Sprint Hurdle 101

Posted by Tony Veney

In this prep for the Master class, we are going to cover the basics of what hurdling is and what hurdling isn’t. First, hurdling is not gathering together everyone that isn’t fast enough to run the short sprints or gain a spot on the 4×100 relay. If you will avoid this first No-No, you will find the hurdlers you coach will be more likely to run fast sprint hurdle times and experience success beyond your high school programs. Often you will see the wrong people in the right event: or tweeners (neither 100-200, nor 400-800 runners) and they end up in the hurdlers because you gotta put them somewhere. Imagine what would have happened had Flo-jo, Evelyn Ashford, or even Carmelita Jeter today had been hurdlers.

To receive merely a passing grade in sprint Hurdle 101, you must remember this No-No. Now if you want to “Ace” the class, then here is a rundown of what hurdling “IS.”

  1. Hurdling is a Skillful event: possessing competence, excellence, dexterity, understanding and an aptitude for an event of activity.
  2. Hurdling is a Technical event: The way is which a person applies skills of a skillful method or procedure to affect a desired result.

Everyone possesses certain gifts or genetic abilities: that’s the skill. And in order to become a great hurdler, one must use that skill to master the technique of the event. A skillful sprinter will take their dexterity and apply it to what the hurdle race requires you to do in order to run fast (negotiating a 13.0 to 13.72 meter start over 33” to 39” barriers with a running zone of 8.5 to 9.14 meters): that’s the technique.

So in this case, is it the chicken or the egg?  Skill or the technique? Most would say you come to the event with skill first and then you are able to learn the technique. Others would say the technique draws out and enhances what lies hidden. I have seen both scenarios in the hurdlers I have coached and I believe it’s not a question for debate concerning who is first or more critical, but rather a question of how are you going to get the two together in the first place (since you need them both at optimum efficiency – {notice I said optimum and not maximum}).

The blending of these two sprint hurdle requirements can be developed through the use of a battery of hurdle drills. Now you do not have to be a drill guru, and be the first on your block with a book case full of DVD’s and hurdle books. But what you should know about the event is how important drilling is for the skilled individual to acquire the technical result.

Drills are not simply something to use as busy work or merely to prepare the hurdler for the “real work” of the daily practice. Drills are “teachable” moments for the hurdler coach to express and ingrain the proper technical understanding into their crew.


What’s Worse Than a Bad Drill?


You can create an atmosphere of “poor learning” if you let your hurdlers jog, warm up, and then leave them to their own devices doing mindless drills. Always observe their drills, or have another coach you trust, a manager, a former hurdler, or as a last resort: a senior/experienced hurdler who knows what you teach and never strays from that approach.

The drills should have a goal/theme to ensure the learning curve will not be too challenging but allow for active learning. Arrange your drills to reflect growth on the part of your hurdlers, and though you may use the same drills year in and year out, by changing the sets, reps, intensity, volume, resistance,  and density (how often) you keep the drills fresh and technically relevant.

The following are drill progressions that enable your hurdlers to improve their technical competence and draw out their natural skills.

  1. hurdle drillSitting drills are the easiest and the least threatening in your arsenal and allows the hurdler to see and feel how their body is supposed to act and react as limbs changes positions. While seated you can slowly teach the proper position and change of direction by the lead/trail arm & leg.  Sitting on the edge of a box so your hips are at least two feet off the ground allows you to teach the proper rotation of the hip as it brings around the trail leg. While the trail is rotating to the front of the body, the lead arm can slowly move backward into a trailing action along the shin bone of the trail leg. Showing how this all happens at once shows your hurdler how to time up movements. The body is a teeter totter, and balance can only be maintained when arms and legs move smoothly in opposite directions and at the same time.
  2. Standing drills allow you to teach all of the standard trail leg circle routines and you can spice them up a little with elastic bands in front and behind the hurdler adding some resistance.
  3. Walking drills can be used to teach the take off technique and can be done over and over again. Walking over the side and down the middle of a hurdle with lead and trail leg action gives you a great teachable moment to cue them to what is desirable technique. Walking 4 steps toward a wall and keying the last two steps with the last step shorter than the one before it. This seems like a minor thing, but is one of the most overlooked teaching progressions in your hurdle drill lesson plan. Young hurdlers and hurdlers feeling the onset of mid to late race fatigue tend to throw their take-off foot in front of their bodies in the hopes of getting closer to the hurdle. They think if they keep shuffling, they won’t make it. But it’s that long step with the resulting braking action that is slowing them down and ultimately causing them to hit the hurdle or change to four or five steps. But if you can ingrain the proper arm mechanics and ground force of the last two to three steps, your hurdler will resist the urge to open up and they will keep their foot quickness.
  4. Skipping, jogging, running and running drills are all logical conclusions of the previous drill. Execute a seated drill with emphasis on the lead arm, and follow it up with some skipping drills. Complete a series of wall drill take offs and then jog over some 30” hurdles set 10 meters apart (9 meters for girls) concentrating on the quick take-off mechanic (the 9 to 10 meter distance gives you five steps but with high frequency and speed – just like in a race.


Now, if you have made it this far, you have gotten at least a grade of “B” in Hurdle 101. Communication as the sprint hurdle coach is important since what you say and what they hear can be two different roads. Never tell them you want them to “jump” over anything. Give them word pictures they can relate to, and are easy to translate into movement. Does your vocabulary speak to them? Always speak to your hurdler as a sprinter who hurdlers and not as a “failed sprinter” who hurdles.

Be careful how you correct your hurdlers faults at practice and in the meets. Don’t be a “nit picker” jamming them at every turn because they can’t execute what your perfect hurdler mind’s eye sees.

Keep them fast, quick, efficient and “timely” and they will keep improving. “Timely” means if they improve from 16.85 to 16.22, but you saw a trail leg problem, let it go and allow them to enjoy the new PR and celebrate the faster time. You can address the trail problem at practice without even bringing it up by merely hammering the trail issue in the drills. What they look like is not always a problem if they are improving. Good technique will not allow you to keep running fast if you’re doing it wrong, so don’t be overly concerned with how they look if they keep dropping bombs.

Practice organization is a key to your success as a hurdle coach. I would arrange my hurdle groupings by Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal skill/technique. The Gold medal group was made up of my veteran hurdlers, while the Silver and Bronze groups were made up of less skilled hurdlers. All three medal groups started the day together in the warm up and dynamic sprint drills. But once they started to perform their hurdle routines, each medal group would follow a scripted day which emphasized what their skill level could handle. Now what happens if you get a “power pup” (a frosh or newbie that just blows even your veterans up) that runs as fast as your experienced hurdlers? This boy or girl spends time with the Gold medal group to keep their skill and technical levels high, but they may not perform the same volume of work the more physically mature hurdlers will complete. Until you know the “P.P.” can handle the rigors of a long season, under training them (keeping them fresh for the meet) can prevent an overuse injury or an overzealous coach.

Well, you made it all the way to the end of the course, and I am happy to say, you receive an “A.” I thank you for taking the time to examine “Hurdle 101”, and your hurdlers will thank you as too.

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.

Related Posts

My Favorite Sprints, Hurdles, & Jumps Programs to Steal From

Discounted Hurdling Drills

Blizzard of 2015: Video Playlist

3 Ways to Teach Rhythm in the Sprint Hurdles

300 Hurdles & 400 Hurdles: Systems vs Philosophies