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Hurdlers should always remember that they"re also sprinters

Outdoor hurdles races range from 100 to 400 meters long, while the indoor high hurdles event is 60 meters long. In other words, all these hurdles races must be classified as sprint events. The following article, emphasizing the need to focus on hurdlers as sprinters, is based on a presentation given by Olympic bronze medalist Tonie Campbell at the2015 Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association’s annual coaching clinic.

In his MITCA presentation, Campbell emphasized that hurdlers must “buy into the sprint philosophy. There is no such thing as a hurdler. The hurdler is a sprinter that somebody plays a dirty trick on,” Campbell joked. He added that accelerating to the maximum possible speed before reaching the first hurdle is “paramount” to the hurdler's success.

Approaching the First Hurdle

After bursting out of the starting blocks, hurdlers must rise out of the drive phase in time to prepare to clear the first barrier. This is not a problem in the 400-meter hurdles, but proper hurdling mechanics require the athlete to rise quickly in the shorter hurdles races. A hurdler must have his head up to see the approaching barrier, while the hips must rise so the athlete can sprint across the hurdle, rather than jump over the barrier.

Improve your starts in the sprint hurdle events

Proper weight distribution helps the hurdler clear the barrier while conserving as much speed as possible. The center of gravity should be up and forward to push off the ground.

Hurdlers shouldn't pull and climb over the hurdle, or launch themselves over the barrier. Instead, hurdlers should push off the track and attack the barrier.

Lead Arm Position During Hurdle Clearance

At higher levels of track and field, you’ll rarely see hurdlers extend an arm across their body while clearing the barriers, which is known as “blocking.” In his MITCA presentation, however, Campbell said that beginners may benefit from blocking as they learn proper clearance technique. “The main reason,” he explains, “is because they need to go from block to box. If they go out with a straight arm, they tend to sweep (with the trail leg’s shin parallel to the track). And what happens when you sweep, a lot of athletes aren’t strong enough and they hook (moving the trail foot around the hurdle, instead of over the barrier), and then they have to unhook and all kinds of other drama happens. I highly advise a blocking technique, and (then) pull it back,” when you’ve cleared the hurdle.

Sprinting Between the Hurdles

Hurdlers should return to sprinting as quickly as possible after clearing each barrier. The standard way to measure whether this is occurring consistently is to track a hurdler’s touchdown times. Using a stopwatch with a split function, a coach records a hurdler’s time from a specific point – such as the starting gun, or the moment when the hurdler’s lead leg first hits the track, for example – to the points at which the lead leg touches the track after clearing each hurdle. This offers a frame of reference for a hurdler’s entire performance, and also shows how much the hurdler tires as the race progresses.

Sprinting to the Finish Line

After clearing the last barrier, a hurdles race turns into a straight sprint to the finish line. At this point, however, fatigue starts setting in, especially in the 400 hurdles. A few small tweaks in running form can help get the hurdler up to full speed, while at the same time preparing him to hit the finish line. First, hurdlers should shorten their levers to help increase turnover. Instead of running with the elbows bent at 90 degrees, for example, tighten them up to about 85. The shorter the levers, the faster the running motion.

Next, hurdlers can change their angle of attack by leaning forward a bit, rather than running with a vertical posture. This also helps increase turnover and sets hurdlers up to lean even farther forward as they cross the finish line. When hurdlers reach the line, they should thrust their shoulders and chest forward, rather than just trying to bend at the waist. As Campbell noted in his MITCA presentation, “So many races are lost, so many great times are lost, because the athlete comes to the finish line incorrectly. If you … shorten up, and your angle of attack is closer, now you can lean forward correctly and it’s a lot easier, and you actually gain a lot of time. You’d be surprised how much time is gained by thrusting your chest or shoulder forward.”

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