Over the past few years I have received many emails from high school hurdlers and even some collegiate hurdlers who don’t have a hurdle coach, asking for tips. So this article is directed to any and all hurdlers who are trying to coach themselves. The first thing I want to say is, you don’t have to give up on hurdling. I had a good coach in high school who taught me the basics of technique and gave me the confidence I needed. But in college I was pretty much on my own, often planning hurdle workouts myself, using the resources I had available, like the Track & Field Omnibook and The Hurdler’s Bible.
I know that many high schoolers and also some collegians who lack a knowledgeable hurdle coach use this website as a reference in much the same way I used those books. The one thing I want to emphasize to anyone who uses this site in that manner is to focus on one aspect of technique at a time. Don’t read a bunch of articles and then try to fix the lead leg, the lead arm, the trail leg, the trail arm, the lean from the waist, keeping the eyes up, keeping the chin up, and your start all at the same time. Focus on one aspect of technique until you master it, then move on to the next one.
THE ORDER WOULD GO AS FOLLOWS:
1. Running on the balls of the feet.
2. Staying on the ball of the feet in the last step before hurdle clearance.
3. Leading with the knee of the lead leg, not the foot.
4. Keeping the elbow of the lead arm bent, never allowing the hand to rise higher than the crown of the head (men) or nose (women), and not allowing the hand to go across the body.
5. Bringing your chest down over your thigh without lowering your eyes or chin.
6. Leading with the knee of the trail leg so that the motion is tight and circular, not wide and loping.
In other articles on this site I discuss how to work on these aspects of technique. Refer to them, in order. If you’re not running on the balls of your feet, then nothing else you try to do will work. So do a lot of sprint drills and sprint workouts focusing just on keeping your ankles flexed, your toes pulled, and staying on the balls of your feet with each step. Run that way often enough that it feels natural. Then start working on the lead leg.
Once the lead leg is functioning effectively – knee-first dive into the hurdle, extending but not locking the knee over the hurdle, snapping down forcefully off the hurdle – then you can start working on the trail leg.
You can work on your lead arm and chest-over-thigh motion in conjunction with the lead leg, since all those motions are happening at the same time. The lead knee comes up, the chest comes down, and the lead arm comes up all at the same time. Because lead leg problems can be caused by lead arm problems or lack-of-lean problems, you need to be aware of what all three body parts are doing as you take off into each hurdle.
Once the trail leg is tight and efficient, start looking at the smaller details. The chin, the eyes, the trail arm. Once all aspects of technique are mastered, then you move into the deeper refinings of technique, such as speed between the hurdles, take-off distance from each hurdle, precise foot placement for each foot strike from the start to the first hurdle, maximizing your speed without crashing into hurdles.
Film your practice sessions.
Have someone videotape your practice sessions so that you can go back and see what’s working and what’s not. This person doesn’t have to know a thing about hurdling, as long as he or she is good at holding a video camera. Modern technology allows you to get instant visual feedback on how you look, so you might as well use it if you have access to it.
Find a Friend.
Find a teammate, friend, or a coach who might not be a hurdling expert but does care about you. Tell this person what you want him or her to look for – i.e., Is my lead knee staying bent? Are my hips going off-line? Does it look like I’m floating over the hurdles? Sometimes a reliable set of eyes watching you can be enormously helpful. Also, just having someone to talk to can make the difference between giving up and sticking with it.
Listen to your body.
Learn how to feel when you’re doing things right, and try to duplicate that feeling. When you don’t have a coach, your body has to become your coach. You have to trust that when it feels right, it is right, and that when it feels wrong, you need to fix it. Listen your body; trust what it tells you.
Take your time.
Spend at least four weeks on one aspect of technique before bringing in the next one. When you bring in the next one, you’re adding it to what you’re already doing. If you move on to the next one too soon, the previous one won’t be ingrained, so focusing on the next one will cause you to mess up what you had been doing right with the previous one. That can lead to overwhelming frustration. You’ve gotta start doing hurdling workouts by November, or December at the latest, if you’re going to reap the benefits of all your hard work by the time of the big outdoor meets in May. You’ve gotta give yourself the time needed to ingrain proper technique. If you don’t get started until the outdoor season starts, regardless of the reason why, you’ll only have time to focus on the basics (balls of the feet and lead leg, maybe some trail leg). Quick fixes never work in the long-term.
Record races on television. Go to youtube and flocast and some of the blog sites (like Ron Bramlett’s and David Oliver’s) that have race and practice footage. Study. Do your homework. Don’t just look at the hurdlers who are winning, but look at the ones who are similar to you in height and weight. Look at the ones who excel at the aspects of technique you’re working on.
Experiment in practice.
Without a knowledgeable coach, you have to figure things out on your own. For example, if you think you’re leaning too much, do a set of reps in which you try to stay more upright over the hurdle. See how it feels. If you feel faster, quicker, then go with it. If you feel quicker but you’re also hitting more hurdles now, then continue to try to modify your lean. Your experimentation shouldn’t be haphazard, though. It should be based on how things felt in the last workout, or the last race, as well as on the things you’ve picked up on by reading, watching film, and talking with other hurdlers.
Don’t hurdle at full speed. Don’t hurdle with the hurdles at race distance. You can’t learn technique at full speed, and you can’t ingrain proper technique at full speed. Save the full speed workouts for the outdoor season. If you have big indoor meets you’re training for, then save the full-speed stuff for days when you’re working on your start. The workouts that are designed for race preparation are totally different from the workouts that are designed for developing technique. Don’t confuse the two.
Being your own hurdle coach is very difficult, but not impossible. Hopefully the day will come when every school will have a coach who understands, or at least appreciates, how complex the hurdling events are, and how difficult they are to master. But if you have a passion for the hurdles, or at least a genuine interest in them, you can’t allow the lack of a coach to let you give up. Practically speaking, and logically speaking, you can do it. If you give yourself the time, if you’re willing to experiment, if you learn to listen to your body, if you’re willing to study the event, and if you find a friend or a coach who is willing to learn along with you, then success can come your way. Be true to the hurdles, and the hurdles will be true to you.
© 2007 Steve McGill