Cycle over the Hurdle

July 16, 2017

Last week I spent three days working with a high school girl who ran 16.5 as a freshman, taking nine steps to the first hurdle and four steps between the rest of the way. Without much coaching, she dropped from the 19’s at the beginning of the outdoor season all the way down to the mid-16’s on sheer will, determination and athleticism. When her grandfather first drove her down from Maryland to North Carolina last month to train with me, we spent almost all of our time breaking down her form and rebuilding it.

Mainly, we worked on fixing her habit of swinging the lead leg from the hip instead of driving with the knee. We also addressed the habit of her arms crossing her body, and her foot-strikes landing on her heels instead of on the balls of her feet.

She came back for another set of sessions last week, and in our first session, we picked up where we left off before speeding things up in later sessions. The video embedded in this post comes from a few reps in that first session, in which I had her do the cycle drill. The hurdles were set at 30 inches, spaced 18 feet apart.

The main purpose of the cycle drill is to teach the legs to cycle over the hurdles. Therefore, the legs must already be cycling while approaching the first hurdle, and between the rest of them. The idea is that the motion over the hurdle should in no overt way be any different than the motion between the hurdles. Cycle-cycle-cycle-cycle over the hurdle, cycle-cycle-cycle-cycle over the hurdle. On down the line.

I don’t like for my hurdlers to do anything extra to clear the hurdle. I don’t like for them to execute any overt power moves. No kicking the lead leg, no whipping the trail leg, no snapping down the lead leg, no thrusting the arms. Keep it fluid. Keep it tight. I teach that power is the result of speed. Learn how to do everything efficiently at slower speeds. Then, when you take that efficiency and bring it to full-speed reps, it suddenly looks very forceful and powerful. But the truth is, there is no overt attempt on the part of the athlete to be more forceful or powerful. He or she is just sprinting faster.

With my girl here in the video, she tends to run very tense, so I was trying to get her to relax, to stop trying so hard, to trust the cycle action. In the reps in the video, she’s doing a very good job of it. She looks light years better than she did last month. The one flaw we’ll still want to fix is that the hand of her lead arm pulls back as she descends off the hurdle instead of punching down. The pull-back motion causes a slight twist in the hips and shoulders, which will be exacerbated when we transition into full-speed reps.

What I like about the reps here is that she is keeping her ankles dorsi-flexed, she’s leading with the knee of her lead leg, she’s keeping her heels tucked, and she’s keeping the movement fluid – between the hurdles and over the hurdles.

We didn’t get to do much work at full speed, unfortunately, because transitioning from 9-stepping to 8-stepping to hurdle one took up a lot of our time. Not because she had trouble switching her feet in the blocks, but because she had grown so accustomed to taking short, quick strides to hurdle one in her 9-stepping days. When we were able to get over two, and then three hurdles out of the blocks, she had very little trouble 3-stepping, and most of what she learned in the slower drills carried over.

Hopefully, she’ll be able to come down for a few more sessions before that nasty thing called school starts up again.

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