“Working the Dirt”

Posted by Tony Veney

hurdlersThe 100 meter and 110 meter hurdles events must be thought of as sprint events, and not an event where you dump the slow kids. So don’t fill your hurdler crew with those young people who were not able to make your top three or four flat 100-200 meter sprinters. Since pure acceleration, acceleration, transition to top end speed, top end speed, and speed maintenance are the same for the flat and short hurdle races, specificity in training approach is key.

RELATED: Complete Hurdle Training Program

Extensive analysis of good hurdling reveals:

  1. Acceleration does not end at the first hurdle, but continues through the 3rd-4th & 5th (around 30-45 meters). This should not be surprising since the same acceleration pattern for the flat 100 meters tops out around the same point in the race – sooner for less experienced sprinters).
  2. Stabilization of maximum velocity is extremely high through hurdles 6, 7, 8 and 9 (becoming more difficult as the race progresses). Speed endurance, more specifically rhythm endurance is well developed in more experienced hurdlers.
  3. Attacking the first 4 steps from the blocks with the same aggression one would see in the flat race is the set up for the hurdle take-off.
  4. Complete the last three strides before the hurdle with a more upright posture in order to run up to and through hurdle #1 quickly and powerfully. Avoid opening your stride, settling the hips (as in the high jump) causing the hips to drop just before the 1st hurdle. If the hips do settle, the likelihood of a trail or lead leg hit increases, or the fear of such contact will cause the hurdler to leap upward. Strides 6-8 should emphasize an increase in cadence much like the rhythm used when running between the hurdles.
  5. The attacking or “cut step” will refer to the trail leg foot. It will be this foot that will propel the hurdler up and through the barrier. The stride length of the cut step is shorter than the step before it so the foot can be placed under the center of mass. This foot placement forces the hurdler toward the hurdle without any settling or delay (also eliminating negative braking forces). This take-off technique requires an aggressive, lighter, but active ground contact.   This is the movement that causes the greatest trouble for the younger hurdlers. The speed they are moving can be a little scary, so they put their cut step well in front of the center of mass to delay the take-off, making it feel more comfortable and gives them more time to get over the hurdle without hitting it (not knowing that by delaying the take-off, they are actually setting themselves up for a hurdle hit). Younger hurdlers lack the visual steering ability more experienced hurdlers have who can “take in” hurdles flying at them at 8.5-9.14 meters per second. My younger hurdlers often tell me the hurdle is coming at them “Too Fast.” You know what too fast is? First place!! Unfortunately, this setting up for the hurdle causes the hurdler to bounce over and/or float the barrier. This causes a series of events to take place that further compromise the hurdler’s ability to run a good race:
    1. Poor set up at take-off (braking occurs)
    2. You decelerate into the hurdle
    3. You project upward over the hurdle instead of through it.
    4. You have to wait for the Bell Curve-like (instead of a flatter path) path through the air to finish before you can begin running to the next hurdle and you cannot aggressively attack the touchdown.
    5. The touchdown is passive making you wait for the ground to come up and hit you (and it’s the Planet Earth!) causing the touchdown leg to collapse (flat footed) slowing the trail leg.
    6. The trail step reaches out in front of the center of mass producing three braking steps as the hurdler attempts to lunge to the next hurdle. The young hurdler can feel their loss of speed and the only way they know how of getting some speed back is to swing with big arms and a big stride. They have no idea this is the very thing that is making them run slower and slower.
    7. The hurdler, realizing they no longer have enough speed to get to the remaining hurdles must now decide to alternate (4 steps) or cut all the way down to five steps.
    8. Imagine all of these things happening because of one poorly set up cut step into the hurdle. An active landing as the hurdler hits the cut step will give the hurdler the speed they need to run over the barrier preserving as much of their speed as possible for the coming hurdles.

The second part of this paper will cover lead and trail mechanics. 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