Effective Hurdles Training
Hurdle training is very similar to sprint training
There are a lot technical points to sprint hurdle training and some can be mind boggling with the science involved, talking about leg leverage, balance and angles but a lot of people forget that basic sprinting speed the one of the most important factors to become a proficient hurdler.
People like Xiang Liu, the former Colin Jackson and Allen Johnson all have one thing in common which is they are sprinters and have done extensive training in speed. Many successful hurdlers actually spend most of their time doing sprint training with 100m and 200m sprinters and following basically the same training regime. The actual hurdle training occupies only a small percentage of the overall training.
There are many coaches that may try to mould your technique into a textbook hurdle style. This should not be done since everyone's body is different and will need to balance itself out during the hurdle flight thus physically appearing different. Certain athletes arms will be like superman over the hurdle, others may spread their arms out like wings of a bird. It make no different as long as you are clearing the hurdle efficiently. There of course is a preferred technique which every one should be reviewing but you own technique doesn't have to be moulded into this as long as your clearance is clean and balanced.
One important thing to remember is that just because you are right handed, doesn't necessarily mean you will lead with your right leg. It doesn't work like that with hurdling, lead with which ever leg you feel is natural. Unless you are doing 400m Hurdles where alternating is necessary.
I believe that this is the most crucial part of hurdling, a lot more important than concentrating on the hurdling (mid air) technique itself. You basically need to be in a position for a perfect sprint to the next barrier without losing mementum because this is where the race is won. this is how you shave 0.01s or even 0.1s of a second of your performance. The ideal landing is when your trail leg is whipped through like an elastic band, this is achieved by slightly delaying the trail leg during flight over the hurdle so when you land you get a natural whipping action bring your leg into a nice high knee lift ready to attack the next barrier and so on ten times. If you look at the likes of Colin Jackson, he used to have quite a delayed pull-through action of the trail leg, but on landing the knees would whip through a get the edge of his competitors between each hurdle.
Some people but think that forcing the trail leg down quicker saves time over the hurdlers. This may be true but when you land your trail leg would have lost all its momentum and there will be no pull-through to drive you to the next hurdle. You will actually get a "stalling" feeling, trying to re-gain momentum to drive you to the next hurdle. The trail leg should come down in natural timing.
Another common mistake in hurdle training is switching arm position in mid air to try and force a faster landing. You legs and arms will natural work together and will speed up only from practicing drills. Forcing the arms will simply put you off balance and leave you with no momentum for the drive to the next hurdle. However it is important to keep your arms tidy so you don't hit people in the adjacent lanes.
As I mentioned in the above paragraph forcing unnatural movement in hurdling will cause unbalance and loss of momentum in between the hurdles. The way to improve this is with drills, isolating the movements of the lead leg and trail leg. For beginners, please note that the leg you lead off with does not have to correspond with which hand you are. e.g. I am right handed but I would lead off with my left leg, because that is what's comfortable for me, do not let people force you to hurdle off the incorrect leg.
See the video below for some isolated drill examples.
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In between the hurdles
A common issue especially for people under 6ft tall is the stride pattern between the hurdles. Poor hurdling can lead to various problems reaching the next hurdle. The most common being over striding or stretching. The three strides between the hurdles need to be covered as naturally as possible for maximum speed. This issue can be over come by bringing the hurdles closer together than normal. On the other hand people who are very tall also may have issues with rhythm between the hurdles, as they will tend to chop their stride for an unnatural running rhythm.
A typical way to measure this in hurdles training is to place the first hurdle in the correct place, then for the second hurdle, start at the line and count "heel-toe"x2 inwards and place the hurdle at that point. The 3rd hurdle will be "heel-toe"x4 and 4th "heel-toe" x6 and so on. It is crucial that you take care measuring, since irregularities in the spacing can cause injury through collision.
When it comes to competition your body should naturally adjust to the normal spacing.
A good idea is to get a high shutter speed camera filming you from the side to capture your every movement for later analysis.
For sprint hurdling length and stride patterns are essential for a smooth race, it is often more important than basic speed itself. Agility ladders are an excellent way to control your stride pattern without affecting your speed to much. A good drill is to place then at similar intervals as each step (3) between a hurdle, then try running into it at full speed. The agility ladder will not only control your stride pattern but stimulate the fast twitch fibers in your muscles.