The 110 high hurdles is unlike any other sprint in track and field. While running full speed, you must clear ten 42″ hurdles in stride while attempting to reach the finish line first. The event requires speed, technique, and most importantly, rhythm for success.
Over the past ten years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some very good hurdle coaches and have done my best to pick their brains. In this article, I’ll share a few of the most important drills I’ve learned and explain how to implement them to achieve greater results.
In the 110 hurdles, the keys to success are to keep the hips high (closer to the height of the hurdle) and maintain a forward lean to ensure constant acceleration. Above all, you must run your fastest. Running fast should go without saying. But as you get caught up in the finer details of the event, you often find yourself running down the track thinking about what to do. This is a prime example of what not to do when the gun goes off. Thinking about, and working on, the technical aspects of the race is saved for practice. When it’s time to race, your intention must always be to run your fastest to cross the finish line.
Here are four drills that will help:
- 1-step drill
- Schery tops
- Cycle ladder
- Ladji drill
The 1-Step Drill
I learned about the 1-step drill in 2002 as a senior in high school while browsing AOL. I found many drills for improving technique and speed and, naturally, tried everything. I was lucky enough to have a coach that allowed me to experiment in practice, and this allowed me to find my own style and succeed to a greater degree than the average hurdler.
The 1-step drill is still my absolute favorite hurdle drill, and I believe it should be a part of every hurdler’s arsenal. The drill helps mimic the feeling of adrenaline when running full speed over the hurdles. This is very hard to replicate at sub-maximal speeds, but the 1-step drill does this very well in only 7-8 steps, the distance between the hurdles.
Some coaches believe this drill should not be performed because it doesn’t always follow proper mechanics or because it ingrains an improper cut step. In truth, as you begin to perform the drill better, it fixes all of these errors. At first, you’ll find it very mechanical and slow, but over time, you’ll develop a rhythm and establish the habit of reacting to the hurdles. This is exactly how to clear the hurdles at top speed.
To perform the drill, simply set up at least 3 hurdles anywhere from 6-10 feet apart and move through them in a 1-step fashion.
To truly master the drill, first focus on executing proper mechanics over the hurdles:
- Lean forward
- Dorsi flex
- Drive the heel to the hip
- Finish extension into the hurdle (through the takeoff leg)
- Drive the leg straight down to the track (off the hurdle)
Video 1. Here is a full training session with cues for mastering the 1-step drill.
As an athlete, you eventually want to develop an instant “bounce” over all hurdles. You want to literally glue the heel, while dorsiflexed, to the hip and feel the hips directly on top of the hurdles. This will take many, many reps to master, but it creates the exact sensation that you want. After hundreds of reps, you should not feel the movements themselves. Instead, you’ll the feel of the hip directly on top of the hurdles and have a continuous movement through all hurdles, instantly.
I call this drill Schery tops because I was introduced to it by former coach Alfredo Schery. Coach Schery was formerly with the Cuban national team and has worked with some of the best hurdlers in the world. The drill is very simple, but may be a little challenging to perform at first because of the timing. The concept is very simple: continue to move down the track in a straight leg fashion to instill the sensation of a proper cut step.
The cut step is the most important step for sprint hurdles as it directly influences the parabolic flight over the hurdle and determines the velocity at which you clear the hurdle.
The proper cut step is placed directly beneath the hips, with absolutely no drop in the hips, at takeoff. This is precisely what the Schery tops help you achieve.
Before attempting the Schery tops, you should be able to perform the straight leg drill.
Video 2. How to perform the Schery tops.
The key to this drill is to allow momentum to take you over the hurdles without extra effort on your part. It will feel awkward because the timing will be so fast and so smooth that the entire clearance of the hurdles will feel off. But if you want to take your hurdling to new levels, you have to forget the old (what you thought was right) and get comfortable with the new and its weird timing. It’s important not to push to clear the hurdles as many athletes attempt to do.
- Keep the knees locked
- Allow the arms to swing
- Raise the heels straight up into the hips (with feet dorsiflexed)
- Continue moving with the knees locked
The cycle ladder is a variation of the cycle drill taught to me by my former coach Steve McGill, the best hurdles coach in the world. The cycle drill is designed to help teach the proper cycle over the hurdles and helps develop the habit of continuing to move the limbs throughout hurdle clearance.
The cycle ladder differs in that the hurdles are set at increasing distances to help develop the quick feet required between hurdles without taxing the nervous system too much. The setup also helps those who have trouble 3-stepping get used to taking off further and further away from the hurdle.
To perform the drill, set the hurdles at increasing distances of 2 feet per hurdle. The cycle ladder drill allows beginners to get comfortable with the 3-step rhythm while gradually building their confidence to accomplish this at the regular race distance.
I like to perform the drill with the hurdles spaced 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23 feet apart. The feet have to move very quickly between the first 2 hurdles, and the objective is to keep moving just as quickly as the spacing increases and you move down the track.
Video 3. Demonstration of the cycle ladder drill.
When performing the drill, continue pumping the arms up and down and focus on bringing the feet up into the hips (dorsiflexed) and straight back down to the ground. Do not allow the lead leg to swing forward or the trail leg to swing wide. Keep everything tight and moving up and down.
- In mid-flight, prepare to move the feet very quickly on the ground
- Stay forward, stay forward, stay forward
- The trail leg should feel like it lands directly beside the lead leg
- Keep the rhythm the same throughout the drill (take off from further in front of the hurdle)
- Don’t increase the stride length to cover the distance between hurdles.
I’ve only seen this drill performed by Ladji Doucoure of France and, since I don’t know the drill’s name, I named it after him. I began implementing the Ladji drill in my own training with much success.
I’ve seen three hurdlers race who raised my adrenaline because they moved so fast and so aggressively it seemed they could crash at any moment: Renaldo Nehemiah, Larry Wade (former coach of mine), and Ladji Doucoure. In my opinion, Doucoure had the fastest lead leg of any hurdler because there was absolutely no air time when he cleared the hurdles. Many hurdlers have “fast” lead legs, but Ladji was amazing to watch because he was also almost too fast. (Not even possible right?) He often crashed in big meets because the lead leg got so far ahead that the trail leg (hip clearance) had a hard time keeping up. But when he didn’t crash, he usually won.
To perform the drill, turn the hurdle upside down and stand with one foot on the hurdle rail and the other foot behind the crossbar for balance. Shift all your weight forward onto the lead leg and allow gravity to take control as the leg moves down. As gravity pulls the lead leg to the ground, quickly pull the trail leg up to avoid catching it on the crossbar. The drill is actually difficult to explain. Watch the 30-second video below to see how it’s performed.
Video 4. Demonstration of the Ladji drill.
I began performing this drill in my living room over small obstacles. Eventually I tried it during practice. You can perform it with the hurdle at varying heights, but for the best results, use a 42” hurdle height. This will allow you to more closely mimic the split (separation of the legs) in the race. Do not try to jump or clear the hurdle, simply hang your leg on the rail, shift your weight forward, and allow gravity to do the rest.
There are many great drills a 110 hurdler can perform, but these four will give you greater success and faster times. Be sure to follow my blog and newsletter for more at SprintHurdles and, as always, run fast and make them chase you.
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