By Graham Eaton
Drills often get a bad reputation as being filler, but they are necessary to teach and progress developmental athletes. The beginning of each track season marks a period of conflicting emotions for me. While I am excited to get the team’s training going again, I also feel overwhelmed at having to hit reset and work through the basics with another new group. I may have 40 athletes, each with individual strengths and areas that need to be developed.
I used to coach 100-400m, relays, both hurdles, and the long and triple jumps. I had to get creative without overtraining. Neither underprepared or overtrained athletes are a good thing. Thankfully, now our new jumps coach, Tyler Colbert, assists me with that workload.
It is important to be able to communicate and plan microcycles with field event coaches to help prepare athletes and preserve their health. I feel like we are getting better at matching up jump events to the theme of the day while still staying within the confines of a low volume/dose range. We typically follow something that looks like this:
- Acceleration Days – Long and triple jump supplementary short approach work, hurdlers cut from speed work early, getting started on drills + starts to H1 and H2.
- Max Velocity – Long and triple jump building to full approaches (cut from speed workout early + less plyos), hurdlers work up to acceleration drills between hurdles.
- X-Factor Days – vertical jumps, hurdle drills (skips, cut step drills, and one-steps).
- Lactate Days – vertical jump work first (long hurdle work for 400m hurdles).
We are still working through this format to find the right amount of work. Some of our athletes do high jump, long jump, and hurdles. It can be tough to fit it all in and sometimes, unfortunately, we arrive at meet day feeling as if something is still lacking. Having a huge range of abilities compounds this. Usually by mid-season we have a good flow down and can get more specific heading into the postseason.
As a result, I often have to program general drills into warm-ups to teach the basics of the jumps and hurdles and to reach all athletes. These drills lay foundations and are prerequisites to delving into more complex items in your coaching repertoire. They are also easy enough to learn so that athletes can teach other athletes when a coach is busy elsewhere.
The Hurdler Rain Dance Drill
On our team, hurdlers are sprinters first. Since I am the hurdles coach, hurdling is essentially treated like a field event. It is a simple fact that if you are slow, you can’t be a great hurdler. As a result, hurdlers usually do half or most of the sprinting workout, then get cut a few reps early to start drills independently. They then supplement hurdle starts or discounted reps (decreased spacing or heights).Speed is the greatest indicator of future success in any track and field event, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
Talent identification in the hurdles is important. At the moment, I have many young hurdlers who are simply not fast enough or tall enough to three-step. I am letting them develop, but the fact remains that my fastest male hurdlers have all been under 12.0 in the 100m dash. Speed is the greatest indicator of future success in any track and field event.
Video 1. The hurdler rain dance won’t make someone into an all-star hurdler right away, but it is an easy entry point for teaching correct lead leg technique. It also is a great warm-up for general coordination and can help identify athletes who may be naturally suited for hurdling.
The hurdler rain dance drill is a great point of entry to teach hurdlers correct lead leg technique and arm positioning. I have largely done away with lead leg “fence drills.”
I think there is still value to fence drills that have a trail leg technique focus, as they help athletes work on keeping the toe dorsiflexed and feeling the trail leg behind them before it comes through the armpit. Much of the trail leg issues seem to be related to either weak isometric hip strength or poor hip mobility.
Stationary lead leg drills, when done by beginners, often appear too slack. This doesn’t transfer well to actual hurdling. If this is their first encounter with hurdling, I often spend considerable time undoing bad patterns. I used to show them the correct way to do these drills, only to turn away for a moment to help a 100m runner with a block start and then turn back to find the hurdlers lazily kicking their legs against the fence with their arms flailing.The hurdler rain dance drill is a great point of entry to teach hurdlers correct lead leg technique and arm positioning. Best of all, you can do it with large groups, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
The problem with some of these hurdle drills is that they don’t give athletes any feedback or opportunities to self-organize. The rain dance allows them to work on their hurdling action in a more dynamic way. The goals and benefits of this drill are:
- Teaches them to block and keep lead arm at eye level at take-off. (Check the watch.)
