Hurdling without rhythm is like trying to dance the tango with two left feet— indeed disastrous. Since the hurdle race has several different components to rhythm, athletes with high cadence typically make great hurdlers.
A hurdler’s rhythmic stride pattern begins the moment they take their first step out of the blocks. In hurdle races, the acceleration phase may feel similar to that of sprinting but will look different. In the steps to hurdle 1 (H1), body angles make a shift into the upright position quicker allowing for hurdle clearance, and the rhythmic pattern feels like a slow to fast and big to small step motion.
Though the stride pattern may be similar in distance for each hurdler, the rhythm pertaining to pushes and cutting down may vary from athlete to athlete. Some athletes push for as many as four steps out of the blocks, while others may stand up and run. This is all determined by height, weight, strength, power, range of motion and other unique factors. For this reason, hurdlers need to constantly practice their rhythm to H1 so that they can visualize their sequence of steps and execute the race. As an athlete gets taller, faster, stronger, etc.…the athlete needs to adjust their rhythm to H1 accordingly.
A second type of hurdle rhythm is the rhythm into and off of each hurdle. If done correctly, the sound of the last two steps into the hurdle should be closer together. The sound of the lead and trail legs hitting the ground after the hurdle should also be closer in sound. I typically listen for a quick pop-pop into the hurdle, as well as a quick pop-pop off of the hurdle (what is heard on one side of the hurdle is usually heard on the other side). Poor hurdlers usually get long into the hurdles, which creates a slow elongated sound.
It is important to introduce hurdlers to cutting down their last step before each hurdle. Performing a “cut step” means the last step before each hurdle is smaller than the previous step. If the athlete’s last step is cut down in size, the sound of the last two steps will be closer together in sound. Cutting down the last step also gives the hurdler more distance from the hurdle so that the athlete can push properly into the hurdle with their take off leg.
Pushing into the hurdle is also known as attacking the hurdle. Athletes that “attack” the hurdle with their lead leg annoy me! Pulling the leg up cannot create force in the correct flight path. This is equivalent to a long jumper trying to reach the pit with their free leg without pushing off of the board with their take off leg. The push has to come first to create proper force production and flight patterns. The equal and opposite reaction of pushing into the hurdle with the takeoff leg is the lead leg popping up in front of the athlete. Remember… “Sir Isaac Newton is still undefeated in Track & Field”, Dan Pfaff.
A third type of hurdle rhythm is the feeling of running between the hurdles. It does not matter if the athlete is 4 feet or 6 feet tall, or if the athlete runs 13 seconds or 16 seconds in the hurdle race… they are all trying to take three steps between each hurdle. The difference is that better hurdlers have a faster rhythm between the hurdles. Stride length is predetermined in the hurdle race because of the consistent hurdle spacing of 8.5 meters for the women and 9.14 meters for the men. Therefore, stride frequency (a.k.a. rhythm) is the limiting factor in the hurdle race.
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Related Coaching Resource: Marc Mangiacotti’s ‘Teaching Hurdle Rhythm: Drills & Progressions” (58 Minutes. Immediate Access. Lifetime Q&A Support.)
I have a senior athlete that has progressed nicely during his time in college. In high school, his PR in the 110HH was 14.34 over 39 inch hurdles. During his freshman year there was a lot of time spent on learning the rhythm to H1. Other hurdle rhythms were addressed, but the rhythm to H1 is paramount to learn, so more time was spent on this part of the race. During his first year he ran 14.60 over 42 inch hurdles. This is not as fast as he wanted to run; however, setting up the first part of the race set the tone for his sophomore and junior years.
During his sophomore year he continued to clean up his rhythm to H1 while focusing more attention on the rhythm of pushing into and off of each hurdle. For his efforts he ran 14.13 in his second year in college. As a junior he continued to master his rhythm to H1 in addition to pushing into and off of each hurdle while getting even more familiar with the rhythm between the hurdles. By his third year his PR dropped to 13.80! This year, we are looking to fine tune all components of his hurdle rhythm.
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Whether you’re a coach or an athlete, if you want to see exactly how I teach, cue and progress my hurdle drills, register for the Hurdles Group at the 2015 Complete Track and Field Clinic, held at Harvard University on July 18 & 19, 2015!
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