The Art of the mini-hurdle must have struck a chord with some of the coaches who have been out to watch my practices of out to my facility. They are claiming I left out the other half of why I use the mini hurdle drill. I am holding back. They are right. I use the mini-hurdles for other reasons as well. I use them to develop lateral strength as well.
What usually goes hand in hand with the push runner who has an extended leg out back and low knee drive is also the characteristic of having a cross over gait. Dr. Shawn Allen of The Gait Guys and I began investigating this concept of cross over run years ago when we were woodshedding it back in the day. We watch film clip after film clip of runner, trying to determine what we could do to not only prevent injury but also get athletes to run faster. And we were stuck at watching people from the side. Then one of Dr.Allen’s clients had a youtube clip of her running. It was in a local advertisement. And all it took was a glimpse from the front where we came upon the crossover gait.
She was having chronic hip and knee pain and we watched as she took 3 strides down the line on the side of a country road. All 3 of the strides crossed over the line and landed on the wrong side of her body. Sirens wailed, lights flashed and the world changed. We started filming as many people as possible from the front and breaking down the film. Dr. Allen had the ability to test muscles to match what the runner’s gait showed and we could deduce what was going on. We looked for other research on the issue and found very little. So, we started to play. Youtube was helpful in watching top sprinters run. Every one of them had a foot that landed directly under their hip. The slower the athlete, the more the hip drifted toward the middle. This was consistent with both distance runners and sprinters. We were a thermometer and could identify the problem. We needed to be a thermostat and change things.
If we knew that crossing over was causing problems, we needed to design some exercises to improve the condition and change form. We played with basic side planks but didn’t feel they built the strength necessary to hold the hip in place as the weight of the body, doubled, crashes down. Hip hikes on a Swiss ball were an improvement because the foot was now in contact with the ground. But it still lacked the force. So, I painted a line down my very long driveway and started to have my athletes run down the line, focusing on where their foot placement occurred. And sure enough, the athletes felt the stress on their hips. To help them space out their stride and get them to focus on getting their knees up, I put my 6 inch mini hurdles at 1.5 and 1.7m intervals and had them run. I could really see them start to improve. From the Bosch video, which I watched again after this revelation, he talked about foot placement in relation to the hips. Bosch said to stress the hip even more, fully extend the athlete’s arms over their head. I tried it and it worked. I figured at this point, using my old school strength coach/American mentality, if I add more, it will be better. I found myself at the junk yard looking for weighted poles to run with. I found 10, 20, 30 and 35 lb iron bars that I tried with my athlete’s to run with over their head. And, it worked. I saw noticeable difference in my athletes after training in this fashion. I don’t add more than 10 pounds for quite some time. I look for quickness off the ground first. Then, I start to spread out to 1.7 and 1.9m. When they look good at 1.9m, I allow them to start to add weight. My fastest runners are able to handle the heavier weight. To add even more stress to the lateral sling, I put pieces of track, approximately 1/4 -1/2 inch in between the hurdles. That added amount creates more stress when hitting the ground. When you add speed through the hurdles and short distances between the hurdles, it really creates a challenging environment. But this is a progression. A coach can wreck an athlete if they jump to the coolest exercise. Patience is the key.
The mini-hurdle. What a great drill. Not only does a coach get to work on perfect timing but he also gets to work on lateral strength as well, both attributes that every fast, efficient injury free runner displays.