The Hurdling – High-jump Connection

In the sport of Track & Field, there are many events that are seemingly different on the surface, but go well together for an athlete who has enough talent to excel in more than area. Often, because hurdlers are the only people on a team who know how to hurdle, they are asked to compete in both hurdle events, even though the high hurdles and the intermediate hurdles require different skills and different mindsets. Not every athlete who has what it takes to be a good high hurdler necessarily has what it takes to be a good intermediate hurdler, and vice versa. Personally, I like to have my hurdlers run both hurdle races for the simple fact that the highs help intermediate hurdlers to improve their speed and technique, while the intermediates help high hurdlers to improve their speed-endurance. This fact holds true in regards to training and in regards to competing. However, if our team has enough depth that I can afford to have an athlete specialize in one or the other at the state championships, then I’ll take that route, but that rarely happens. In youth track, our athletes will start off the season doing both, but will specialize on one or the other as the competition grows stiffer and the stakes are raised higher. One discovery I have made over the years, though, is that the hurdlers who are more geared toward the intermediates than the highs often make for better high-jumpers than they do high hurdlers. Interesting.

One of the reasons that the intermediate hurdles and the high jump are compatible is because they are both bounding events. With few exceptions, intermediate hurdlers take bounding strides, not quick strides, like high hurdlers do. Both hurdle events require a good deal of leg strength, but not the same type of strength. For the intermediate hurdler, the leg strength is needed to enable the athlete to take longer strides without needing to reach for them, whereas for the high hurdler, the leg strength is needed for power and to generate a sprinter’s speed between the hurdles. The strides of an intermediate hurdler are bounding strides that cover a lot of ground, whereas the emphasis for a high hurdler is more on stride frequency, or quickening the turnover. The high jump, like the intermediates, is a bounding event, not a speed event, as opposed to the horizontal jumps, that, like the highs, require straight-ahead speed and power.

Another similarity between the intermediates and the high jump is that both events require precise foot placement; therefore, the mental approaches are similar. Edwin Moses was famous for his meticulous precision in marking his foot-strikes. In this sense, he was very much like a high-jumper, as, in that event, it is very important to know where each step will land in the approach to clearing the bar. Often, when practicing technique, high-jumpers will put down athletic tape to mark where they want each step to land. Unlike in the high hurdles, where the stride lengths are going to be basically consistent between each hurdle, the intermediate hurdler has decisions to make about stride length that make his event more similar to the high jump than to the high hurdles.

In the intermediate hurdles, it is not as important to get back on the ground as it is in the highs. In the high hurdles, it is so important to snap down and get back on the ground running that, as training becomes more and more specified, the two hurdling events get to a point where they require two totally different mindsets, which is the main reason why I don’t like for my high hurdlers to high-jump, or my high-jumpers to run the highs. The high hurdles are all about snapping down, snapping down, snapping down, whereas the high jump is all about elevating, elevating, elevating. If you’re going to specialize in one, then training for it will hinder your development in the other. Meanwhile, the training for the intermediates and the high jump are very compatible. Because the intermediate hurdler isn’t as focused on snapping down, the mental adjustment necessary from running the intermediates to high-jumping is not very drastic at all.

Right now, I coach a sophomore who, as a freshman, high-jumped 6’3”, and was able to three-step all ten high hurdles in his only race over that distance, although he had had very little hurdling practice. Obviously, if I were to have him get in a lot of hurdle reps, he could become a very good high hurdler, but I’m also aware that the training required to become a very good high hurdler would cut deeply into his high-jump training, as they are both extremely technical events. I have decided, after talking it over with him, to have him focus on the high jump and the intermediates. The naturally long, bounding strides that enabled him to three-step the highs will serve him well in the intermediates, and he won’t need to work as much on developing his hurdling technique. Of course, if his progress in the intermediates gets to a level where his “pretty good” technique is limiting his development in the event, we’ll have to re-visit the question of whether or not to train for the highs, as I strongly feel you cannot really develop sound hurdling technique without at least practicing over the highs. But, for now, the high jump is his best event, so that’s the event around which we are building his training program, so the intermediates are a better complementary event than the highs are.

Jesse Williams, the outstanding high-jumper for the University of Southern California, serves as a good example of how the high-jump and intermediate hurdles complement one another. I worked with Jesse some when he was a high schooler at Broughton High School in Raleigh, NC, competing for the Raleigh Junior Striders Track Club in Junior Olympic meets throughout the summer. Because of his high-jump training and natural athletic ability, he had the powerful, bounding-type of stride that made him a natural in the intermediates. He did not have quick turnover, but he just swallowed up ground with those long strides. He never really got serious about the intermediates, but still ran in the 40.00 range in the 300’s in high school. My coaching partner and I both agree that Jesse could have been as good in the intermediates as he now is in the high jump had he chosen to specialize in the intermediates. We also both agree that he could never have been as good of a high hurdler because those long, bounding strides would have just gotten him crowded in the 110’s.

So, just some food for thought. If you have a good high-jumper, think about adding the intermediate hurdles to his list of events; if you have a good intermediate hurdler, think about adding the high-jump to his list of events. It just might work.

© 2005 Steve McGill

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