Shailah Thornton arrived at Chapin High School as an 18.58 100-meter hurdler—she left Chapin with the second fastest time in school history (14.06) and a bronze medal at the UIL 5A State Meet (14.57). Shailah’s work ethic, focus, and determination were the top factors in her posting such dramatic improvements over the course of two years. They were further evidenced in her breaking her personal best during the indoor 60-meter hurdles (9.09) in her first year at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School (West Point).
Over the course of three articles, I’ll discuss Shailah’s practice plans, including drills, skill work, specific hurdle rhythm development, and other factors that led to her improvement. I should also note that many of our hurdlers at Chapin have improved using the same type of skill work and three basic hurdle drills. While the development and skill levels of hurdlers have improved at different rates, the focus of the training program has remained similar throughout. Finally, I’ll address the difference between coaching athletic freaks like Shailah and beginning hurdlers, and how we approach coaching different hurdlers of varying abilities, height, experience, and other factors.
This first article will address instilling speed for the 100/110 meter hurdles and why speed plays such a significant role in the sprint hurdles. As always, there are an infinite number of ways to coach any one event in track and field, but we choose to place a high priority on speed development for the 100/110 hurdles because, despite the barriers, it remains a speed event.
Early in the season, we test an athlete’s fly 10 or fly 30 time to measure absolute speed. Shailah ran a 3.67 timed with Freelap, which demonstrated that she was capable of running a high 12 or low 13 in the 100-meter race. This allowed us to understand that, while she didn’t have speed that would allow her to medal at the Texas state meet, she definitely had the natural speed to be able to three-step between each hurdle. Because of her power, Shailah was also a great accelerator; and because of her athleticism, she developed great hurdle rhythm and coordination.
Last year, I coached a hurdler with a fly 30 time of 3.63, which is faster than Shai, but the hurdler was only able to three-step through eight hurdles because she was only 5-feet tall, and ultimately ran a PR of 15.58. I also coached another hurdler last year who, despite having a slower fly 30 (3.85), ended up with a PR time of 15.35 because she is 5’6” and was able to three-step the entire race.
Speed in the 100/110 Hurdles
Because distance is predetermined in the 100/110 hurdles—including the distance to the first hurdle, distance between each hurdle, and distance to the finish line after clearing the last hurdle—working speed for hurdlers requires a very specific pattern. The first specific hurdle speed drill we try to develop is acceleration to the opening hurdle. Before we even begin to approach the hurdle, we spend a lot of time (twice a week during the general prep phase) working on pure acceleration without a hurdle. As I mentioned in “How to Create a Base of Power and Speed,” we practice acceleration in many forms, but accelerating to the first hurdle is a very specific skill that needs to be practiced early and often throughout the year.Accelerating to the 1st hurdle is a very specific skill that needs to be practiced early and often, says @mario_gomez81. Click To Tweet
About accelerating to the first hurdle, Boo Schexnayder says: “The hurdle race begins with driving strides. These driving strides are strong steps with less than maximal frequency, and should give the athlete the same sensation one gets when sprinting uphill.” When trying to determine the best accelerating pattern for any hurdler, we spend a lot of time observing proper acceleration mechanics and looking for the most effective setup for the remainder of the race.
The variation of driving/pushing strides is dependent upon the athlete. Shailah pushed out hard for four strides before feeling tall and attacking the hurdle. The 5-foot hurdler pushed for five or even six strides because of her height. There are several tables that show how far each stride should be with proper mechanics, but ultimately the goal is to arrive at step 8, the cut step, between 1.9 and 2.1 meters before the first hurdle with proper acceleration mechanics.
Regarding height difference, Coach Ron Grigg, (Director of Cross Country/Track and Field at Jacksonville University) said, “[The] simple answer is that the shorter the hurdler, the farther away they need to take off in order to raise their center of mass in the correct flight parabola. Conversely, they will land closer to the hurdle they just cleared. It isn’t a significant amount, but there is a difference.”
Video 1. Zoee Huerta eight step acceleration to first hurdle in 2.65. Posted PR 15.58 as senior after a season best of 16.00 as a junior.
Video 2. Shavontee Harris eight step accel to first hurdle in 2.81. Posted PR 15.35 as a junior after posting a season best of 16.74.
For example, Shailah would consistently take off right on the 2-meter mark, while many of the other short hurdlers work on taking off father away. One interesting note to share here is that all of the shorter female hurdlers I have coached tend to overstride by casting their foot and essentially braking all the way to the first. They overstride because they do not think they will arrive close enough to the first hurdle. The overstriding often happens in the later steps to the first hurdle (step 5/6/7), which in turn decreases the velocity of the hurdler.
Wicket Spacing for Hurdlers
Because spacing between each hurdle is predetermined (8.5 meters for females and 9.14 for males) and three-stepping needs to be a learned pattern, we set up wickets with equal spacing when working with hurdlers. For example, the ideal stride length between barriers should be around 1.83 meters (approximately 6 feet) for female hurdlers and 1.94 meters (6’4”/6’5”) for males. Based on height, landing, and technical execution, the stride patterns will obviously differ.
Getting athletes to three-step properly and maintain speed is extremely crucial in the #hurdles, says @mario_gomez81. Click To Tweet
Video 3. Zoee Huerta working on turnover using wickets set at average stride length for hurdler at six feet after acceleration.
However, getting athletes to three-step properly and maintain speed is extremely crucial in the hurdles. Therefore, when working wickets with hurdlers, we often set the wickets progressively up to 6 feet for females and maintain that distance and do the same for males up to 6’4” or so. We treat this as a part-whole-part progression, so that athletes can understand the frequency and speed between hurdles. This establishes the stride pattern needed to three-step between each hurdle. Obviously, the height difference between a hurdle and wicket is significant, but the main purpose for the drill is for the athlete to feel the stride pattern.
In the upcoming articles, I will explain the other three drills our hurdlers use, and why we rarely, if ever, use one-half hurdle drills.
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