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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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 ( 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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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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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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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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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.

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March 23, 2017

Last month I posted some practice footage featuring two youth athletes I was coaching who were preparing for USATF Youth Indoor Nationals. The two athletes, Alex Nunley and Matt Garrett, were able to get in another session together the week prior to the meet, as Alex’s parents once again made the 3-hour drive from Raleigh to the Charlotte side of North Carolina. Although I don’t have any footage from that session (sorry, I was too focused on coaching), it went very well. Alex was able to address some minor technical issues, and the practice starts they did against each other helped them both to get sharp for the meet. We started with one hurdle and worked our way up to four, with a makeshift finish line off hurdle four.

At the meet, Alex won the 55m hurdles in a 13-14 age group national record of 7.62, while Matt finished second in 7.93. I’m really eager to see what these two will do outdoors, as Alex also won the 55m dash, while Matt finished 6th in that event.

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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. 

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February 27, 2017

One of my go-to workouts for 300/400m hurdlers is the back and forth workout on the straightaway. This is a workout I’ve used for years, and it’s one of the only ones I’ve used for so long without making any changes to it. Though it’s generally a workout I like to use in the fall as a base-building conditioning workout, I often find that I need to use it in the early part of the outdoor season for athletes who, for whatever reasons, didn’t get in enough conditioning work in the fall and winter.

  • For males the start line is the 110 start line. For females, the start line is the 100m start line.
  • Hurdles 1, 3, 5, 7,and 9 of the 100/110m hurdle race are set up at the height for the 300/400m hurdle race (30” for females, 36” for males).
  • Five hurdles are set up facing the finish line, and another five are set up right next to them, facing the start line.
  • The athlete runs over the five hurdles facing the finish line, crosses the finish line, then turns around and runs over the five hurdles facing the start line, then crosses the start line. That constitutes one complete rep.
  • From a standing start, the athlete takes 8 or 9 steps to the first hurdle, then anywhere from 7-11 strides between the rest. Faster athletes will take less strides, obviously.
  • Rest between rest should range anywhere from 3-6 minutes. The aim is for the athlete to get to a point where just 3 minutes is enough between every rep.
  • Five reps would be considered a full workout. I usually include some hurdle drilling afterwards.

This is not a full-speed workout. I call it a hurdle-endurance workout, as it is designed to build the athlete’s hurdle endurance so that race strategies that are developed later in other workouts can be executed. The workout will preferably be done in training shoes because the constant pushing off and landing can be too much on the ankles, Achilles, shins, and calves if done in spikes.

The aim of the workout is for the athlete to maintain a consistent rhythm. When having my athlete, Scout, do this workout last weekend, we were looking for her to take 8 steps to the first hurdle, and 10 between all the rest, alternating lead legs. If fatigue were to become a factor late in a rep or late in the workout, then the aim would be to change down to 11 strides. We didn’t have to do that, which means her conditioning is definitely improving. For recovery, I gave her 3 minutes rest after the first rep, 4 minutes after the second rep, 5 minutes after the third rep, and 5 minutes again after the fourth rep. The aim next time will be to start with 3 minutes, move up to 4 after the second rep, and to stay at 4 minutes for the rest of the workout.

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February 26, 2017

When it comes to developing a race rhythm for 300/400m hurdlers, that can be a very tricky thing, particularly when dealing with athletes who may not be in condition to do the more demanding workouts that such development would entail. Earlier today I was working with a high school junior who ran a personal best in the 49-mid range last year, before I started working with her. Last week I had her do a workout in which she cleared the first four hurdles of the 300h race from a block start. Her reps were decent but erratic. She was fatiguing by hurdle three, and hanging on for dear life by hurdle four. 

It became evident that she wasn’t yet ready for such race-specific, stride-pattern-development type of work, so this week I took a different approach to ease her into the process of establishing an early-race stride pattern. Instead of going over four hurdles, we’d just go over three. And instead of a block start, we’d use a standing start.

In this workout, I had her clear the last three hurdles of the 300h race, starting at the 100m start line, and clearing what would be hurdles 6, 7, and 8 in a race, and then crossing the finish line. My athlete, Scout, took a 12-step approach from the 100m start, and then took 18 strides between hurdles the rest of the way. Because we had done a lot of drilling prior to this part of the training session, I only had her do four reps. The aim was for her to stay consistent with her stride pattern the whole way. On her first rep, she took 19 steps to the last hurdle. I instructed her to keep her hands high, to not let them drop. As someone with the ability to alternate, it’s easy for her to become complacent and just lead with whichever leg comes up. But taking 19 steps that early in a race (at what would be hurdle three) would lead to 20-stepping later in the race, which we absolutely do not want.  

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