Team Steve Camp Reflections

November 19, 2017

Well it’s been a week since the inaugural Team Steve Speed & Hurdle Camp concluded, and because of a busy work week and overall exhaustion, I am finally getting around to putting together some thoughts as I look back on the camp.

First off, the camp was a huge success, and I would go so far as to say that it was one of the most fulfilling, gratifying experiences of my life. With a total of 47 campers converging on the JDL Fast Track in Winston Salem NC, we had plenty of campers from in-state and from nearby South Carolina, but we also had campers come from far-away states like Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, and Colorado. What I most enjoyed was watching the campers interact with each other, learn from each other, grow together, and bond with each other. Despite the fact that the campers might have known no one, or just a few people, prior to coming to the camp, they left having made many friends and feeling like part of a family.

Campers receive final instructions before preparing to get to work.

I want to thank everyone who made this happen, as there is no way I could have done it on my own. First I want to thank Craig Longhurst and his staff at JDL Fast Track for hosting the event and accommodating all of our needs.

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Team Steve Sprint & Hurdle Camp

August 6, 2017

As some of you already know, I will be conducting the Team Steve Sprint & Hurdle Camp for athletes of all ages on November 11-12 of this year at the JDL Fast Track indoor facility in Winston Salem, NC.

I am very excited to be conducting this camp, as it will provide me with an opportunity to teach to a large group the style of hurdling that I have taught to individual hurdlers that I have coached over the past 23 years.

I am excited to have the camp in November because that will give athletes and coaches who attend the camp the time they need to incorporate the lessons they learn into their training sessions well ahead of the peak phase of the outdoor season.

I am excited to have the camp at the JDL Fast Track because weather will not be an issue, the track features a fast mondo surface, and we will have access to all the equipment we need (hurdles and starting blocks) for a large camp. Also, we will have enough space to spread things out and keep things moving so that athletes aren’t spending a lot of time waiting and watching other athletes.

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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.

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In Hurdles We Trust

July 16, 2017

“Jazz is about being creative, and always staying creative. Jazz is about being outside of the box. Jazz is about feeling outside of the box. Jazz is about asking questions outside of the box. To express yourself, to be unique. To have a unique voice, a unique style. When you’re dealing with music you’re dealing with infinity. There’s no beginning, there’s no end. It’s an ongoing, never-ending journey. It’s an ocean you never will cross.”

The above quote was spoken by one of my all-time favorite musicians, tenor saxophonist David S. Ware, who passed away a few years ago. Ware was definitely a musician who pushed the boundaries, who didn’t even acknowledge their presence. His music is not easy to listen to, nor even pleasant to listen to. It pushes you out of your comfort zone, takes you on a sojourn to places unknown. But if you trust him, if you take the journey with him, if you keep listening, you will be rewarded. You will become a wiser, more perceptive human being. You will become more sensitive, more compassionate. And you will feel good about life.

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Lead Arm Thoughts

June 29, 2017

When it comes to the lead arm, I’m a big proponent of keeping it as close to the natural sprinting motion as possible. It should not cross the body, but should drive straight up and straight down. Keeping the lead arm tight like this provides a tighter window for the trail leg to drive through when coming to the front. That way, the groin of the trail leg doesn’t open up excessively, but only just enough to enable a clean clearance of the obstacle. For examples of current hurdlers who employ this type of lead arm action, look at footage of Orlando Ortega, Keni Harrison, and Sally Pearson. The key is, the elbow stays below the hand when the hurdler takes off into the barrier.

In the photo above, Ortega is on the left, racing against Aries Merritt on the right. Note how Ortega’s elbow stays below the hand as he attacks the crossbar. Upon descent, the hand will punch straight down, allowing the knee of the trail leg to drive upward/forward with minimal opening of the groin.

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The Phenomenal Hurdling of Omar McLeod

May 15, 2017

Omar McLeod’s performances at the Olympic Games last year and in the early part of the outdoor season this year has got him turning heads. It’s not even June yet, and McLeod has already run sub-13.10 twice, and seems poised to go under 13.00 on a regular basis once the summer gets here. Whenever a hurdler is on a roll like McLeod has been on for the past two years or so, you have to ask, What is he doing to run so fast?

In the case of McLeod, because he is so fast with his sub 10.00 100m speed, the answer seems to be simple: his speed can carry him through mistakes, so even if he doesn’t have perfect technique, he’ll run in the 13.0 range regularly with that kind of speed.

