Coach Mike Thorson orchestrates a coaches roundtable discussion concerning the training of 100 and 110m Hurdlers
Coordinated By Mike Thorson, Former Director of Track & Field/Cross Country at the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND
Many coaches will attest to attending clinics where the speakers talked in what most would term generalities. In other words, they talked a lot, but it was very inconsequential. Not a lot of content. They told numerous stories and a lot of jokes. Some bad and some good. Kind of like the speakers. Some good. And some not so good. The excellent speakers always sent you home with some gems you could immediately apply in your program. Most of the training ideas and concepts that I used throughout my career I borrowed from other coaches. Vern Gambetta, who was the first director of the USATF coaching education program and one of the three founders of that program, always says coaches are either imitators or innovators. I would like to think I was both. We certainly imitated many coaches. But we would like to think we were innovative in that we took their concepts and devised our own unique training programs that fit our athletes in our own particular environment. We will freely admit that much of our training came from listening and talking to coaches at various clinics all over the United States. Some of our most effective learning in particular came from coaches’ roundtable type discussions and sessions, either listening or participating. We found the exchange of ideas, concepts and opinions very informational and oftentimes very enlightening. Often entertaining as well. It was certainly immensely helpful to a young coach who was always seeking better ways to train athletes. One thing I have found about training: The more I have learned about training, the more I learned I didn’t know/Mike Thorson.
The objective of this article is to provide a perspective on what coaches across a number of various levels (NCAA Division I, II and NAIA) can offer on assorted topics concerning 100 and 110m hurdle training. It is always interesting to obtain a perspective on how other coaches train hurdlers and what methodology and concepts have led them to their successes. This article is a written version of a coach’s roundtable. Nine leading collegiate coaches from across the country were asked the same five questions pertaining to a number of topics concerning the training of sprint hurdlers. First, a brief look at the panelists:
Chris Parno, Minnesota-Mankato (MN). The many times Central Region and NSIC Conference Assistant Coach of the year is in his 10th season at the Division II Minnesota school. He is the associate head coach and has coached six national champions, 113 conference titlists and 115 All-Americans. One of his athletes, Myles Hunter, holds the Division II 60m hurdle record at 7.53. Coach Parno has done a number of training articles and videos and teaches USATF Level I certification courses. He was the 2020-21 NCAA Division II National Assistant Coach of the Year.
Reece Vega, North Dakota State University (ND). A former NSIC Conference and Central Region Assistant Coach of the Year, Vega is in his second year at his alma mater, NDSU, after three highly successful years at the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND. Vega had 21 All-Americans and 14 conference champions in his short tenure at Mary. Vega is a former head coach at College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY, and at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa.
Ernie Clark, San Jose State (CA). A first year assistant coach at the California school, Clark was an extremely successful coach at Ashland in Ohio where he was associate head coach. Clark coached six Olympic Trials qualifiers while at Ashland where he had been since 2015. He has coached two athletes who were ranked in the top 10 in the world. He is a four-time National Assistant Coach of the Year. Clark’s prior Division I coaching experience came at Indiana 2014-15.
Luke Mahoney, Hastings College (NE). Mahoney is in his fifth season as the men’s and women’s hurdle coach at the NAIA school in Nebraska. He has coached two All-Americans, 12 conference champions and two athletes who were runners-up in the national championships. Mahoney was a remarkably successful high school hurdle coach at Lincoln Southwest in Nebraska prior to arriving at Hastings.
Kip Janvrin, Central Missouri (Mo). The former Olympian is in his 25th year as co-head coach at Central Missouri. He has spent 32 years at the Missouri school and has coached 25 different athletes to 44 national championships. The coaching tandem of Janvrin and co-head coach Kirk Pedersen has guided Central Missouri to 16 men’s indoor MIAA conference titles, 5 women’s championships, 13 men’s outdoor, and 3 women’s outdoor conference crowns. Janvrin was one of the top decathletes in the world at one time and competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Curtis Taylor, Oregon (Or). The Associate Head Coach for the Ducks, Taylor joined the Oregon staff in 2014 after a very successful stint at Laney College in California. He has guided Ducks to six individual NCAA titles, 14 individual PAC 12 conference championships and 49 All-American awards. Taylor, who was the NCAA Division I National Assistant Coach of the Year in 2017, guided Jenna Prandini, the 2015 Bowerman winner.
