Illustrated Sprint Hurdles Technique

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Introduction

Rod Milburn on his way to victory in the 1972 Olympic 110-meter hurdles final. Tony Duffy/Allsport/Getty Images
The high hurdles races – 100 meters for women and 110 meters for men outdoors, 60 meters for both genders indoors – are sprints, but they’re also technical events. The goal for all hurdlers is to do as little hurdling, and as much running, as possible. That means competitors must sprint, clear the hurdles, then resume sprinting as quickly as possible. The key is to maintain momentum while clearing all ten hurdles, keeping your center of gravity as close to normal sprinting position as possible.
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Start

Competitors burst out of the blocks to begin a 110-meter hurdles heat during the 2008 Olympics. Mark Dadswell/Getty Images
As with all sprint races, high hurdles competitors begin in starting blocks. Unlike a straight sprint, however, sprint hurdlers must move into an upright position fairly quickly, generally by the midpoint between the starting line and the first hurdle. Senior-level outdoor hurdlers, for example, are generally running upright by the fourth of their eight strides leading to the initial hurdle. If you take an even number of strides to the first hurdle, begin with your lead leg in the rear starting block, and vice versa if you take an odd number of steps to the first hurdle.
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Final step before takeoff

David Payne plants his left foot as his right leg - Payne's lead leg - prepares to extend toward the hurdle during the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials. Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Sprint hurdlers maintain their speed leading up to each hurdle, but they also shorten, or cut, the final step before their lead leg rises to clear the hurdle. This drives your plant foot under your hips and allows you to shift your upper body weight forward. At the same time, it’s important to remember proper arm technique. The arm on the opposite side of the lead leg, or the “lead arm,” pushes forward and literally leads the runner toward the hurdle.
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Takeoff

Lolo Jones pushes off with her left leg and extends her right leg as she approaches a hurdle during the 2008 World Indoor Championship 60-meter hurdles event. Note that her left arm is also surging forward, along with her lead leg. Michael Steele/Getty Images
Your lead leg’s knee drives to the hurdle, then the lower leg extends forward until your foot reaches the hurdle’s height. The body leans forward. Your head should be up with your eyes looking toward the next hurdle as the lead arm rises to about eye level. Your lead knee remains slightly bent as you continue forward.
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Reaching the hurdle (first view)

Liu Xiang demonstrates the form that helped him win the 2004 Olympic 110-meter gold medal. Note that his lead leg remains slightly bent as his foot reaches the hurdle. Also note his forward lean. Michael Steele/Getty Images
Lean sharply forward from your hips as your lead foot clears the hurdle, your lead hand extends forward and your opposite arm stays back for balance. The trail leg rises, with the shin parallel to the ground.
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Reaching the hurdle (second view)

Joanna Hayes' trail leg is rising into position to clear the hurdle, during the 2004 U.S. 100-meter Olympic Trials. Her lead arm is in front of her and is now parallel with the shin of her lead leg. Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Another view of the lead leg reaching the hurdle, with a better look at the trailing leg. Also note that the lead leg never fully straightens as you clear the hurdle.
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Clearing the hurdle

Richard Phillips' lead leg hasn't completely cleared the hurdle, yet his lead foot is already snapping back down into running position. His head is up and his eyes are focused on the next hurdle. Michael Steele/Getty Images
As soon as the lead leg’s heel clears the hurdle, snap that foot down. Remember, you want to return to a sprint as quickly as possible. Maintain your forward lean to preserve your momentum. The lead arm is bent, with the forearm approximately parallel to the lead leg’s shin. The trailing arm remains back as the trail leg rises to about a 90-degree angle to the body. The trail leg is bent sharply at the knee, foot fully flexed so it doesn’t hit the hurdle.
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On the way down

Dayron Robles' lead leg is nearing the ground as his trail leg clears the hurdle, while the 2008 Olympic champion maintains his forward lean. Note the 90-degree angle between the lead and trail legs. Michael Steele/Getty Images
Once your lead leg has cleared the hurdle and is snapping down, pull your trail leg over the hurdle quickly and prepare to resume sprinting.
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Landing

As Dayron Robles' lead leg (his left) touches down, he straightens up while his right leg surges forward to begin sprinting toward the next hurdle. John Gichigi/Getty Images
The trail leg’s knee rises to begin the first stride toward the next hurdle. The opposite arm swings back to maintain balance. The landing foot is upright, with the body slightly behind the foot on impact.
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Between hurdles

From left, race leaders Terrence Trammell, Ryan Brathwaite and David Payne employ almost identical form as they return to sprinting, between hurdles, during the 2009 World Championship final. Stu Forster/Getty Images
Keep running hard, repeating the process of the previous steps before each succeeding hurdle. Senior-level hurdlers will take three strides between the hurdles.
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Overview

Keep practicing your sprint hurdling form and you might end up celebrating an Olympic victory, as American Joanna Hayes did at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Remember, you can’t slow down at any point because sprint hurdles races are too short. Remember, too, that your arms also have jobs to do when clearing the hurdles, mainly to keep your balance. Good balance is essential to maintaining your momentum.