1. PRACTICE YOUR STRIDE PATTERN OVER AND OVER AGAIN
This is vital. I’m a 400m hurdler so, as there are 10 hurdles in total, we have to run 35m between each one. The number of strides you take between each hurdle is key so we always calculate it beforehand and train accordingly to ingrain it in our leg movements.
2. LEARN TO JUMP WITH BOTH LEGS
Most hurdlers have a preferred ‘lead leg’ to jump with but that’s not always possible. As much as you practice your stride pattern, during a race, you might miss a stride or take too large a one earlier and, approaching the hurdle, you’ll realize you need to use the other leg. This can really throw some athletes off (even at the highest level), even resulting in them losing the race. Some try to counter, throwing in an extra step before they hurdle or pitter-patter but that’s not great for speed and, once that habit’s ingrained, it’s hard to change. The best advice is learn to use both legs early on. It’s a simple but brilliant get out of jail free and could give you that winning edge, even over some of your strongest competitors.
3. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Run around tracks, fields, anywhere you can, circuit train, and then add in the gym work. Running on treadmills in altitude trainers is great too, although we do that less frequently (often with heavy weekly sessions during the winter), using it more as a way to challenge our bodies. The chambers mimic higher altitudes and are brilliant for building endurance. It’s a tough climate so even through you’re running at a slower pace, your breathing becomes much heavier. This helps to bring on fatigue sooner, making it easier to access that tired phase.
4. PERFORM HEAVY GYM LIFTS TO DEVELOP POWER
For example, lots of power cleans and Olympic lifts, Romanian deadlifts (similar to deadlifts but really burn your hamstrings), squats and snatches (similar to power clean but not as heavy). You could also use a resistance machine to improve knee drive. That’s great because it mimics the jumping movement (i.e. you perform the movement standing up and, as you drive your knee up, the resistance is on top).
5. PERFORM LIGHT PLYOMETRICS
When you’re sprinting, so much force goes through your feet. Having soft ankles increases risk of injury, especially in the lower limbs and with long contact, so you really need to build good reactivity, increasing the stiffness and resilience of your ankles and feet when landing. It also impacts the amount of power you’re able to generate on the track. Soft ankles will collapse under the impact but, the more plyometrics you perform, the more proficient you’ll become at them and the stiffer the joints will become. Low hurdles, box jumps etc. are great. Perform them regularly and you’ll see a big improvement in your technique.
6. PERFORM TRACK-BASED DRILLS
We perform drills before nearly every training session. They’re great for priming the body and getting it revved up to go and there are so many options. You can run with straight legs, high knees etc. and then vamp them up with variations. (E.g. run the whole distance, hurdling only with one side. First jumping with the right leg and keeping the left leg nice and long. Then train the left leg in the next session.)
7. AVOID INJURY
When you’re young and excitable, it’s natural to want to get straight into training but taking care of your body before- and after-training is vital. No matter how well you train or how naturally talented you are, if you don’t invest in proper warm ups and cool downs, you will get injured and won’t be able to race. Then what’s the point?!
8. PEOPLE SAY ‘DON’T TIRE YOURSELF BY RUNNING TO HURDLE 10 DURING TRAINING’ BUT IGNORE THEM
There are 10 hurdles in my race, with the 10th one positioned approx. 40m from the finish. Lots of athletes in my event in particular don’t like to run that far during training because, if they do, they’d almost be running a full race. Instead, they prefer to break it down into smaller chunks, running 200m or 5 hurdles; but you really need to practice your full event, to be race fit as consistently as possible. Try running to hurdle 10 during training. It’s exhausting but worth it
Dai Greene is a British Elite hurdler