While there may be some credence to that viewpoint, I would argue that it represents an oversimplification. McLeod is a very good hurdler. You can’t run hurdles the way he does on speed alone. In a lot of ways, what he is doing is nothing short of phenomenal. He’s only 5’10”; he’s supposed to be smacking hurdles right and left. He’s supposed to be too short for this race. He’s supposed to be breaking down in the second half of races. But he’s not. He’s also at a disadvantage because he’s eight-stepping to the first hurdle while all of his opponents are seven-stepping. But that’s proving not to matter at all. Why? How is McLeod able to run over these 42-inch barriers so quickly and efficiently? Here are a few things I’ve noticed:

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Similar Styles of Harrison and Pearson

April 18, 2017

One thing I’ve always had a fascination with when it comes to the hurdles is comparing the styles of the top hurdlers and noticing their similarities and differences, their strengths and weaknesses. In a blog post three years ago I compared the hurdling style of David Oliver to that of Roger Kingdom (http://hurdlesfirstbeta.com/2014/04/20/d-o-kingdom-comparison/). Though a generation apart, their styles, and their body types, were so similar that it was almost eerie. Turns out that Oliver said Kingdom had been his favorite hurdler growing up, and that he had studied his style closely in his fledgling hurdling years.

In Keni Harrison’s last two years of high school, when she first took up the hurdles as her athletic focus, I was her private hurdles coach. When it came to discussing professional hurdlers to model her style after, I brought up only one name: Sally Pearson. “If you really want to learn how to hurdle,” I told Keni, “watch Sally.” As Keni has moved on and moved up the ranks – first as a collegian, then as a professional, and now as the current world record holder – she has refined her style to the point where it can be said that she is the equal of Pearson when it comes to technical efficiency.

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Alternating Drills

April 16, 2017

In last week’s practice with my athlete Scout, we did a lot of drills. Her lower back was tightening up on her, so we decided not to risk injury. Instead of going full speed out of the blocks, we repped some drills to help with her 4-stepping, since she is still 4-stepping most of the 100m hurdle race. The alternating drills always also help with the 300m hurdles as well, since alternating in that race can be so important in maintaining rhythm and maintaining an optimal take-off distance from each hurdle.

We did three drills, all of which are represented in the video at the end of this post. The drills appear in the video in the following order:

1. 4-stepping at a moderate speed over 36” hurdles with the hurdles moved in three feet from the race marks.
2. 3-step high-knee marches over 30” hurdles with the hurdles 12 feet apart.
3. 4-stepping eight 30” hurdles with the hurdles moved in three feet from the race marks (this drills is designed more specifically for the 300h).

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On to Outdoors

March 30, 2017

With indoor nationals over, I’ve continued to work with Matt Garrett as we now prepare for the outdoor season. Because he is only an 8th grader, our focus now is on getting ready for the Junior Olympic meets that won’t begin until June, although there will be some developmental meets that will take place prior to then.

With more training time available, our aim will be to build the hurdle endurance required to run a full 100 meters over ten hurdles, as opposed to focusing on the first five hurdles like we did indoors. We’ll also have some time to work on refining his sprint mechanics a bit more. Fortunately, because he started training with me back in September, he has gotten in the full range of training that I like to implement in preparation for racing outdoors. We did lots of drilling in the fall, as well as workouts that emphasized a race rhythm with closely-spaced hurdles, allowing him to increase his endurance while working on technique at the same time. In the winter, we were able to get in plenty of quality work in the starting blocks, as the weather here was unseasonably warm.

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From 4 to 3 (Part 2)

March 28, 2017

Scout Hayashi, the four-stepper transitioning to three-stepping that I blogged about last week, had another meet since that last post, and she did very well. Last week, she ran 16.81 hand-timed, which translates into 16.9, which translates into 17.14 automatic timing. This week, she ran a prelim and final, running 16.62 in the prelim and 16.49 in the final.

In last week’s race, on an asphalt track, she took eight steps to the first hurdle, and four between all the rest. In this week’s races, on a rubberized surface, she three-stepped the second hurdle before four-stepping all the rest. In the final, it looked like she was moving fast enough to three-step the third hurdle, which she acknowledged afterward. But because we hadn’t had a chance to get in any work together between last week’s meet and this week’s, she didn’t want to risk three-stepping beyond hurdle two.

The video above provides footage of her 16.49 race in the finals. She’s in lane three. Not visible in the video – in lanes five and six, next to the winner in lane four – are two girls Scout outran who both three-stepped all of the hurdles. Their three-step action was very effort-ful, with exaggerated arm action. This race therefore confirms my assertion that three-stepping in and of itself does not make a hurdler faster. If the three-step is a cumbersome three-step, then it can actually be counter-productive. When every stride is a reach, it’s time to rethink one’s approach. Even though four-stepping means taking more strides, it allows for a cut-step, which creates momentum into and off of each hurdle. Three-steppers who take bounding strides between the hurdles would probably be better off four-stepping at least part of the way.

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