers should try to reach with lead leg as they would on the takeoff.

5.      Paw Skips  leg extended, thigh flat, paw with foot.

6.      Alternating Fast Leg  slower running motion, alternate between legs and give step a sudden burst

7.      Backward running  leaning forward very important to stretch out hamstring.

These drills will be done every day with the other speed and agility drills. For hurdlers, they should expend a more concentrated effort on these drills.

We also do a lot of work with;

Lunges  starting slow  50M lunges (2X). Concentrate on upper body as well.

Abdominal Work  very important muscle for hurdling.

Hip Flexor Work  usually over hurdles, walking drills to increase flexibility.

ALWAYS REMEMBER

  1. To Warm Up properly jogging, stretching and agility warm ups are ALL necessary to prepare for a hurdle workout.

  2. To Cool Down properly after the workout jogging will help tired and strained muscles relax, and stretch immediately after and 2-4 hours after the workout will help your body bounce back for the next days workout.

  3. Set goals for what you want to accomplish and work to achieve them.

  4. To HAVE FUN! If you're not, no matter how hard the workout is, you need to reevaluate your goals and objectives!

Go Colts and Fillies 2003
Girls State A Champs 1997, 1998, 1999
Boys State A Champs 2000, 2001, 2002