Hurdle Music

Because hurdling is a rhythmic activity, developing a heightened sense of sound can be very beneficial to success in the hurdling events. This article will discuss some sounds that can be very helpful to a hurdler.

In The Hurdler’s Bible Wilbur Ross briefly discusses the idea of playing music during practice. Because hurdling is rhythmic and music is rhythmic, playing music during a hurdle workout makes perfect sense. I tried this once, and it really did help. It was a Saturday morning workout when there was no one else on the track except myself and my hurdlers. This was back when I first started coaching, when I could still do the workouts right along with my athletes. One of my athletes brought a portable cd player to the track and put in The Score cd by the Fugees, which is still one of my favorite cd’s ever. I don’t remember any particulars of the workout, but I do remember that I felt totally liberated when hurdling to the music. It was so effortless, and so much fun. The music infused us with tremendous energy. No one was complaining about fatigue, and my athletes’ technique seemed cleaner and crisper than usual. That workout confirmed for me my assertion that hurdling is a dance before it is a race, and that finding the right music to hurdle to can often serve as a great motivator and also a great facilitator of success. The boombox days have faded into the past, obviously, replaced by the ipod and mp3 player. But these devices have to be attached to your body or held in your hand, which, obviously, inhibits movement. I’m more than okay with my athletes warming up and stretching while listening to their ipods, whether before practice or before a race. They just need to make sure though, that if it’s before a race, they don’t play the music so loud that they can’t hear any of the calls! But the music gets them into a rhythm, it settles them down emotionally, and enables them to focus better on the task at hand. And when they step into the blocks, the rhythm is in their heads, which is definitely preferable to a lot of nervous mental chatter filling their minds.

Voices in Your Head
One of the things I try to get my athletes to do in hurdle workouts is to develop the habit of talking aloud to themselves. I know this sounds weird or crazy on the surface, but it makes sense. When working on technique – not on the start and not when hurdling beside a teammate – vocal reminders serve the purpose of providing invaluable auditory instruction. Let’s say you’re doing a set of 8 reps over five hurdles from a standing start. I as the coach will tell you at the beginning of the set that I want you to work on snapping down your lead leg and driving your hips forward. I inform you that I will not provide any instruction at all until the end of the set. During the set, I want you to provide yourself with your own instructions. Before each rep, prior to taking off, give yourself some audio cues. Such as, “Snap down. Drive the hips. Snap down. Drive the hips. Snap down. Drive the hips.” Then take off. You’ll be amazed at how much saying the words “snap down” and “drive the hips” out loud will help you during the rep to snap down your lead leg and to drive your hips forward. You’ll literally hear your own voice in your head. And that’s when you know you’re really learning how to hurdle. That’s when you can actually feel the muscle memory developing rapidly. Try it man, it works.

The other voice you might want in your head during a race is your coach’s. Personally, I prefer to keep as quiet as possible during a workout so that the hurdler gets used to the sound of his or her own voice. My logic for this approach lies in the simple fact that once you’re in the starting blocks in a race, your coach can’t help you. But let’s discuss the coach’s voice for a little while here. Some coaches are just naturally more vocal than others. Neither style is necessarily better than the other; everybody’s different. Many a story has been told about a track athlete being able to distinguish his or her coach’s voice out of all the screaming voices in the bleachers during a race. This connection is often a key element in the coach/athlete relationship. Hearing a coach often enough in practice shouting at you to “Snap down!” or “Keep it quick!” or any other such mantra will lead you to automatically hear that voice in your head during a race, and you will know what you need to do without even needing to hear your coach’s voice in a literal sense.

Another sound you want to get used to tuning into is the rhythm of your own foot-strikes. This was a lot easier to do back in the golden olden days of cinder tracks, when you could hear your foot-strikes pretty loudly on the gravelly surface. But even on today’s rubberized surfaces, you can hear the sound of your feet touching the ground, and that’s a very important rhythm to connect with. Why? Because it’s your cadence. It determines your ability to negotiate the space between the barriers and to take off from each hurdle at an optimal distance. In workouts and drills, get in the habit of listening for that 1-2-3-hurdle, 1-2-3-hurdle, 1-2-3-hurdle rhythm. When you feel the need to run faster, don’t try to run faster, but focus on quickening the cadence. The quicker you are between the hurdles, the faster your time will be.

Final Thoughts
We live in a visual age. Movie theaters, television, desktop computers, laptop computers. We can play movies in the car, we can access the internet on our cell phones. In the world of track, we place a heavy emphasis on filming practice sessions, filming races, and on watching race footage of other athletes for the purpose of gaining insights on how to improve upon our own flaws. This approach is all well and good, and I advocate it myself for any athlete I coach. Unquestionably, it helps to see what you look like when you’re running. But at the same time, I believe that we’ve come so reliant on visual cues that we’ve forgotten how to benefit from the insights our other senses can provide. Particularly, sound (as this article has emphasized), and also feel. You need to be able to know when you’re hurdling well without needing any outside source for validation. That’s what the art of hurdling is all about – letting go of the need to “know” in a concrete, scientific sense, and developing the ability to put total trust in your instincts.

© 2007 Steve McGill

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