More Than Just For Steeplers: Why every runner can benefit from hurdle drills
By: Cait Chock
All runners should be making friends with hurdle drills, not just steeplechasers. The hip and groin region for runners tends to be one of the tightest, oft neglected areas; incidentally it's also a pivotal point for running efficiency. Runners who don't work on opening up their hips, over time get tighter and tighter, making them prone to injuries as well as inhibiting their stride. From there, they're limiting their potential.
Hurdle drills will increase a runner's flexibility, range of motion, and core strength. They should be integrated in as part of your dynamic flexibility routine and with all other rules of running, consistency is key. Aim for doing these drills two to three times a week, a great time to do them is after you've cooled down after a workout.
Precision is of prime importance here, if you're not doing the hurdle drills correctly you'll wind up reinforcing bad habits which can wind up doing more harm than good. It's a smart idea to have a coach or someone who understands the drills observe that you're doing them correctly and holding proper form throughout. Quality over quantity is stressed, and going as slowly as you need to at first in order to do them CORRECTLY is far more important than speed.
Having a supple, loose hip and groin region with strong adductors and abductors, all targeted through sets of hurdle drills, parlays into a runner's ability to fully open up their stride on the track, road, trail, you name it. The good news is a little goes a long way and doing just a few sets, consistently, will have you seeing results in just a few weeks.
Hurdle Drill Routine for Runners: Setting up 7 hurdles
[For all but the last drill, set all hurdles at a height low enough to do the drill correctly, 30-39 inches as an individual's height and ability allows.]
1.) Step Overs: Drive your right leg's knee straight up and over the hurdle, planting your right foot, let your left trail leg follow. Work on getting a full range of motion in circling the left trail leg over the hurdle, plant your foot and then drive your right knee up and over leading into the next hurdle and repeat. Move through the full series of hurdles and for the second set, start the first hurdle with your left leg leading. Beginners start by walking through the hurdles, as you advance you can pick up the pace by skipping through the hurdles. Make sure to keep your torso straight and facing forward throughout.
2.) Two Forward, One Reverse: Start as you would do the step over drills, once you've covered the first two hurdles, after planting your trail leg you'll now reverse the process. Cycle the trail leg back, behind you over the last hurdle, then follow by reversing the lead leg over the hurdle. After backing up over one hurdle, go forward over two hurdles, then backwards over one. Repeat until you've gone through the full series of hurdles. For the second set be sure to step in with the opposite lead leg you did the first time.
3.) Bent Knee Skip: Start standing on the side of and facing the set of hurdles, drive your right knee straight up until your heel covers the top of the hurdle, plant your foot, then drive your left knee up over the hurdle in the same fashion. Go through the full series of hurdles, then you'll reverse directions so that your left knee covers the hurdles first. Beginners start by walking through the drill, as you advance move to skipping through the drill. Be sure to keep your torso erect and use reciprocating arm movements throughout.
4.) Straight Knee Skip: Much like the bent knee skip, for this one you'll keep your leg straight as you bring your heel up and over the hurdles. Do your first set starting with your right leg first, the second set going back in the other direction starting with your left leg. Beginners should walk through the drill, as you advance move to skipping through it. Be sure to keep your torso straight up and use reciprocating arm movements.
5.) Monster Leg Swings: Moving through the hurdles, you'll swing your right leg out to the side and around the hurdle, keeping the leg straight. Follow the same action with your left leg, repeat and move through the entire set of hurdles. For the entire time your torso should remain straight up, for the second set do your first wide leg swing with your left leg.
6.) Over-Unders: For this one you'll raise the height of the second, fourth, and sixth hurdles two or three notches. Begin by stepping over the first hurdle leading with your right leg as you would for the step over drills, then after your trail leg lands, turn your body to the side, squatting down and moving sideways under the higher hurdle. Once stepping through, bring your body back facing forward, clear the next hurdle as you would in the step over drill and repeat the duck and 'under' portion for the fourth hurdle and so on. Do one set leading with your right leg, the second leading with your left and thus turning to the opposite facing side for the 'unders'.
A runner is only as strong as their weakest point, don't let the groin and hip region be yours. Allow yourself to maximize a full range of motion and, in opening up your stride, you'll be more efficient and injury resistant.
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004. A freelance writer, artist, and designer she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.