March 20, 2017
If you’re a youth coach or a high school coach and you have prospective hurdlers who don’t have the speed to three-step right away, you find yourself dealing with the predicament that the only other option is to have them five-step, which is not really an option at all because five-steppers go so slow between the hurdles that they have no chance to be competitive. But there is another option, and that is to teach the athlete how to four-step. Of course, four-stepping means alternating lead legs, but that is a surprisingly easy skill to teach if you start teaching it when the hurdler is still new and eager to run faster. Four-stepping allows the athlete to be at least somewhat competitive right away. Also, if the long-term goal is for the athlete to three-step, then four-stepping can serve as the first stage of the process of attaining that goal. Eventually, as the athlete grows stronger and faster, the four-step will feel crowded, and the process of transitioning to three-stepping can begin.
This year, in my private coaching, I have two girls who are in the four-step zone. For this post, I’ll focus on Sofia, an 8th-grader who five-stepped last year and is transitioning to four-stepping. When I first started with her a few weeks ago, the first thing I wanted to see was whether or not she had the speed to three-step. What I discovered was that she did have good speed, but her technique was slowing her down so much that she might as well not have the speed. She was locking her lead leg, twisting her arm, floating in the air. So there was no way she could maintain her speed well enough to clear the second hurdle in three strides. So I decided to teach her to four-step. That way, she could be competitive right away. And as her technique improved, we could consider a transition to three-stepping later in the season, or maybe not until next year, depending on how things went.
In the video above, you can see Sofia doing two of the basic drills I taught her to establish a confidence in both lead legs. My standard three-step marching drill is the first one, and then the three-step cycle drill comes next. With both drills the focus is on pushing off with the back leg. Although we tend to focus on the lead leg when alternating, the real difficulty lies with the trail leg. The weaker trail leg isn’t used to pushing off, and the push-off is the most important element in creating speed through the hurdle. The marching drill does not allow for speed, so the push-off is the only way to get up and over the hurdle. So I had her do ten reps, five leading with the left leg (her stronger leg), and five leading with the right leg. She did the odd-numbered reps leading with her left, and the even-numbered reps leading with her right. That way, the odd-numbered reps could inform her of how she wanted it to feel when she did the even-numbered reps. As you’ll see when you view the video, she had trouble pushing off when leading with the right leg, and she had trouble getting the knee of the lead leg as high. And her hips rise more. But that’s okay for now. The important thing for now is that she learn to develop a trust in leading with her right leg, pushing off with her left leg.
With the cycle drill, we’re doing the same thing, basically, except moving a little faster. You can see the same issues that you saw in the marching drill. Even on her stronger leg she has mistakes to fix. Although we didn’t do more drills in this particular workout, the next step would be to move into the quick-step drill, in which the hurdles are farther apart and speed between the hurdles increases. On this day, however, we went straight to the starting blocks and put the four-step rhythm into action. In previous workouts, we did a lot of quick-stepping and some starts. So, she is learning to trust the four-step rhythm, she is gradually clearing the hurdles lower than in previous workouts, and on one rep in this workout, she got crowded four-stepping to hurdle two, which indicates that the possibility of three-stepping may not be far off. But I want her to master the four-step first. I want her to maximize her potential as a four-stepper before we seriously attempt to make the transition to three-stepping. We still have a lot of technical things to fix, but she’s a hard worker with a great attitude, so we should be able to get to them all.