The last step a hurdler takes prior to clearing a hurdle, commonly known as the cut step, is usually referred to by that term because the idea is to make the step a little shorter than the previous steps. So we’re talking about step 8, or in some cases 7, or in some cases 9 at hurdle one. And we’re talking about step 3, or in some cases step 4 at all the rest of the hurdles.
The cut step needs to be shorter than the previous step so that the athlete can push forward and attack the hurdle. The importance of this step being shorter is a big reason that 7-stepping can be dangerous. You might be able to get there in seven steps, but you have to be able to get there with the 7th step being shorter than the 6th. This means the first step has to be a big JUMP out of the blocks. Ben Johnson style, but without the juice.
Here are some common mistakes made at the cut step:
Planting. Stomping. I call this “prepping” for the hurdle. Instead of continuing to run, the focus shifts to hurdling, which causes the planting action. The last step into the hurdle should only sound a little bit louder than the previous strides. It shouldn’t sound like you’re trying to stomp out a fire. The aim is to stay on the balls of the feet, to stay in sprint mode. The heel should not touch the track. Planting disrupts the rhythm by shifting the energy upward instead of forward. It also makes for high clearance and floating. Not to mention, a lot of planting on a regular basis can lead to killer shin splints.
Twisting the hips. This mistake takes place during the last stride, not during hurdle clearance, as one might assume. It happens before you even leave the ground. This is another manifestation of “prepping.” In gathering to make the push over the hurdle, the hurdler will twist the hips in anticipation of clearing the barrier. This is not only wasted motion, but also a cause for balance issues during hurdle clearance. A basic rule of hurdling, no matter what, is that the hips should always be facing forward. Even when sprinting over 42-inch hurdles, while the hip of the lead leg might be in front of the hip of the trail leg, they both need to be always facing forward, always pushing forward.
The stride is too long. When the last stride going into the hurdle is not a cut step, it is very difficult – I would say impossible – to accelerate off the hurdle. You end up too erect coming off the hurdle, and you find yourself working real hard to create speed. This issue leads to what I call the “puddle-hopping” effect. A puddle-hopper doesn’t sprint between the hurdles, but basically bounds or lopes from one hurdle to the next. This issue is common to hurdlers who are new to three-stepping. They’re proud of themselves for getting there in three steps, so they forget that the point is to actually sprint through the hurdle, not just get to the hurdle. So don’t be in a rush to three-step an entire race if you’re puddle-hopping, if you’re not able to shorten the third stride.
The arms flail upward, or across the body. This problem is caused by one of the three problems above. The arms want to run stay in an up-and-down motion over the hurdle. But if you’re planting, twisting, or extending, the arms will have to compensate in some way.
The basic lesson to learn here is that you should always run through the hurdle. Don’t hurdle. Run over the hurdle. When you plant, twist, extend, or prep for the hurdle in any way, you’re throwing off the running rhythm. The whole point is to maintain, as best you can, the running rhythm you had established in the strides leading up to the hurdle.
© 2013 Steve McGill