[DJ Hicks is a recent graduate of Houston Baptist University and an Athletic Development Intern at Athletic Lab]
Intensity, urgency, and a highly competitive atmosphere are three things that present themselves in great quantity on race day at a track meet. These three things, and others, are present while participating in a meet, rising to the demanding task of being able to clear hurdles at whatever sanctioned height and amount, dependent on age and gender, is a much more doable task. While training in practice, these variables are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to mirror. For this reason, manipulation is the key for success.
Training at the correct hurdle height and spacing is undeniably the most specific way to train for the high hurdles, but possibly not the best way. When the aforementioned variables are not present in practice like they are at a track meets, compensatory actions are taken in order to clear the between hurdle distance and overall barrier heights. Such actions include things like bounding or overreaching between hurdles along with jumping, instead of running, over them. Additionally, only working at the correct spacing and height does not allow the athlete to effectively work on specific race components, such as speed off and between the hurdles, which are two of the biggest limiting factors in increasing performance.
To be successful at high hurdling, the implementation of “cheats” at practice is critical. To cheat a high hurdle is to manipulate its height and spacing. For example, a way to cheat male 42″ high hurdles at practice would be to bump them down to 39″ or 36″ and then move them closer together. In doing this, less fatigue will accumulate because of the lower height, more reps can be completed because of the shorter overall distance, and correct form can be repeatedly stressed. Depending on the athlete’s current ability and particular race flaws, hurdle spacing manipulation can vary from a few centimeters to a few feet. With variable spacing, many race issues can be singled out and fixed.
Hurdle manipulation makes 1 to 5 step (between hurdle) drills possible and easy to do. One and two step drills with cheated spacing are great at fixing technical hurdle clearance issues their creation of continuously repeated efforts within a shorter distance. Three, four, and five step drills help by emphasizing speed between hurdles and work on mechanics for subsequent hurdle takeoff. Using cheats like these and others are the next best thing when doing various drills at normal heights and spacing are not so practical.
Specifically looking at 42″ high hurdles, it is certainly quite a transition for a male athlete to have to use them after working with 39″ barriers for all of high school, and this is one of the biggest issues with cheating hurdles. So, for the sake of familiarity, hurdles 1-3 can be used to work at the correct height and spacing during practice sometimes, but often times after those hurdle efficiency starts to suffer. For any height, hurdle manipulation at practice can be what an athlete needs to drop their times in competition and increase their overall performance.