Eric Hanenberger, South Dakota State University (SD). The Associate Head Coach at SDSU since 2015, Hanenberger was the head coach at Division II St. Cloud for three years prior to moving to the Jackrabbit program and having an immediate impact. Hanenberger’s athletes have had a hand in 14 new school records—10 individual and four relays. He has also coached at North Dakota State University and Northern Iowa.
James Vahrenkamp, University of North Dakota (ND). The new head coach at the University of North Dakota moved to the Fighting Hawks program from Queens University (NC) where he was a 14-time NCAA Southeast Regional Coach of the Year. In his nine years at Queens, Vahrenkamp produced 21 conference team championships, 61 All-Americans and five national champions.
Jamie Cook, Navy. The director of track & field/cross country at Navy, Cook has guided the Midshipman to 10 Patriot League conference championships in his first four years at the helm. He has been awarded the same number of conference Coach of the Year honors. Cook, who was at Penn and Oregon prior to taking over at Navy, also coaches Olympian Devon Allen.
Question 1—If you could pick only one thing that assists your hurdler’s performance, what would it be?
Jamie Cook — Focus on being a better, more aggressive athlete. I want to work with the most competitive people who aren’t afraid to fail.
Luke Mahoney — I would say it’s an attacking mindset. If an athlete is tentative with the hurdles, they won’t put themselves in a position to be successful. They will ultimately break and jump instead of hurdling.
Curtis Taylor — Speed and in particular, stride frequency.
Kip Janvrin — Speed development.
Ernie Clark — Block Starts and the feeling of acceleration all the way through the first three hurdles.
Reece Vega — Sprinting biomechanics.
Eric Hanenberger — I think the best thing that assists the hurdler besides going over hurdling is improved spring technique.
Jim Vahrenkamp — Maximum velocity skills or qualities. Personally, the postures, rhythms and limb velocities in maximum velocity work transfers to what we are working on in the hurdles.
Chris Parno — Managing the start. Specifically talking about the step pattern used to move the athlete from the blocks to the takeoff to the first hurdle. I believe the entire race is set up for success or failure (of the desired goal for that race) based on the body position of the athlete at the first hurdle takeoff, as well as the distance from the hurdle. Many of the technical issues we see in hurdling can be fixed or minimized by proper takeoff location. These defined takeoff locations set up proper stretch reflexes allowing for quality hip projection into the hurdle. Personally, I always have tape down on the track at the 4th step check mark and at the proper takeoff location. These marks give me a path of diagnosis if problems arise with maintaining velocity, or technique in and off hurdles.
Question 2—What do you emphasize more in your training program, speed and power or hurdle rhythm?
Jamie Cook — Tough answer. Speed and power probably, with an emphasis on proper takeoff distance.
Luke Mahoney — It’s a combination of the two. However, we are always stressing speed, to go along with the attacking mindset as stated above. Speed is a hurdler’s best friend!
Curtis Taylor — Equal and appropriate doses of both. You need speed and power to develop appropriate hurdle rhythm.
Kip Janvrin — Both, and both must be present.
Ernie Clark — I hate the word rhythm as it tends to create a plateau in how the athlete feels. I want them to constantly feel like they are pushing to faster speeds in the flight of hurdles. I like to push the speed at all times in drills, in sets, and in races. So that, by default, makes me emphasize speed and power.
Reece Vega — Speed and power. I believe the more you are able to develop a hurdler’s speed, the faster they will be in the hurdles.
Eric Hanenberger — Men’s hurdles – 1. Hurdle race rhythm. 2. Sprint speed (improved spring technique first and foremost). Women’s hurdles – 1. Sprint speed (improved spring technique first and foremost). 2. Hurdle race rhythm.
Jim Vahrenkamp — I am not sure that I emphasize one or the other more. I try to train all of these qualities concurrently or in a conjugate sense. There are of course small variances during the natural progression of a season in regard to the performance requirements at any given time. Suffice to say that all of the qualities are being trained at the same time.
