Track Coach

Training Speed for the Women’s Sprint Hurdles

Another practical guide from Coach Thorson, This one on the training of 100m women hurdlers.

By Mike Thorson, Assistant Coach (Hurdles), University of Mary Former Director of Track & Field/Cross Country at the University of Mary

A look at the practical application of training speed, speed endurance and hurdle rhythm for the women’s 100-meter hurdles

It takes a very special blend of speed, speed endurance and strength and power to be a successful, elite women’s sprint hurdler. Many of the world’s best hurdle coaches have traditionally said that speed development is the most important ingredient in the women’s 100m hurdle race.

Many coaches interpreted that to mean that there should be  a primary focus on the pure speed component. Although speed is critically important, that is far from the case. Many leading hurdle coaches would actually place rhythm ahead of pure speed as the goal of their training programs. That will be addressed later. The great Jamaican coach, Stephen Francis, said an athlete who is looking to run 12.90 in the short hurdles should be capable of running 38 seconds in a 300-meter time trial. That is assuming, he said, the athlete can sprint 11.70-12.00 in the 100 meters. Francis went on to say that a hurdler with a goal of 12.3-12.4 should be able to negotiate a 300 in 36.0.

With that being said, much more than pure speed is essential for a successful women’s sprint hurdler. The 100-meter hurdles are very complex and unique in that no other event requires an athlete to execute highly technical movements under extreme fatigue or an exhaustive state. Thus, it is fair to say that the biggest contributing factor to the slowing of the hurdler is fatigue.

The question is this: What can be done to alleviate the technique breaking down late in the race due to fatigue? A training program designed to train speed, speed endurance and speed endurance 1 and 2 along with sprint hurdle rhythm is the answer.

Unfortunately, many coaches underestimate and sometimes even ignore Speed Endurance 1 and 2. This is a serious mistake. Those elements must be trained along with the other speed components and strength and power on a year-around basis to develop a successful women’s 100-meter hurdler.


Coaches need to have an understanding of the basic speed principles prior to designing a training program for a female hurdler. The University of Mary Speed Principles follow:

1. Sprinting is the result of neuromuscular coordination; a motor learning process.

a. Force production as well as movement and velocity have to be optimal, rather than maximal.

b. With higher speeds, the time frame becomes smaller for muscle contraction and relaxation. Thus, it is more difficult for the CNS (central nervous system) to distinguish and coordinate the driving forces of extension with antagonistic actions of flexion in leg recovery. It is very important that the agonistic and the antagonistic muscle activities not hinder one another.

c. Repetition of this neuromuscular facilitation in the correct firing sequences seems to establish an automatic response in performance. Only through repetition at high speeds can an athlete educate the proper muscle to be used and the order to be fired.

d. The neuromuscular recruitment and activation of motor units (skill) is most effectively developed only during fatigue-free seconds of anaerobic alactic work. A sprinter does not only improve performance by activating bigger motor units in greater quantities, but by synchronizing their activation to produce a greater rate of force development. In other words, everything must coexist or co-occur in the correct order for optimal motor firing.

2. The base training for speed is SPEED. Thus, it should be trained year-around. Neglecting speed training for several months of the year is a serious mistake. This was often done in the past to obtain so-called “base work” prior to training speed. “If you train slowly, you will be slow.” If you want to be fast, train FAST! Slow running confuses the nervous system and ruins the mechanics involved in vertical force.

3. No fatigue can be present when speed training is being implemented. Athletes must have complete or near recovery if the athlete is to receive the maximum training effect. An elite level athlete needs 24-36 hours of rest or very low intensity work prior to a maximum speed training session.

4. Develop speed before speed endurance.

5. Increase and decrease intensity to continually stimulate the CNS and avoid the movement stereotype. In other words, vary speeds and train at different intensities. Remember that practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent. Too much and incorrect sprint training can lead to “barriers” in speed development. Coaches should be very cautious training with too many all-out sprints attempting to sustain maximum levels for too long and repeating over and over, etching in a pattern.

6. Emphasize neuromuscular coordination over strength and conditioning.

7. Speed should always be trained before strength in any session.

8. Acceleration and stride frequency do not develop without strengthening associated muscles to be fast and powerful.

9. Choose exercises that are specific to sprinting and train for performance and not work capacity. Always stress quality over quantity and remember that quite often “less is more.”

