More Thoughts on Alternating

This summer I stumbled upon another way to develop the ability to alternate lead legs in the 300 and 400m hurdles. In previous article on this website, we’ve discussed workouts like the shuffle-the-deck workout and the two-step drill, as well as using the 100m back-and-forths with the athlete attempting to take eight strides in between each hurdle.

Recently I was working with one of my athletes and found the following approach to be very effective: I had her run over the first four 100m hurdles, from a standing start, but switching her feet at the start so that she could clear the first hurdle leading with her weaker leg, and then three-step the remaining hurdles to stay on that leg. While it took a little while for her to get over the initial fear factor, once she started to really sprint, a whole new confidence in that weaker leg emerged.

The reason I like this workout is because one of the biggest problems hurdlers have when it comes to alternating is not so much the ability to use the weaker leg at all, but to use it at high speeds. It’s hard to get the knee of that leg to drive up, to trust the leg enough to use it when the stakes are high. With the two-step drill, the shuffle-the-deck workout, and even the back-and-forth workout, it’s possible to slow yourself down enough that you have time to prepare for the hurdle. When you’re moving like you do in the 100/110m hurdles, you are forced to react when you get to the crossbar.

Doing this workout a couple times helped my athletes a lot – to the point where she has been able to use the weaker leg in races instead of trying to stutter or stretch in order to avoid using it.

There was a time when I believed that if you didn’t learn to alternate very early in your hurdling career, you could never learn to do it well enough that you would actually use it in a race, so you shouldn’t waste time trying. I still think that learning to alternate is a skill that takes time to develop, and that the timetable varies from athlete to athlete.

Now I’d say that strengthening the weaker leg is something that all 300/400m hurdlers should work on as part of their training, even though you shouldn’t use the weaker leg in a race until you really trust it. Still, no matter how long you wait, the first time you use it in a race, it will be ugly. So you have to be willing to sacrifice optimal race performance early in the season and use a few of those meets as real-time practices in order to gain the long-term benefit of having two equally adept lead legs at your disposal when the big meets come along at the end of the year.

© 2013 Steve McGill

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