Chris Parno — Both…the physiological and biomotor characteristics of a sprinter and hurdler are not all that different. We can never underestimate the need for speed and a robust neuromuscular system, specifically in the women’s 100-meter hurdle race. The lower hurdle heights allow for less deviation from sprint technique, thus increasing the emphasis of flatland velocities. Hurdlers embody the five biomotor abilities (speed, strength, endurance, coordination, flexibility) and these athletes must be trained and proficient in all facets. In the men’s hurdles, there is an emphasis on rhythmic abilities, as these athletes must manage higher attack angles for the higher hurdle height (higher rise of the center of mass). In either population, I would always bank on athletes who can reach higher overall velocities and coordinate intense movements more efficiently. To lower hurdle times in either race, the goal will usually always be to elicit quicker rhythms/higher frequencies, vs working to open the stride lengths maximally.
Question 3—How important or unimportant are drills in your training program?
Jamie Cook — Drills are important from a kinesthetic and flexibility standpoint. Also, teaching proper rhythm, alignment, and posture.
Luke Mahoney — They are absolutely vital to our training. We always drill prior to hurdling. The drills vary based on where we are at in our training and what we are emphasizing or trying to correct. It’s important to get the drill work down so we can build muscle memory. We want to get to a point where we are racing and not thinking!
Curtis Taylor — Drills are important with respect to emphasizing proper technique, but must be integrated into the final model. Drills unto themselves are not helpful to the final product.
Kip Janvrin — Very little.
Ernie Clark — Drills are VERY important in my training, as I use them as tools to break down movements and create the habits in movements I’m looking for.
Reece Vega — I believe hurdle drills are important when it comes to warming up. Also, for beginning hurdlers I think it helps reinforce a lot of patterns we are looking for. When it comes to helping a hurdler hurdle faster and developing, I believe that just doing drills will not accommodate this.
Eric Hanenberger — I’m not a “driller”…get really good at maybe two drills and then we hurdle.
Jim Vahrenkamp — Personally, I do very little in the way of drill work. I work more whole-part than the opposite direction. That means that in the occasion where I am trying to provide some type of context for the full movement, I might break things down. We try to spend the greatest amount of our time at relatively maximal velocities where limb movements are specific and where touchdown times introduce the rhythmic qualities that we want to train.
Chris Parno — I feel like we are drilling an athlete anytime we aren’t performing full hurdle segments at 100% intensities. Anytime we break down the whole movement to specific parts, we are drilling. I feel like there has been a lot of controversy on the importance of drilling in hurdling…to which my response would be, where else do we learn, diagnose and fix problems? Don’t get me wrong, proper takeoffs at high speeds in full hurdling must be rehearsed and ultimately fix many problems. On the other side of that, through drills, we spend time building and rate coding technical motor patterns, rhythm qualities, projection, etc. Let’s take the standard three-step drill. Closer spacings allow the athlete to feel more vertical impulse allowing for technical motor pattern training. Lengthen the space between the hurdles in the same drill and you’re working at higher velocities, allowing for increased hip projections and focus on takeoff and touchdown positions. I feel drilling is important early in the training season, but drilling never negates the importance of full hurdling. We may spend 30-45 minutes early season drilling and understanding motor patterns before full hurdle reps. 8-10 weeks out from our end goal, the hurdle warm-ups may resemble sprint day warm-ups with just a few “check in” type drills (1/3 step rhythm drills), before getting into the main full hurdle session.
Question 4—What role does strength training play in your in-season training program during the competitive season?
Jamie Cook — Strength training plays a role. The emphasis changes based on the athlete.
Luke Mahoney — Next to the classroom, the weight room is the most important room. From becoming stronger and more explosive to preventing injuries, the weight room allows us to achieve the goals we are after on the track. Drills and workouts can take you far, but without strength training, we won’t reach our maximum potential.
Curtis Taylor — A very large and vital part.
Kip Janvrin — Very little.
Ernie Clark — Strength training is simple for me, DO IT! It makes our athletes stronger (which makes them more durable), more explosive (more powerful with speed), and can also increase core strength and flexibility if utilized properly. In-season, we still work on progress, but must taper down for championship season.
Reece Vega — During the season I believe that strength training plays a part. I don’t believe it’s the biggest part, but it does have a part. Just as recovery, sleep, nutrition, all play a part in success, so does strength training.
Eric Hanenberger – Strength training is a much higher component in the off-season (3x per week 60-75 minutes per session). Goal = peak strength/peak power. In-season is much more supplemental (2x per week 20-45 minutes per session). Goal = peak bar speed/peak repeated power.