10. It is important to stimulate the CNS as frequently as possible. Although daily would be ideal that is typically not possible due to the need for recovery time for the athlete.

11. In regards to strength training, medium loads with a fast series of repetitions are typically what are needed for the sprinter/hurdler. Heavy loads, however, will be needed to aid in the improvement of the acceleration phase where power is needed. Research shows strength training with heavy loads will produce gains in maximum force production. Remember, however, too much work with maximum loads and slow speeds will develop muscle memory that is non-productive for the sprinter.

12. Choose multi-joint exercises over isolation and single joint exercises and optimally in the same firing sequence that a sprinter/hurdler would employ.

13. Train for muscle balance and amplitude of movement. Programs must address all muscle groups and balance in strength development. Many injuries are the result of an imbalance in the antagonist muscles.

14. Address postural needs first and foremost. A strong CORE is critical to great performance. Remember that the best exercise for the core is sprinting!

15. Employ the same group of exercises long enough for a positive training effect (4 weeks), but not so long as to cause a dynamic stereotype or staleness. Athletes and muscles need variety and varied stimulus. Remember that speed takes time to develop. It is not an “overnight” process.

16. Don’t think that strength work has to be done in the weight room. Sled pulls, Tire pulls, Hill running, Hurdle Hops, Multi-Throw/Jumps and Speed Circuits can produce some significant functional strength gains.

17. Training can have a huge effect on fast/slow twitch muscle fibers. Although to a degree this is genetic, training can have a huge effect on the recruitment and utilization of the correct fibers. Too much slow endurance work will recruit the intermediate fibers to assume properties of slow muscle fibers. On the other hand, more high intensity training can train the intermediate fibers to take on the properties of fast twitch muscle fibers. Distance runners have a high percentage of red fibers (slow). Sprinters have a high percentage of white fibers (fast twitch) and studies have shown up to 40% of these fibers are transitional and can be influenced toward red or white based on training! Remember, “You are what you do.”


Another component that many coaches don’t spend enough time training is sprint mechanics. Athletes need to understand and be taught how to sprint before they can develop and improve speed.


A sprinter/hurdler is only as fast as their mechanics will allow!

The principal mechanic keys/points:

1. The head is held high and level with the eyes looking straight ahead. No rotation of the head with a loose jaw and chin down ( Head Steady).

2. The torso is erect and in a position of “good” posture. Instruct athletes to run tall with chest up. The body will be nearly vertical at high speeds (slight forward lean in some cases).

3. The hand of the driving arm comes up shoulder level (front-side mechanics). Arms should be bent at 90-100 degrees. Hands should drive back 6-8” behind the hips on the backside. Remember that all sprinting is controlled by the arms and that the arms precede the legs. Arms drive the legs!

4. The shoulders are relaxed, with the thumbs up and the elbows turned in toward the body. The arms should not cross the mid-section. The shoulders are relaxed and down—not hunched—causing tightness in the upper body.

5. The hips are high enough above the ground to allow the driving leg to extend fully to the ground.

6. The ankle fully extends at the end of the leg drive. Good knee lift is essential—thigh should be parallel or horizontal with the ground.

7. Concentrate on running smooth—no bouncing.

8. Ground contact should be with the ball of the foot, behind or slightly underneath the body’s center of gravity with an active foot strike. The goal of the athlete should be to impact the ground with a foot that is moving backward—think of a child riding a scooter or skateboard. The foot should be pushing backward before it impacts the surface. Sprinting is a pushing action and not a pulling action. Ground contact for 100-200m athlete and short sprinter should be ball of the foot, 400-800m runner the arch. By contrast, the 1500 meter runner will have ground contact with the entire foot.

9. Feet should be straight ahead during foot contact and in the dorsi-flexion position (toes as close to shin as possible—cocked)

10. Avoid excessive rear-side mechanics (actions). Stress high hips. Problems associated with excessive backside actions:

a.Increased recovery time which results in slower step-rate (stride frequency)

b.Increased load on the hamstrings which have to assist in the recovery process. Greatly increases the risk of injury!

c.Decreased knee lift (front-side mechanics) because knee lift is inhibited when the hips are low and there isn’t enough time for them to be lifted higher with the late recovery. This results in less powerful foot contractions.

11. Relaxation: All athletes should be striving for relaxation. Focus on using muscles that are required for running and stabilization. Even the face should be relaxed. More importantly, learn to switch off all muscles that are not required as much as possible.