- Allows them to self-organize position of lead arm to provide balance, without crossing the midline.
- General rhythm and coordination, especially with regard to timing of the stance leg hop action. This benefits every athlete on your team and can be a more dynamic addition on days when you focus on hurdle mobility.
- Allows athlete to focus on stopping bent trail arm on the hip before returning upward. (Check your wallet.) The arms are mirrors of each other. Too much wasted movement back here is going to throw the lead arm off as well.
- Provides a dynamic context to attack the hurdle with the knee instead of the foot. Lead foot should stay dorsiflexed. This lays the foundation for other drills, such as lead leg skips.
- Allows them to learn to keep a slight forward lean over the hurdle top.
This is a lot of bang for your buck in one drill. While it doesn’t teach proper takeoff distance or trail leg technique, it is one of my favorites to teach an athlete how to balance and attack the hurdle correctly. The takeoff is largely the area that will contain errors that won’t reveal themselves until later in the hurdle clearance or touchdown. This drill, combined with acceleration work, has helped many of my hurdlers hit the first hurdle with more confidence.
Best of all, you can do this exercise with very large groups. This can allow me to identify prospective hurdlers early in the season because they exhibit natural rhythm and sharpness in this drill. At a small school, trying to fill out the lineup becomes an even more impossible task without some screening.
Gallop and Field Frolicker Drills
The gallop drill is essentially a penultimate step drill for long jump. I like using it because it allows the athlete to experience several correct long jump takeoffs close to one another without worrying about board accuracy. I think throwing a novice jumper onto a runway without some basic skills is setting them up for failure. The penultimate step and takeoff are the keys for a great long jumper. The gallop drill does a great job of laying the neuromuscular qualities to take off correctly.The gallop drill does a great job of laying the neuromuscular qualities for hurdlers to take off correctly, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
Simple physics would dictate that speed is as important in the long jump as it is in hurdling, but while speed kills, plenty of fast kids never achieve the same success in the long jump. They often decelerate, reach, or stutter going into the board or contact the board toe first. Without a proper takeoff, they can’t transfer this speed. For this reason, a good foul is worth 1,000 stutters.
Video 2. The gallop drill is perfect for coaches looking to develop a track athlete, not just a track sprinter. Use galloping early with underclassmen to get them to appreciate different locomotive strategies.
I like this drill for several reasons:
- Easier to cue flat-footed takeoff here before moving to a long jump runway.
- Allows athletes to self-organize and feel the minimal/optimal amount of hip drop needed to maintain speed from the approach and get a good liftoff. Also allows them to work on a push that is a horizontal and vertical mix.
- Builds confidence with speed at takeoff and can help their board accuracy.
- Gives them repeated reps at blocking with their arm at eye level with a 90-degree angle between elbow and forearm. This can make their takeoff drive better.
This drill has a lot of flexibility with its placement in a program. I have used it on speed days as a warm-up drill before 10m flys. You can use it in an acceleration complex as well. If I still coached jumps, I would use it right before approach work and full jumps to potentiate this work, especially with athletes early in their development. I would also use it embedded in a short approach jump as a gallop-run-jump sequence.
I have used the three variations below.
- Repeated low gallops
- Repeated high gallops
- Alternating gallop and sprint over banana hurdles
The repeated low gallop is the first progression I use. The emphasis is on getting a quick push through the penultimate foot and then getting the takeoff foot down flat quickly while blocking at eye level. The intensity is low, but the coordinative demand is still high.
Once they have this down, I have them go a little higher. This makes it so they have to get their takeoff leg into proper position very quickly. The takeoff leg will extend more, and the free leg will extend away from the body more than in the low gallop variation. This is a little more similar to a full long jump takeoff.