Jim Vahrenkamp — Strength training complements what we do on the track. One of the most eye-opening conversations that I had revolved around the purpose of squatting in a sprint program. A mentor of mine mentioned that having a big squat provides the structural stability necessary to produce high quality performances on the track. In single support, the forces that the body is forced to manage are huge because of the limb velocities at impact. Squatting prepares us to maintain posture through these impact moments, which allows us to conserve horizontal velocity by minimizing breaking postures.
Chris Parno — In-season, our strength program is supportive in nature and shouldn’t take away from the high quality (less quantity) work on the track. We keep in mind that strength is displayed in many forms; absolute, general, specific, reactive, elastic, etc. Hurdling is a reactive strength activity with repeated plyometric contacts on and off hurdles at higher velocities. Our goal in-season is racing and maintaining the strength we’ve built throughout the Fall. Strength training is always important but shouldn’t overtake the efforts on the track. We can’t think only of the weight room when encompassing strength work into our programs.
Question 5—How would you respond to the statement by noted authority in sport biomechanics, Dr. Ralph Mann, when he says, “Hurdling is not sprinting.”
Jamie Cook — The goal is to be as efficient as possible when hurdling. Hurdling is an extension of your run/sprint (created from the first 7/8 steps). I still want the most powerful and dynamic athlete possible when starting out.
Luke Mahoney — I couldn’t disagree with the statement more from the racing mindset. Hurdlers are sprinters first and foremost.
Curtis Taylor — I think there’s some truth in that statement from a coaching conceptual standpoint. Both cannot be coached the same because of the fixed hurdle distances.
Kip Janvrin — Show me a good hurdler that cannot sprint.
Ernie Clark — I believe the movements all the way to the last step are in fact sprint/drive steps BUT, hurdling and the three steps in between at the elite level is certainly NOT a sprint. It is in fact much more complicated in dealing with the hurdles and the confined spaces in between each barrier. It is certainly not comparable by technical aspects, BUT I think it is in terms of the start, acceleration, fast contact times, etc. in terms of training and effort.
Reece Vega — I would both agree and disagree. Yes, hurdling is not technically a sprint because hurdles are in the way. But, all the best hurdlers are fast, which makes sprinting a key ingredient in hurdling.
Eric Hanenberger — It mimics a sprint race. There is a lot of sprinting between the barriers.
Jim Vahrenkamp — The demands of the hurdle events are unique in the athletics universe. Sprinting qualities are required, but not the hallmark of the event. In the same way that sprinting occurs during the long jump, the actual sprint portion is not the focus. So too here, the barriers and their negotiation become the focus. The application of sprint qualities makes it necessary to train those qualities while remembering not to forgo the important rhythmic qualities necessary for success in the event.
Chris Parno — I agree with the statement. We may be at 100% intensities while hurdling and it’s easy to cue “sprint faster,” but by nature hurdling is more of a rhythmic activity. To increase velocity in sprinting we are managing the equation of speed, among many other things. The equation of speed being stride length x stride frequency = velocity. To increase speed in sprinting, we look to manipulate the speed equation by either increasing or decreasing stride length/stride frequency to get a higher overall velocity (knowing they are inversely proportionate). In hurdling to decrease your time, more often than not, it will be strictly a frequency increase. Hurdlers are coordinating the defined stride pattern with high frequencies to decrease race times! We can’t take steps out of the hurdle races (outside of the start), so it’s crucial we cover these stride patterns quicker with increased frequency and rhythm.
There are certainly a lot of commonalities among the responses and answers to the various topics. There are also some glaring differences. Our goal was to demonstrate that there are a number of different philosophies and methods on how to train 100- and 110-meter hurdlers. Everyone understands that there are different approaches to training, and they can all be successful. Every coach has to find his/her “true north.” They have to find the training program that is the correct formula and that is sustainable for them. Some training plans are better than others. Some are tailored to meet the demands of different athletes in different environments. Very few are what we would term wrong. One of our little nuggets to young coaches is this: “There really isn’t a wrong way, but perhaps a better way.” Our hope for this roundtable is this: Hurdle coaches can gain some insight into what can work from other coaches, with a perspective of what they can successfully make work for them in their program with their athletes.