A coach must understand speed and speed endurance before designing a 100-meter hurdle women’s hurdle training program. A brief explanation with examples of workouts follows:

##Speed Runs of 95-100% intensity over 30-60m or up to six seconds of running. Examples: (1) 2 x 20m-30m-40m with spikes from blocks @100% intensity with 5 minutes recovery per rep and 8 minutes for set. Total Distance: 180m. (2) 2 x 3 x 40m with spikes from blocks @ 100% intensity with 5 minutes recovery per rep and 10 minutes for set. Total Distance: 240m.

##Speed Endurance Runs of 95-100% of maximum over 60-150m or 7-20 seconds of running. Examples: (1) 3 x 80m @ 95-100% intensity from a four-point stance with 4-5 minutes rest per rep, 10 minutes recovery, followed by 1 x 150m with spikes @ 95-98% intensity. Total Distance: 390m. (2) 2 x 2 x 150m with spikes at 95-98% intensity with 6 minutes recovery per rep and 8 minutes recovery for set. Total Distance: 600m.

##Speed Endurance 1 Runs of 95-100% of maximum over 150-300m or 20-40 seconds of running. Examples: (1) 2 x 200m with spikes @ 95% intensity with 8 minutes recovery per rep , 10 minutes recovery between set, 1 x 200m with spikes @ 95-100% intensity. Total Distance: 600m. (2) 2 x 300m with spikes @ 98% intensity with 12 minutes recovery per rep (second 300 faster than first). Total Distance: 600m.

##Speed Endurance 2 Runs of 95-100% of maximum over 300-600m or 40 seconds of running or more. Examples: (1) 1 x 400 with spikes @ 95% intensity (12 minutes Recovery) 1 x 350m with spikes @ 95-98%. Total Distance: 750m. (2) 1 x 350m with spikes @ 95% intensity (12 minutes Recovery) 1 x 350m with spikes @ 98% intensity (second 350 faster). Total Distance: 700m.

Note: Although frowned upon by some authorities, coaches will often want to”mix and match” different energy sessions in one training session to obtain maximum training benefit. Example: 1 x 350m with spikes @95% intensity (10 minutes Recovery) 3 x 150m with spikes @ 98% intensity with 6 minutes recovery per rep (Mixing Speed Endurance with Speed Endurance 2). Total Distance: 800m.


Rhythm is the speed which allows hurdlers to use their techniques to the maximum (Brent McFarlane in The Science of Hurdling and Speed). The problems in the 100-meter hurdles typically occur later in the race when the athlete must maintain the sprint rhythm. The biggest factor that contributes to a hurdler slowing down late in the race is fatigue and the resulting inability of the hurdler to maintain the rhythm pattern.

Far too often there are women’s hurdlers who are very successful indoors over five barriers, but can’t produce corresponding results outdoors over the 10 barriers. While speed is critically important in the women’s 100-meter hurdles, rhythm endurance or rhythm maintenance is normally more important and is the goal of leading hurdle coaches.

Hurdle rhythm is trained by using different combinations of hurdles placed at lower heights or closer distances (or both) and varying recovery periods. It also is gained by training the athlete in all forms of speed endurance. Many coaches fail to understand this. They fail to train the skill and energy systems in the same setting. Consequently, many hurdlers are great in training and at certain drills, but can’t reproduce that in a race situation where fatigue and sprint hurdle rhythm become factors.

In a race where nearly all of the competitors take the same number of strides (51), it is critical that the hurdler maintain an optimal rhythm pattern throughout all stages of the race. That is typically the deciding factor in the 100-meter hurdle race.

A great percentage of training time should be devoted to speed and hurdle rhythm.

One can see very quickly that it is a very difficult task to combine technique, speed and speed endurance and hurdle rhythm into a complete training package for the 100-meter hurdler. But it must be done if the coach wants to develop a successful, elite female hurdler.

A great percentage of training time should be devoted to speed and hurdle rhythm. Hurdle rhythm that mimics competition can be rehearsed in a training session over any number of hurdles from blocks in a race setting using discounted hurdle heights and spacing. One of the drills we use is what we term tempo hurdles. A description of the drill: Set (s) of any number of hurdles done in spikes with all-out intensity from a three or four point start with very adequate recovery. The first hurdle is on the mark and the spacing is 7.7 meters. The hurdles are reduced in height (typically 30 inches). These modifications allow for the correct hurdle rhythm pattern to be trained. Example: 2 x 2 x 4 Hurdles @ 30” with 3 minutes recovery between reps (5 minutes recovery between sets). Spacing 7.7m.

