The Fundamentals of Hurdling

Hurdling requires good speed, power and flexibility. The aspects that are necessary in hurdling are:

  • Good reaction time;
  • Maximum ability to accelerate;
  • Performing movements at maximum speed;
  • Good coordination and rhythm between the hurdles

To run fast between the hurdles an athlete must have good technique. The important factor in hurdling is to know how to get his or her feet on the ground after clearing a hurdle.

The basic elements for running the hurdles are;

  • A good start and sprint to the first hurdle;
  • Clearing the hurdles and landing between the hurdles;
  • Running between the hurdles; and
  • Sprinting to the finishing line

To have a good start is very important for the whole hurdle race. In the set position the front leg must be at a 90-degree angle while the back leg must be at a 120-degree angle.

A hurdler leads with a quick high knee lift into the hurdle and drive with the trail leg. Try and keep the hips stretched and don’t lower them when going into the hurdle.

Remember, the action into the hurdle must be dynamic. The lead leg must land on the surface as fast as possible. By pulling the leg quickly down a follow-up step of the trail leg is made possible.

Once the leading foot moves towards the ground the trail leg’s action begins. The thigh goes to a position parallel to the hurdle rail when the trail leg is brought through. It must be emphasised that the heel of the trail leg must be close to the buttocks until it goes over the hurdle and it is pulled by the high knee to the under-the-arm-position. Bear in mind that the toes, heel and knee must be pulled upward because if the knee or toes drop the hurdle is kicked which has an effect on the rhythm and speed.

When the athlete lifts and extends the lead leg towards the hurdle the opposite arm is brought forward in front of the athlete’s chest. To keep balance the hurdler must bring the shoulder a little bit forward.  Concentrate to thrust the arm forward to prevent the athlete from going off balance. The hurdler’s arm and the lead leg action must be synchronised to keep the shoulder square. Use the arms in the same way as you use them in the sprinting action.

When the trail leg moves forward the lead arm must react.Take note that when the lead leg hits the ground the athlete must be in a running position.

Keep in mind that the body lean and forward rotation must begin while the athlete is in contact with the ground. Before the take-off the hurdler must take a shortened stride in order that the lean can help to keep the centre of gravity as close as possible to the normal sprinting action as the hurdle height will allow.

The trail leg must be brought through high upon landing. The stride that follows is shorter but if the knee drops it can happen that the stride is too short causing the athlete to overstride to the following hurdles. When the athlete begins to overstride it is effecting his or her rhythm and running between the hurdles.

The athlete’s centre of gravity must be ahead of the body with a good ball-toe landing which will prevent a slow trail leg and “sitting” on the hurdle resulting in becoming slower because the rhythm is out.

After the lead leg touched down the follow-up stride running frequency must be maintained for the next two strides. Remember that the getaway stride must be aggressive.

After the landing the athlete must focus on sprinting, running tall and on an action foot placement. The coach must take touchdown times from the landing toe after hurdle 2.

Rhythm and speed is important with the 3-stride pattern between the hurdles. There is little time for making mechanical errors and adjusting in balance and stride pattern. Mechanical errors during the clearance of the hurdles include: running flat-footed, running with low hips, experiencing a lost of centre of gravity and overstriding and a lost of speed.

The athlete must bear in mind that the follow-up stride is  shorter because its driving force is reduced by the preceding hurdle clearance. The second stride must be the longest while the third stride is shorter than the previous stride as it prepares the body for the lean in to the hurdle.

Take care that there is no loss of speed during the clearance between the hurdles because if that occurs it affects the running and the rhythm between and over the hurdles. A coach must realise that the athlete must first be a sprinter while training to be a hurdler. As in sprinting the runner must focus on the finishing line as the race is not yet over.

Exercises for the development of the basic skills of sprinting and hurdling are: high- knee action, leg extensions and hurdle trail leg and lead leg drills. For speed development the hurdler can apply the program coaches use for the sprinting events.

In Conclusion


In sprinting, hurdling and the long jump speed development is an important factor that must be emphasised by the coach in training programmes. The focus must be on improving the strength and flexibility of specific muscles as well as the development of endurance. The coach must also work on an athlete’s technique in conditioning him or her to reach optimum performance in his or her event.