Finish at the Bottom

A problem in hurdling that is more common than many of us realize is that when the foot of lead leg gets about an inch or two from the ground, it floats the rest of the way down. This is a relatively minor problem, especially for beginners. But the more advanced a hurdler is, and the faster a hurdler is, the more important it becomes that he or she does not waste time and space by allowing the foot to float down to the track.

Why is it such a significant problem? 
Because it causes you to drift farther out, to land farther away from the hurdle. You land closer to the next hurdle, decreasing the amount of room you have to sprint to it. You also lose velocity because the foot is no longer moving.

What should the foot of the lead leg do then? 
It should keep moving, keep driving to the track. It should remain active. An active lead leg is one that never pauses in its motion. It is one that attacks the track aggressively. A lead leg becomes “inactive” when the foot kicks out on top of the hurdle, and/or when the foot pauses just prior to landing. When a lead leg is active, the foot will never land in front of the hips. The foot is not just moving downward, but is also pulling backward, so that it lands under the hip.  Which is the same as in a regular sprinting stride. When the lead leg is properly active, the pull backward will cause the hurdler to accidently “fall” forward upon landing. And though that feeling of falling forward can be disconcerting at first, it is actually the feeling that a hurdler should seek, because that feeling informs you that your speed will carry you to the next hurdle in a consistent rhythm. When the lead foot pauses at the bottom, then the rhythm is broken, and needs to be re-continued after landing. That makes for a herky-jerky race, to say the least.

What causes the problem?
It’s a mental error, really. A lapse in concentration. We often tend to think that once we’ve gotten over the hurdle and we’re on our way back down, we’re done with that hurdle and it’s on to the next one. But you haven’t finished clearing a hurdle until the foot of the lead leg has touched down.

How to fix it?
To fix the drift outward, to speed up the downward and pull-back action of the lead leg during descent, the one-step drill is the best solution. In this drill, set up anywhere from five to ten hurdles, spaced anywhere from 6 to 10 feet apart. The hurdles should be at least one notch lower than race height. The hurdler approaches the first hurdle with high knees, then, after clearing the first one, takes one step between all of the rest, getting up and down with a fast, quick, explosive action each time. It is important that the hurdles not be so close together that the hurdler cannot execute proper technique, but it’s also important that the hurdles not be so far apart that the hurdler has room to drift and float. So, experiment with the distance apart to make sure it’s just right. When the spacing is right, you’ll find that the hurdler has no room to float or drift, and that if he or she does so, he or she will land too close to the next hurdle. The hurdler will thereby learn to attack the track with an active lead leg, because the only other option is to crash.

When to do the drill?
This drill should be done prior to hurdle workouts so that it can be applied to the reps in the workout. It can also be done at the end of workouts on light days. It should not be done after hard workouts because the hurdler’s legs will be too tired and his or her reflexes will be too slow to execute the drill properly and gain benefit from it.

© 2011 Steve McGill

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