Coaches should use touchdown times and the touchdown charts as much as possible to ensure that the correct hurdle rhythms are being trained.


A breathing model/control pattern can certainly contribute to the enhancement of sprint rhythm maintenance and endurance for the hurdler. The hurdler will establish a specific pattern of breathing in the race, with the hurdler “blowing out” on hurdles 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and holding the breath the remaining time. The breath should be held into the set position. Many elite hurdlers use a pattern of “blowing out” on hurdles 1-4-7-10. Holding your breath creates what is known as the Valsalva maneuver, which research shows increases blood pressure in the carotid artery, facilitating motor unit availability/recruitment. It is important to “recharge the system” because studies have shown that sustained maximum motor firing can last for only approximately 2½ seconds in very elite athletes.


Increased power and strength will certainly enhance and increase hurdle maintenance and assist in sprint hurdle rhythm. The best way for hurdlers to gain strength is SPRINTING and HURDLING . Remember too, hurdling is a form of plyometrics. But there are many ways to gain sport specific, functional strength and power. They include: (1) Weight room strength training (2) Plyometrics and Bounding (3) Body Weight exercises (4) Hill running (5) Multi-Jump/Throw Med Ball exercises/routines (6)Therabands/Cords (7) Resistance Training (Sled, cords)

The top lifts for a sprinter/hurdler include:

  1. Squats (Front Squat, Back squat, Split Squat, Jump squat)
  2. Cleans
  3. Jerks
  4. Inverted Rowing
  5. Lunges
  6. Hamstring Exercises (1) Negative Glute Ham Raise (2) Partner Glute Ham Raise


The following are actual weeks of training by U Mary women’s hurdlers at different times of the year that illustrate how to train pure speed, speed endurance and speed endurance 1 and 2 along with sprint hurdle rhythm.

Week 7-October 23-29

  • Monday, October 23—12—Hurdle Technique followed by Flying 30’s w/spikes, 1 x 350m w/spikes @ 98% (10-12) 1 x 200m w/spikes @ 98% Strength Training.
  • Tuesday, October 24—3:30 pm—Warmup, Accels w/spikes, 20 minutes. Moderate Stationary Bike (Recovery) Med Ball Circuit—Blue Circuit 2 x 20.
  • Wednesday, October 25—Flying 30’s w/spikes, 1 x 300m w/spikes @ 98% (10), 2 x 150m w/spikes @ 98% (6) Strength Training.
  • Thursday, October 26—12—Hurdle Technique followed by Flying 30’s w/spikes.
  • Friday, October 27—Warmup, 10 x Priory Hill (200m Hill) Med Ball Circuit—Orange Circuit 2 x 20 Reps.
  • Saturday, October 28—REST.
  • Sunday, October 29—Recovery—Stationary Bike 20 minutes. Steady Pace.

Note: For training purposes, 98% is basically all out intensity. Recovery is noted in parentheses ( ).

Week 12-November 27-December 3

  • Monday, November 27—12—Hurdle Technique followed by 1 x 300m-150m w/spikes @ 98% (12) Strength Training.
  • Tuesday, November 28—3:30 pm—Accels w/spikes, Flying 30’s w/spikes, Med Ball Circuit—Go Big Orange 2 x 15.
  • Wednesday, November 29—3:30 pm—1 x 200m-150m-150m @ 98% w/spikes (12, 10).
  • Thursday, November 30—3 pm—Hurdle Technique, Strength Training
  • Friday, December 1—4 x 150m w/spikes @98% (6).
  • Saturday, December 2—REST.
  • Sunday, December 3—Recovery—Warmup, Accels/flats 4.

Week 20-January 22-28

  • Monday, January 22—2 pm—1 x 300m w/spikes @ 98% (12). 2 x 150m w/spikes @98% (6). Strength Training.
  • Tuesday, January 23—12—Hurdle Technique, Med Ball Circuit– Little Marauder 2 x 15.
  • Wednesday, January 24—2 pm— 3 x 40m Blasts from blocks w/spikes followed by 1 x 250m @98% w/spikes. Strength Training.
  • Thursday, January 25—12—Hurdle Technique (Light).
  • Friday, January 26—Pre-Meet Warm-up.
  • Saturday, January 27—UND Invitational, Grand Forks, ND.
  • Sunday, January 28—Recovery—Stationary Bike—15 minutes Easy.

