One question that often comes up in regards to a hurdler’s training program is how often per week a hurdler should hurdle. There is no definite answer to this question, as there are many determining factors, such as time of year, a hurdler’s level of experience, and whether or not a hurdler competes in both hurdle events. In this article, I will try to address these factors as best I can, based upon my experiences as an athlete and coach.
Level of Experience:
Generally speaking, the more experienced (and assumedly more efficient) a hurdler is, the less he or she will need to hurdle in practice. For hurdlers who have a strong foundation and a high level of technical proficiency, training time spent hurdling to correct a miniscule technical flaw might be better spent in the weight room or doing conditioning work. Conversely, a beginning hurdler will need to hurdle quite often, in the presence of a knowledgeable coach, in order to establish the level of muscle memory necessary to race with good technique, without needing to consciously think about any specific aspect of technique during a race. I know that when I am teaching a new hurdler how to hurdle, I will have the athlete do full hurdle workouts, consisting of many repetitions (adding up to at least 100 hurdles), twice per week. Some of those reps might come in the form of lead leg and trail leg drills, but, regardless, there is nothing that replaces getting one’s reps in when it comes to learning how to hurdle efficiently. I have found that once a hurdler really knows how to hurdle with confidence, these types of workouts are less effective. Such a hurdler will generally go through the motions when confronted with a heavy dose of hurdle reps. And minor technical flaws that may drive a coach crazy will often go away once the gun goes off, as the experienced hurdler often simply needs the thrill of competition to power through the hurdles in the manner that he or she is capable. For experienced hurdlers, I like a lot of open 300s and 400s in practice, because achieving faster race times becomes more a matter of conditioning than a matter of technique. And since 400 meters is the distance that every sprinter and hurdler generally wants to avoid, open 400s, done at a manageable but challenging pace, with manageable but challenging recovery, will create an athlete who is not afraid of fatigue, who will run at the hurdles as hard as he or she can, and let the chips fall where they may. As a coach, I’ll have my more experienced hurdlers hurdle only once or twice a week, just to make sure the rhythm between the hurdles is still there, to ensure that no bad habits develop, and to retain muscle memory. Even then, the amount of reps will be significantly lower than it would be for a beginning hurdler. For the most part, it seems to me that conditioning is technique in the sense that, once you know what to do, you have to be in shape enough to do it over the course of an entire race, you have to be able to trust your body not to break down on you.
Time of Year:
The time for getting in a heavy volume of hurdle reps is definitely the off-season – from November through February, when there aren’t any meets in the way to interrupt training. Indoor meets don’t count, as far as I’m concerned. They’re a nice diversion from the grind of training, but I basically train through indoor meets, as the outdoor season is the season that all the training is geared toward. I feel that, during this time of year, it’s not only important to do hurdle workouts, but also to put a hurdle or two in your way even if you aren’t doing a “hurdle” workout. If you’re doing some 150s or 200s, set up the last two intermediate hurdles, or just set up a hurdle or two randomly. If you’re jogging a couple miles on the track, set up a hurdle on each straight-away and on each curve. Get in the habit of going over hurdles whenever you step on the track. Hurdlers have to get in the mindset that they are not sprinters, that there are going to be obstacles in their way on race day. Hurdlers who basically just train with the sprinters and hurdle “whenever” are lacking the edge needed to compete at a high level. So, in the off-season, I feel that hurdlers should hurdle as often as five times a week, in one form or another. The number of full hurdle workouts, as discussed above, depends on the hurdler’s level of experience. But even experienced hurdlers should use the off-season as a time to experiment and make decisions regarding any alterations they might want to make in their technique.
During the early competitive season, the hurdling workload should decrease, as the early season meets will serve as an additional hurdling workout. Race performance will dictate what specific technical problems need to be addressed in practice, and it will also dictate the amount of hurdling needed to be done to correct the problems. I remember that when I was first adjusting to the 42-inch hurdles in my first year of college, I was constantly smacking hurdles with my lead-leg foot in the early part of the season. So I had to do a lot of experimenting in practice, trying to fix this problem, which led to more reps than was probably good for me, as shin splints plagued me for a good portion of the season. But I needed to figure out how to get tall enough so that I wouldn’t hit so many hurdles. In a perfect world, a hurdler would only do the equivalent of one full hurdle workout per week, in addition to racing once a week. Also, block work would be added into the mix as practice grows increasingly race-specific.
During the late competitive season, which is basically the last two or three weeks of the season for most athletes, but could extend longer than that for elite hurdlers, hurdle reps should be kept to a minimum for the basic old school reason that “if you haven’t gotten it figured out by now, you’re not gonna figure it out.” There’s no point in beating up your legs trying to solve technical problems when the big meets come around. Being fresh and feeling energetic on race day takes precedence over fixing every little problem. It is indeed possible to overtrain. Once you know you can hurdle well, and you’ve proven to yourself in competitive situations that you can hurdle well, racing becomes more and more of a mental challenge, so race preparation should focus more on the mental aspects of competing – visualization, warm-up routine, etc. The amount of days per week of hurdling will stay in the range of one to two, but these workout should be very short, with a heavy emphasis on speed.
110s/100s, 300s/400s, or Both?
Obviously, a hurdler who doubles in both hurdle events will hurdle more often in practice than someone who focuses on either one or the other. The sprint hurdles are much more demanding technically, whereas the intermediates are much more demanding in regards to conditioning. So, a sprint hurdler will practice technique more often than an intermediate hurdler. Although it doesn’t always work out as I would like, I prefer to have my hurdlers run both races, as each one helps lead to improvement in the other. Running the 110s or 100s helps to improve technique for the intermediates, and running the 300s or 400s helps to improve conditioning for the sprint hurdles. Hurdle workouts for an intermediate hurdler will focus more on rhythm and stride pattern between the hurdles, as well as on hurdle conditioning, more so than on hurdling technique. A hurdler who only runs the intermediates need not do hurdle workouts more than once or twice a week at any time during the season, but, as I said earlier, placing hurdles in the way while doing intervals is always a good idea in order to get in the habit of thinking like a hurdler. A hurdler who only runs the 110s/100s needs to do hurdle workouts two or even three times a week in the off-season, and gradually work his or her way down once a week during the championship season. A hurdler who competes in both hurdle events will be doing some type of hurdling four or five times a week during the off-season, gradually easing down to two times a week (one day for the sprint hurdles, one day for the intermediates) by the championship season.
© 2004 Steve McGill