Hurdles – There’s More that Meets the Eye

This article is guest blogged by Eric Broadbent, a certified USA Track and Field Level 2 Coach, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), holds USTFCCCA Track & Field Technical Certification, and a USA Weightlifting Sport Performance Coach.

He also wrote Recovery Day Toolbox for Speed and Power Athletes

Hurdles: There’s More that Meets the Eye

David Oliver Hurdles

Hurdles are not just a piece of equipment for track and field athletes. There are many different applications for using hurdles in training for any sport.  I am hoping to shed some light on some different applications and provide you with a few extra tools for your program.

One of the more common practices of using hurdles beside in competition for a hurdler is through the use of hurdle drills.  These would be common lead and trail leg drills used by short and long hurdles as well as steeplechasers.   I have seen a wide array of drills done by various coaches and they are a great tool to use for both beginner and advanced hurdlers.  While this is the case, I caution coaches to not take their eye off the prize.  Basic Hurdle drills that are done at much slower speeds and especially the drills that break down part of the hurdle clearance should never be done at the expense of spending time actually hurdling.  Often times coaches will spend way too long hammering away at these drills and forget about developing race specific rhythm.  The best analogy I can think of is with a sprinter that does sprint drills all day long to try and get faster but neglects the most crucial aspect of his or her training, sprinting!  Coaches must keep this in mind.

The second use for hurdles that seems to be growing with popularity is using hurdles as a way to develop flexibility.  Typical exercises in this category would be single leg and alternating walkovers, over and backs, “over unders”, lateral and backwards variations, and skipping variations.  While overall mobility in the hips would probably be accepted as the most popular rationale for doing these kind of drills, there are a host of benefits for doing this type of work if done correctly.  They are a great way to help improve core strength, posture, proprioceptive awareness, overall hip strength, ankle and foot health, and balance.  When using more ballistic type movements, they can also be a good way to prep the body for sprinting and other high CNS work.  This type of work could be done in the warm-up or cool down portion of the session or even in the middle of a session depending on what the goals are and how the methods are applied.

Another more popular idea for using hurdles is through the use of plyometrics and also jump specific skills training for a jumper. This could take the form of hurdle hops, skips for height and distance, continuous takeoffs, and run-run jumps. There are many other variations as well. Much like using plyo boxes for training, there needs to be caution when using this piece of equipment. When figuring out what hurdle height to use for your athletes, start off too low! Encourage your athlete to focus on displacing the hips and jumping as high as possible. The less the athlete has to actually focus on lifting the knees up and the more they can focus on actual vertical height being reached, the more they will get out of the drill. Using a low hurdle height or even baby hurdles is also a great idea for doing jumps specific training for your jumpers. If the hurdle height is too high then the takeoff leg will have to be pulled up immediately upon takeoff and will result in either not getting full extension or it might actually cause some unwanted forward rotation and timing issues. Drills are meant to help us make an easy transition to the actual skill, not create bad habits.

Vince Anderson’s Wicket Drills are another great way in which you will see baby hurdles being used in training. I started using these drills with my athletes a little over a year ago and I was thrilled to find this teaching tool. The idea is to set up baby hurdles at progressive distances along the track and have your athletes run through them focusing on proper sprint mechanics. There is chart that has various progressions with regards to setting up the proper distances for the hurdles and there are even distances designed for youth athletes. Slight alterations may need to be made depending on the speed and stride length of the athlete you work with. The baby hurdles force the athlete to step-over more effectively during the swing phase. There are also several other things to look for when implementing these drills and it all comes down to the details. I highly recommend you start incorporating these with your athletes if you want to address proper sprinting mechanics.

Hurdles can also be used during resisted runs as the actual resistance. If you don’t have a sled or resistance belt, then you can always push a hurdle! Latif Thomas (see all articles by him here)  had a video of his athletes using the hurdles in this manner and it looked great. This could be especially useful if you are working with a large group and have minimal equipment to work with.

Hurdles can also be used for stretching and massage purposes and can also provide a nice incline for your athletes to put their legs or feet on when doing certain general strength exercises. I have also seen them used as resistance for deadlifts and other strength exercises.

As you can see, hurdles are a great tool to use with athletes across the board. I am sure there are many other variations and useful drills out there where hurdles come in to play. Feel free to share any other drills that us coaches could use to help our athletes improve. Also if you have any questions, feel free to ask them below.

About the Author

Eric Broadbent is a certified USA Track and Field Level 2 Coach, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), holds USTFCCCA Track & Field Technical Certification, and a USA Weightlifting Sport Performance Coach.  He also has over 6 years of coaching experience including coaching at North Carolina State and West Chester University.  As an athlete, he won the USATF 2012 Indoor Heptathlon and was an Olympic Trials Qualifier.  That same year he represented the US in the Pan American Cup and took 2nd place.  As a national level competitor he also had top 6 finishes at the 2009 and 2010 Indoor Combined Events Championship and finished 10th at the 2011 Outdoor National Championships.

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee