The Importance Of A Hurdler's Speed, And Indicators Of Efficiency

The girls 100m hurdles and the boys 110m hurdles have ten barriers. The girls hurdles are spaced 8.50 meters apart and boys are spaced 9.14 meters apart. Within a full flight of 10 hurdles, then, there are nine total spaces, or running zones.

When using a "3-step" hurdle method, the athlete actually contacts the ground four times between each barrier. Four contacts at 9 spaces (zones) equates to 36 ground contacts total. Most hurdlers use eight steps to the first hurdle as well. Therefore, nearly every hurdler uses the same amount of steps in a race up to the last hurdle. Yet some hurdlers gain a big lead over others.


One of the most significant contributors to a better time is how well the hurdler sprints in the zones between the hurdles, or how well they create impulse over four ground contacts. This ability to cover zones rapidly between hurdles comes down to sprinting proficiency.

As an example, Gail Devers, who was a multiple-time women's World Champion in the 100m hurdles with a personal best of 12.33 seconds, was also a 2-time Olympic Champion in the 100m dash and had a personal best time of 10.82. So great hurdlers need to be great sprinters, and if a hurdler wants to improve his or her time, they must improve their sprinting ability.


  • A hurdler must establish momentum going into the first hurdle. This means pushing well from the blocks and having powerful acceleration toward the first barrier.
  • In coming off each hurdle, no matter how skilled a hurdler's clearance may be, there will be a degree of slowdown or slight deceleration. The more skilled the hurdler is at the basics of lead leg, trail leg, and arm movements, the less slowdown will occur.
  • Because of decelerations, hurdlers must re-accelerate to the next hurdle. They must sprint in the zones between the hurdles in order to continue to build up their velocity going into the second hurdle, third hurdle, fourth hurdle and on. 
  • In covering the latter hurdles in the race, athletes must keep the throttle on in the gaps between the hurdles. They must keep attacking by sprinting through the zones between the hurdles in order to keep motoring toward the finish.


The ease at which a hurdler can perform lead or trail leg mechanics is partially influenced by the quality of the sprinting between each barrier. Some reasons for this are as follows:

  • The take-off leg becomes a trail leg on account of the acceleration into the hurdle. The leg ends up behind as a by-product of ground push-off into the takeoff-by sprinting INTO the hurdle. (This same trail leg effect is evident in take-offs within other events like the pole vault and triple jump as well).
  • The knee of the lead leg rises as the athlete goes into the hurdle just like sprinting, with the lower leg extending out only after being airborne.
  • Take-off into each hurdle is at a relatively low angle-as opposed to a stop and a jump.
  • By sprinting into each take-off the hip flexors of the trail leg are put on stretch. This stretch results in a shortening reflex that aids the trail leg in coming through.
  • Better hurdlers do not reach their steps toward the next hurdle (over striding), instead they push through each step toward the next hurdle. They sprint between the hurdles on the ball of the foot, just like a 100m runner.


In order to develop acceleration capacity and maximum speed levels, hurdlers need to do some sprint work in training without hurdles. Some methods to accomplish this are the following:

  • Block starts: Breaking inertia, establishing momentum.
  • Acceleration development: Sprints of 10 to 30 meters from varying starts (standing, 3-point, crouch, rolling, blocks)
  • Maximum speed runs: Sprints of 40m to 60m for most developing athletes.
  • Speed change runs: "Sprint, float, sprint" or "float, sprint, float" for 10 to 20m segments. (This teaches the athlete to re-engage in acceleration, or shift gears between barriers)
  • The athlete must adhere to efficient sprint principles as taught by coaches.
  • Recovery times between sprint repetitions are key, as quality must be maintained

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Robert Marchetti, a former NCAA Division I track coach at Rider University and Columbia University, is a private track and field coach located in Hamilton, New Jersey. For more information, you can email him at You can visit his website at