After hurdlers become comfortable when clearing the hurdles, the next step is to improve their technique. The following advice and tips are based on a presentation by David Mitchell at the 2014 Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association’s 2014 clinic.
Improved Hurdling Form
Hurdlers should aim for perfect form, especially on walkovers and half-speed drills. Coaches should try to hold them to a high standard and try to correct bad habits immediately, rather than letting the hurdlers continue to display bad form. Experienced coaches can even listen to a hurdler and tell when things are going well for them, just by hearing that rhythm and hearing how much pause occurs when the athletes reach the hurdles.
To help work on the smaller details, hurdlers can perform single-leg walking drills over the sides of the hurdles. For a hurdler who leads with the left leg, walk to the right of the hurdle and step over the hurdle with the left leg. Then walk on the left side of the hurdle to practice the trail leg. When hurdlers perform trail-leg walkovers they must take an exaggerated, long step with lead leg first, so the foot lands beyond the hurdle, before lifting the trail leg over the hurdle. The foot of the trail leg should then land beyond the lead foot to replicate a running stride.
A good teaching method for beginning hurdlers is to begin practice with two-leg walkovers or half-speed drills, followed by single-leg drills and then more full walkovers. Doing drills in this order lets hurdlers work on the overall skill of hurdle clearance before breaking it down into its two main parts, and then finishing practice by working on the complete skill again. In general, this whole-part-whole method is an effective way to learn any new athletic skill.
If a team trains indoors – during the winter, for example – and only runs four to six hurdles at a time, the hurdlers will need to build strength and endurance when they move outdoors, in preparation for races in which they must clear 10 hurdles. A good workout that’s also a good strength-builder is to set out 12 hurdles spread 1 meter shorter than normal and are 3 inches shorter in height. The hurdlers run – at less than race pace – through all 12 hurdles on the first repetition. The coaches then remove one or two hurdles for each successive rep. When only four or five hurdles remain, the athletes run through them as fast as possible, once or twice, to end the workout. The drill builds their strength and they see more hurdles than they’ve been accustomed to. And it won’t be so intimidating when they see 10 hurdles during a race, because they’ve handled 12 in practice. That’s a nice transition workout from training indoors to training outdoors.
To practice the three-step form that’s necessary for the sprint hurdles, coaches can place small barriers – such as pizza boxes – on the track about 7 meters apart and have hurdlers take three steps between boxes. The hurdlers should focus on sprinting rather than jumping over the barriers, to maximize their ground time and get into the three-step rhythm. Potential sprint hurdlers should learn the three-step approach early. If necessary, coaches should move the barriers closer to force the hurdlers into the three-step rhythm. If hurdlers four-step during a race they’ll be forced to alternate lead legs, which is much slower, particularly for a young athlete. Once hurdlers can perform the three-step drill at about 7 meters, expand the distance as they get stronger until they can three-step at the correct distance.
Also, when hurdlers practice with shorter spacing the hurdles come up fast, as they will in a race, so the drill teaches the hurdler what a race feels like.