From Four to Three

March 24, 2017

The transition from four-stepping to three-stepping in the 100m hurdles is one of the more difficult ones to make, and many coaches over the years have expressed frustration in trying to facilitate this process, and I have had my struggles as well. I started working with Scout, a high school junior, this past November. It’s about a 2-hour drive for her dad to bring her to where I am, so we meet as often as we can – once a week at the most. Last year, before we met, she was taking nine steps to the first hurdle in the 100h, and four steps between all the rest. So we were able to fix her start so that she can now take 8 steps to the first hurdle with ease, but the transition to 3-stepping is proving to take more time.

In the video above, I spliced together two practice reps (from separate practices) and footage from her first outdoor race, which she ran earlier this week. In the first practice rep over six hurdles, she three-steps hurdle two, then four-steps the rest. In the second practice rep, over three hurdles, she is able to three-step hurdles two and three.

What I don’t like about her three-step, though, is how she’s getting there. She is running to each hurdle instead of sprinting through each hurdle. So, even though she is reaching the hurdle in three steps, there is no real speed behind it. If you look at her arm action and knee lift when she three-steps, you can see that she is scooting along, reaching with her feet. She is not trusting her speed. Scout knows how to sprint properly. The fact that she is not doing it here indicates that her focus is more on reaching the hurdle than on sprinting. If she were to trust her speed and sprint – with high knee action and high heel recovery – she would cover the ground she needs to cover to three-step and maintain her speed.

The lack of trust in her speed is common among hurdlers who are transitioning from four-stepping to three-stepping. To them, taking out that fourth stride feels like a leap of faith. And while moving in the hurdles to allow for an easier three-step with a more comfortable take-off distance makes sense in the off-season and pre-season, we are not at the time of year where we have to prepare for races and decide what the strategy will be heading into the next meet.

Our strategy going into this past week’s meet was to three-step hurdle two and then four-step the rest of the way. But because the race was run on an asphalt track, that strategy went out the window. She had to four-step the whole way because three-stepping at all on an asphalt track would’ve been too much of a risk.

Four-stepping the whole way, Scout still ran a hand-timed 16.9, which, I believe matches her personal best from last year. Before the three-step can become a regular thing, the four-step will need to improve. Her lead legs tend to lock at the knee, causing her trail legs to be flat. In practice, she occasionally hits hurdles with the knee and ankle of her trail leg because of this issue. We haven’t had time to do the heavy doses of drills that I like to do, but I will have to work in more drill time in our workouts. The marching drill and the quick-step drill will serve to teach her to cycle the lead leg, enabling for a tighter trail leg and, therefore, a longer first stride off the hurdle.

What I’m hoping will happen is that the four-step will start to feel crowded. If she focuses on raising her hand height, knee height, and heel recovery, four-stepping will feel very crowded. So, in addition to the issue with the lead legs locking, we want to work on doing a better job of utilizing the space between the hurdles. Once the four-step feels crowded, the transition to three-stepping should come more naturally.

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