Effortlessness in Hurdling

To achieve the maximum of one’s potential in the hurdles, a hurdler needs to focus on making hurdling feel as easy as possible. The great ones over the years – Edwin Moses, Renaldo Nehemiah, Allen Johnson (and Carl Lewis in the sprints) – looked very relaxed and very fluid in their races. Why is it important that hurdling feel effortless? Because that’s the key to consistently running fast times. No matter the distance, fatigue will become a factor late in the race. The hurdler who wastes a lot of effort early will always be at a disadvantage in a race’s latter stages. This article will identify the various types of wasted motion in the hurdles, and suggest ways to make hurdling feel more effortless.

Wasted Effort in the Hurdles
· Swinging the arms across the body
· Raising the lead arm above the head
· Swinging the trail arm too far back during take-off
· Swinging the lead arm too far back during touchdown
· Kicking the lead foot forward, in front of the knee, during take-off
· Locking the lead leg knee
· Straining the neck and facial muscles
· Ducking the head down during hurdle clearance
· Leaning more than is necessary during hurdle clearance
· Continuing to do reps in practice after quality has been lost
Ways to Increase the Feeling of Effortlessness While Hurdling

1. MAINTAIN A LOW CENTER OF GRAVITY
Maintain as low a center of gravity as possible throughout hurdle clearance. The higher you raise your center of gravity, the more speed you lose, disrupting your rhythm and timing. Continually adjust your take-off point as your speed increases through the course of the season in order to minimize the vertical element.

2. RELAX THE ARMS
Avoid tightening or stiffening the arms and shoulders at all times. Keep the arms relaxed and flexible. Don’t think “attack the hurdle;” think “flow over the hurdle.” Be fluid.

3. USE FORCE, NOT POWER
Power implies effort, an attempt to overwhelm the hurdle. Force implies flow, an attempt to become one with the hurdle. Force comes from the foot, knee, and hips. During take-off, the foot off the trail leg drives downward, the knee of the lead leg drives upward, and the hips drive forward. The hurdler flows over the hurdle. During touchdown, the foot of the lead leg drives downward, the knee of the trail leg drives upward, and the hips continue to push forward toward the next hurdle. Flow is maintained.

4. DEVELOP YOUR REFLEXES
Think of hurdling as a dance, not a race. As your speed increases, your reflexes must improve commensurately. With quick reflexes, you can dance; with slow reflexes, you must resort to power, which causes wasted effort, loss of rhythm, and loss of balance.

5. KEEP THE MIND RELAXED AND ALERT
In practice, focus the mind on the one or two technical things you’re working on for that session. In races, think of nothing. During your warm-up period all the way to stepping into the blocks, gradually empty the mind of all thought, so that it is able to react instinctively during the race. Conscious thought will compromise your ability to react instinctively, thus slowing your reflexes when you need to make instant adjustments.

“It may sound like nonsense to make an effort not to make an effort, but the great athlete puts into action what is nonsense in words.”
–from the Track & Field Omnibook

“A good athlete can enter a state of body-awareness in which the right stroke or the right movement happens by itself, effortlessly, without any interference of the conscious will.”
–Stephen Mitchell

© 2006 Steve McGill

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