The gallop and sprint variation is an excellent way to see which athletes are able to attack the takeoff without a major drop in velocity. The arm block should be a little more pronounced and the opposite arm should be thrown back. I have had my better jumpers practice driving the arm opposite of their takeoff leg down and back, and then bring it over and forward.
At the end of the day, if this makes the work for the jumps coach a little bit easier with his specific work later, then I have done my job. I think it is also a great general drill for all sprinters looking to work their way into more elastic plyometric training. Any rhythm, timing, and postural work will have a positive effect on their athletic development. Most of my sprinters have a lot of fun doing these, and it allows them to feel why it is crucial to get to the gallop position upon takeoff with a full approach. I use it weekly in warm-ups as a screening tool on both legs when scaling the ladder to max velocity and acceleration work.
Standing Triple Jumps as a Drill
Triple jump is an event where patience is required. Like hurdling, rushing to full approaches can ingrain bad habits that are not easy to erase. I have used this exercise in the past as an introductory teaching tool for triple jump once basic hopping exercises have been introduced. I think it is also a great drill to reinforce the distinct phases of the triple jump. Even basketball athletes returning to track in the spring should take time to revisit shallower drills and approaches to allow a safe accumulation of volume and intensity.
Video 3. Standing triple jumps are a great exercise to teach hopping in lower intensities. Learning to apply force correctly with good posture and control is important before doing full triple jumps.
I usually start athletes on the field or turf and have them begin with both feet standing together. Using their arms to get a vertical pulse, they should drive out low off both feet onto their dominant jump leg. They then should drive their opposite thigh parallel to the ground, before landing with both feet together and their weight as evenly distributed as possible. They should aim to keep their torso vertical and land as close to flat-footed as possible.
I am not worried about how far they go at first. They should just aim to keep their posture and foot contacts correct. Even small, baby hops with an evenly spaced sound between them will be of benefit in setting up good habits in the later weeks. They may need a call-out of “left-right-together” (or “right-left-together,” depending on their jump leg) until they are comfortable with the pattern.
You can progress this drill by asking them to jump further, but to retain even phases. Athletes will typically self-organize and project lower on their first double-footed takeoff to set up better second and third phases, which is important in the hop phase of a full triple jump. The projection angle off the board is lower than in a long jump. Later on, standing triple jumps with full intent and arm action can be a main session, especially if there are two meets per week on the schedule. The standing triple jump is great for both beginner and advanced athletes to help teach skills or remediate flaws.
Doing It All
I think the above three drills are important for three very technical events and I use them constantly. We are lucky at Triton to have a head coach who coaches distance and three assistant coaches who oversee sprints, jumps, or throws. This makes it easier to have our own programs and progressions in training. I know not every coach has this. The overlap between general and specific items is an absolutely necessity for a coach struggling to fit it all in. Jumpers and hurdlers are sprinters first. Improvements in acceleration development and top speed will translate to these other technical events.
Bridging the gaps between sprinting and other events doesn’t have to be a particularly elusive goal. There are plenty of easy exercises and drills that can help teach the basics of hurdles and horizontal jumping events. The first two weeks in general prep is a crucial time in the season, when laying simple and solid groundwork can set up later weeks. In hurdler development, the space from the blocks to hurdle one is a critical area that needs to be addressed. The cut step and how to attack the hurdle are things that should be taught from day one. The rain dance allows them to experience this technique repeatedly without too much pounding.Jumpers and hurdlers are sprinters first. Improvements in acceleration development and top speed will translate to these other technical events, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
Long jump takeoff is largely a determinant of what happens in the air. Gallops put athletes in a position to get important feedback and make them more receptive to coaching cues in the future. This is a great reference point when teaching full approaches. In triple jump, learning to control the height of the first phase while “blowing through the board” is important to getting the most out of the approach. Standing triple jumps do a great job at letting athletes self-correct, again without too much pounding. It does a terrific job setting up short approach work as well.
Drills can always be authentic teaching tools and not just fluff, as long as you consider their placement. General drills can always improve the specific tasks if you have a vision for how they develop your athletes.