No clever blog title, just the man. I have been reading and following Benke for a while now and his presentation on Hurdles a few years ago was excellent. Like most coaches, sometimes we are force to reread the good materials over and over getting each drop of knowledge to problem solve things. Right now I have mixed feelings about the seven or eight step discussion because we don’t have the data. Innovation comes from identifying problems properly first, and then solutions come after. Looking at the data, every step for seven or eight strikes is shown in the presentation and it really revealed the blog entry by Brooks Johnson on 7 steps.
I like the fact that Brooks creates controversy because he forces people to talk about the obvious. Working backwards the hurdle is 15 yards away or 13.716 meters. Knowing that you need at least 2 meters to clear the hurdle, 11.7 meter take offs with 7 or 8 steps becomes a interesting decision. First you need to be a certain posture to hurdle, so both step patterns need a similar rise pattern of the torso and hips. It’s easier to rise your body with more steps because each foot strike rises the pelvis orientation more in conventional sprinting. Similar to the long jump but having an opposite constraint, the athlete technically has a flexible distance to clear the board and can use any approach pattern to get fast and properly aligned. The stride pattern of a pure sprinter will lead to 7 steps for about 10m because the athlete is departing from a lower angle and has no barriers to clear. What about that 1.5 + meter of distance to manage? One can cut steps or have extreme departure angles and be like Ben Johnson in 1988 but that is not realistic or encouraged. What is interesting is he didn’t delay his posture as much as sprinters do now, and while his 9.79 was obviously tainted, he did run that in a way that was likely to be closer to 9.7 low because of the track surface and small slowing down. Why is this important? Sprinters are very quad heavy when accelerating and fatigue patterns of Ben were likely because of the triple periodization and massive volumes he was doing to encourage peaking. This makes a complex set of variables because hurdlers are vertical early in a longer race and are going to fatigue in the hamstrings as the Tensiomyography post training and competition shows a remarkable difference between conventional sprinters in the 100 (200m athletes have roughly a quarter of the race acceleration). So what are hurdlers doing to adjust to 7 steps? Most are increasing air time and departing more vertical to allow a smoother transition to take off. What is hard to compare is the first hurdle given most of the races in the early 1990s were not analyzed. Are athletes getting faster to the first hurdle on average and are they leveraging a possible equal speed by better race models?
I am not fully convinced that 7 steps is good for everyone and I am also convinced that taller athletes should be 7 stepping only. Terrence and Colin Jackson have touched down under 2.5 to the first hurdle, and while Robles and others are the kings of the 110m now, nobody has gone 7.29 (7.30 is the WR) yet for 60m. Colin and Terrence are shorter and I would argue that they were more speed hurdlers so they are not likely to be models to extrapolate splits and air time metrics. What is also interesting is the .30 air time measures of David Oliver in Doha, making me think that while lead leg snap down times are great, Freelap timing options are getting your center of mass splits, not raw air time that is not a true indicator of what is going on with a body in motion.
So what can we get from the data on 7 and 8 steps? The current belief is that the 7 steps sets up the race better needs to be validated with filtered data of athletes by adjusting speed and take off points. The current thought is that taking off further away would lead to better shuffling, but I am not seeing more than 4 inches on the data tables. The other obvious factor is the fast hurdlers that are taller have different styles and body types that create some difficult comparisons. A taller athlete doesn’t have to raise his center of mass as much so take off times are going to be different, and touch downs with less eccentric strength athletes (and add in height and take off technique) will add time or subtract time to the total race. The Ralph Mann data was important here, while it didn’t clue in to why athletes were scoring differently, it did reveal constraints that must be reviewed. I am excited to see what people do now considering that the constraints may not indicate the 7 step approach is a must, and time will tell what people do to get down the world record in the 12.7s and beyond.