Week 27-March 12-18

  • Monday, March 12—2 pm—15 minutes Stationary Bike Easy, Warmup, Accels/spikes.
  • Tuesday, March 13—2 pm—Hurdle Technique. Med Ball Circuit—Orange Circuit 20 Throws.
  • Wednesday, March 14—2 pm—4 x 200m w/flats @ 85% (4 ½). Strength Training.
  • Thursday, March 15—2 pm—Hurdle Technique followed by 1 x 200m w/spikes @ 98%.
  • Friday, March 16—1 x 350m w/spikes @ 98% (10-12). 2 x 200m w/spikes @ 98% (8). Strength Training.
  • Saturday, March 17—REST.
  • Sunday, March 18—20 minutes Elliptical (Recovery).


The following hurdle technique training sessions demonstrate what the University of Mary employs to train the following: (1) speed (2) hurdle rhythm endurance/maintenance (3) Sprint hurdle rhythm pattern (4) Acceleration (Starts) (5) Hurdle Technique

Thursday, March 28

Sprint-Hurdle Warmup

  1. Lateral Walking Lunge
  2. Hurdle Hops 3H x 3
  3. Accels 4 w/spikes


  1. 1 Step Hurdles 5 Hurdles x 3 30
  2. Flying 30m x 2 4 point (Time)
  3. Tempo Hurdles 2 Hurdles x 3 30 First 2 reps with hand weights


  1. Resistance Starts w/hand weights x 2
  2. 8 Hurdles FS x 1 33-30
  3. 5 Hurdles FS x 3 30

Note: For all technique sessions: H=Hurdle FS=from start with blocks, HW=Hand weights, All spacing at 8.0m, Hurdle Heights are listed, either 30 or 33.

Note: Touchdown times are used for every rep over 4 or more hurdles.

Tuesday, April 2

  1. Sprint-Hurdle Warmup
  2. Cone Hops/Squares
  3. Standing Long Jumps x 4
  4. Accels w/spikes 4


  1. 1 Step Hurdles 4 Hurdles x 3 30
  2. 30m x 2 4-point start
  3. Tempo Hurdles 3H x 3 30


  1. 2 Hurdles FS x 1 33-30
  2. 10 Hurdles FS x 1 33-30
  3. 8 Hurdles FS x 2 30
  4. 3 Hurdles FS x 2 30

Monday, April 16

  1. Sprint-Hurdle Warmup
  2. Hurdle Hops 4H x 2
  3. Cone Hops ( Big and Small 2)
  4. Accels spikes 4


  1. 1 Step Hurdles 4 Hurdles x 2 30
  2. 1 x 30m Fly on turn (Time)
  3. 1 x 20m Block Start (Time)
  4. Tempo Hurdles 3 H x 2 w/hw 33-30-30


  1. Fly 20m (Time)
  2. Block Start x 1
  3. 2 Hurdles FS x 1 33-30
  4. 10 Hurdles FS x 1 30
  5. 8 Hurdles FS x 1 33-30
  6. 8 Hurdles FS x 1 30

Monday, April 23

  1. Sprint –Hurdle Warmup
  2. Squares
  3. Hurdle Hops 4H x 2
  4. Accels 4 spikes


  1. 1 Step Hurdles 5H x 2 30
  2. Arms 2 H 2 x Chest
  3. 2 x 40m 4-point start (Time)
  4. Tempo Hurdles 3 H x 2 33-30


  1. 2 Hurdles FS x 2 w/hw 33-30
  2. 12 Hurdles FS x 1 30
  3. 10 Hurdles FS x 1 33-30
  4. 8 Hurdles FS x 1 30


  • Francis, Stephen, Handout: Breaking 13.00 Seconds; A Practitioner’s Guide, 2004
  • McFarlane, Brent, The Science of Hurdling and Speed, 4th Edition, Canadian Track & Field Association, 2000
  • Seagrave, Loren, Conversations, Handouts, Clinics
  • Winckler, Gary, formerly University of Illinois, Handouts, Clinics, Conversations