Specific Development Drills for the Sprint Hurdles

Posted by Tony Veney

Since the Fall of 2011, I have presented what I believe is a comprehensive approach to developing young and experienced 100 and 110 meter sprint hurdles. The Hurdle Master Class through CompleteTrackandField.com has given me the platform to show that any girl or boy able to run the flat 100 meters in 14 and 12 seconds, respectively, can and should be able to run 3 steps for all 10 hurdles.

Recently, Latif has encouraged me to work on a Master Class 2 for the sprint hurdles coach who wants to put a little more “bite” in their program. This program will provide a method for coaches to take their sprint hurdlers to a higher level of skill development. The original Master Class was designed to get “Billy Bang a Barrier” and “Hilary Hit a Hurdle” to a better acceleration to the first hurdle, hurdle take-off prep, hurdle clearance/touchdown, and run between the sticks.


Sally Pearson

Sally Pearson

Just like Kobe Bryant was often referred to as “Baby Jordan” (paying homage to the Bulls Legend), I want to help Billy and Hilary turn into “Baby Alan Johnson” and “Baby Sally Pearson” (I did not use Aires Merritt since he uses a 7 step approach to the first hurdle and a teenage boy attempting that pattern is either foolish or a genetic freak).  All track and field events can start out with a general model allowing the athlete to develop their skill at a pace they can manage. But once they are as proficient as the general approach can make them, the laws of specificity now become the dominant training design.

I have repeatedly stated that your kids are plenty fast enough to run a good hurdle race, but due to technical glitches, they run slow. But the glitch itself is the problem, not how fast your athlete can run. Alan Johnson (12.93) and Sally Pearson take 8 steps to hurdle one, 3 steps between the hurdles, and 5-6 steps to the finish. Amazingly enough, Billy (16.00) and Hilary (16.55) also take the same number of steps. So what is the final arbiter in the hurdle race: Frequency! It’s not just who runs the fastest that wins the hurdle race, but it’s who runs the quickest that will run the fastest. Unlike flat races that do not have to negotiate barriers set at specific distances, the hurdler must parcel out their stride length (and energy) in a restricted environment.  When that stride length slows due to poor mechanics, the energy available is wasted trying to stay fast (instead of quick) leaving little energy to manage the race.

The hurdle race is a rhythm race and this rhythm must be developed and drilled until it is all your hurdler knows. The following drills are designed to address the specific demands of the race and will give your hurdler a better feel for the race.

Drill #1 –

Hurdles placed at 7.70 to 8.20 meters apart. Most coaches use closer than regular distance, but these distances have been proven to get the most out of developing the frequency between the hurdles. This drill improves hurdle speed up to the 6th hurdle and up to at least the 3rd hurdle for the less experienced hurdler. If you can keep the hurdles moving at your hurdler, they are more likely to maintain the quickness between the sticks. This drill should use lower hurdles at first so the hurdler can concentrate on the speed of hurdling without being worried about how fast they are moving and “jumping” over the hurdle (which is what they will do if they feel they are moving “too fast” – sick). The increased speed heightens their fear of the hurdle height, so keep the sticks 10-20% lower. Once they can overcome the threat they may hit the hurdle, the ground mechanics and the quick feet will take over.


Drill #2 – Rhythmic Unit Runs:

Former BYU head coach and head of the Olympic Training Center, Chula Vista, California, Craig Poole gave me a nice way to get your hurdlers to run like sprinters 20 years ago. Coach Poole taught me that the speed and consistency of the rhythmic unit (the time taken when the hurdler touches down off a hurdle until they touchdown off the next hurdle) can be taught artificially at practice and with regularity (over consecutive hurdles). I take the rhythmic unit from one hurdle clearance to the next (let’s say it’s 1.20 seconds) and divide it into 8.50 meters (the distance covered from one touchdown to the next).

Steps 1:           8.50/1.20 = 7.08333 meters per second

Step 2:             set your hurdles at 7.10 meters apart

Step 3:             set the hurdles 10%-20% lower (24”/36”)

Step 4:             run your reps 7.10 meters apart and once they can run the rhythmic unit under 1.0 seconds, it’s time to increase the distance between the hurdles.

If you don’t have a rhythmic unit to work with, you can just subtract 2.7-2.8 second from the start and 1.3-1.5 from the finish. Then take the remaining time and divide by 9 and that average will give you the rhythmic unit.

16.5 – 2.7 (starts to hurdle #1) = 13.8

13.8-1.3 (touchdown to the finish) = 12.5

12.5/9 = 1.38 seconds

8.5/1.38 = hurdles are set 6.16 meters apart

When the hurdler can run the 6.16 meters in less than a second (let’s say 0.95 seconds) it changes the whole dynamic of their race.

6.16/0.95 = new rhythmic unit speed of 6.48 meters per second

8.50/6.48 = 1.31 seconds

1.31 seconds x 9 = 11.79 seconds

11.79 + 2.7+1.3 = 15.79!!! Nice Huh?

Now, they will not run 15.79 after the first time you do this, but the whole point of training is to remodel the old kid to create a new model.


Drill #3:

Running over low hurdles set at 20”-24” for girls and 33”-36” for boys with the spacing from 7.00 to 8.50 meters apart. This type of training makes a significant improvement in average speed up to the 5th hurdle is acquired. An improvement in rhythmic ability is also developed. A twist to this workout allows you to run 5 to 6 hurdles and after each rep raise the last hurdle closer to regular competition height.

1st rep over 5 hurdles – all the hurdles are low

2nd rep over 5 hurdles – 4 hurdles are low and the 5th hurdle is regular height

3rd-4th & 5th rep over 5 hurdles – raise another hurdle each run so that on the 5th rep

the 2nd through 5th hurdles are all at regular height. You keep the first hurdle low to ensure high velocities to the second hurdle.

As you can see from these drills, the integrity of the rhythmic unit and hurdle velocity is the key to the success of your hurdler. The next edition of “Specific Hurdle Drills” will include 7 more exercises as well as a chart to organize the drills to fit the hurdle issue you are trying to develop. And as always: Good Hunting!


Tony Veney - Tony Veney is entering his ninth season at the helm of the Pirates' men's and women's track and field teams, his 10th at Ventura College. He brings over 40 years of extensive track and field coaching and teaching experience from all levels of competition, and is a nationally certified instructor and lecturer. In the fall of 2017, Veney was awarded the Fred Wilt Coach/Educator of the Year Award by USA Track & Field. Coach Veney is a USATF Level I-II-III instructor with a master of coaching certificate. He is a regular speaker at national track and field clinics, and has produced and published several videos and books related to the specialized areas of sprints and hurdles. Veney is a 1976 graduate of UCLA with a degree in History. He was the former 800 meter record holder for the Bruins, and was a member of two NCAA outdoor track and field championship teams. He received his Master's Degree in physical education from Azusa Pacific University.

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