Track Coach

Training the Dual Hurdler

A look into the world of a coach who is confronted with the challenges and issues of designing a training program for the hurdler who wishes to compete in both the sprint hurdles and the intermediate hurdles.

By Mike Thorson, Former Director of Track & Field/Cross Country at the University of Mary

We live in a world of specialization and track & field is no different. We are seeing fewer and fewer hurdlers who train and compete in both the sprint hurdles and the intermediate hurdles. Most are collegiate hurdlers and typically designate one of the races as their specialty by the time they reach the post-season.

Although a hurdler may select a primary event, that doesn’t change the task that a hurdle coach will face if he is asked to design a training program for the dual hurdler. The challenges are numerous and they can be difficult. The coach is essentially being asked to teach toward two quite different models. But while there are many differences and some can be very problematic, there are also many commonalities in the training for the two events. One of the first tasks for the coach is to blend the correct amount of speed, speed endurance, and special endurance 1 and 2 into a total training package. First, let us review speed and speed endurance. An explanation of each and sample training sessions are included.


##Speed Runs of 95-100% intensity over 30-60m or up to six seconds of running. Recovery is typically complete.

* Example: 4 x 40m blasts with spikes from blocks @100% intensity with 5-6 minutes recovery per rep.

##Speed Endurance Runs of 95-100% of maximum over 60-150m or 7-20 seconds of running. Recovery can vary between 2’-5’ for reps and 8’-12’ for sets.

*Example: 3 x 80m @ 95-100% intensity from a four-point stance with 4-5 minutes rest, 10 minutes recovery followed by 1 x 150m with spikes @ 95% intensity.

##Special Endurance 1 Runs of 95-100% of maximum over 150-300m or 20-40 seconds of running. Recovery is complete or near complete-up to 20’-30’.

*Example: 2 x 200m with spikes @ 95% intensity with 6 minutes recovery, 10 minutes recovery between set, 1 x 300m with spikes @ 95-100% intensity.

##Special Endurance 2 Runs of 95-100% of maximum over 300-600m or 40 seconds of running or more. Recovery is typically complete—20’-30’.

*Example: 2 x 200m with spikes @ 95% intensity with 8 minutes recovery, 12 minutes recovery between set, 1 x 350m with spikes @ 95-100% intensity

Although some coaches are hesitant to “mix and match” energy training systems, we have long employed this method very successfully. It is an essential component in training the dual hurdler. A couple of workout examples used by the Marauders:

A. 2 x Flying 40m on the turn with spikes at maximum speed (5 minutes recovery) 2 x 150m with spikes @ 98%(6 minutes Recovery) 1 x 300m with spikes with hurdles 1-4 on marks from blocks at race pace

B. 2 x 150m @ 98% with spikes (6 minutes recovery) 1 x 300m @ 98% with spikes (10 minutes recovery) 1 x 200m @ race pace with spikes with hurdles 1-4 on marks

Note: 98% equals maximum speed in a training setting

Note: It is extremely important for the hurdler to run the correct “race pace” in the intervals with hurdles on the correct marks in order to obtain the proper hurdle rhythm and race distribution (Our goal is a 5% variance between the first and second 200 in regards to distribution, remembering that earmark from a clinic by Ralph Lindeman of the Air Force Academy some years ago)


One of the most difficult tasks for the coach is assuring that the hurdler is obtaining the correct amount of speed endurance, and at the same time, is recovered enough to carry out the required speed and hurdle-specific training requirements for the shorter hurdle event. This is a difficult balancing act, especially with the athlete needing to be basically fatigue-free for the sessions where hurdle rhythm is trained.

This is compounded by the fact that much of the 400m hurdle training results in velocity fatigue that disrupts and diminishes the training of the correct motor patterns for the short hurdles. This can often lead to a coach instilling the incorrect or wrong motor patterns for the 100/110m hurdler. As biomechanist Ralph Mann says in “The Mechanics of Sprinting and Hurdling,” hurdlers are oftentimes not meeting the demands of their race in training.

The dual hurdle coach, too, is always in a battle of time constrictions, attempting to limit training sessions to two hours or less (our goal is actually 90 minutes) and always keeping foremost in mind that athletes can only be stressed at the highest levels for approximately three minutes per training session, again per Ralph Mann. The great coaches always have the big picture in mind, and are constantly monitoring the percentage of time their athletes are spending on the track, strength training and with regeneration /recovery.

A major issue that will confront the mentor of a combined hurdler is regeneration. Some coaches fail to remember that one of the basic laws of training is that adaption takes place during recovery. They neglect to build it in to their training cycles, thus missing a critically important training component for the dual hurdler’s success. Additionally, many of today’s athletes will need more recovery than in the past. The typical athlete that coaches work with today is most certainly a product of his/her environment and quite often cannot handle the workloads and intensity of athletes from yester years without the proper, and oftentimes, more recovery.

Another major concern that needs to be addressed is the recovery/fatigue factor as it relates to strength training. It is very clear that the dual hurdler will need to have a modified strength training program. Our program typically will see our dual hurdlers lift only once per week (twice a week with the second session very light in some cases) during the competitive phase of the season with what we term basically a maintenance program. We rely very heavily on Fall hill work and functional training emphasizing plyometrics, circuit training, and core training to meet our strength requirement needs.

We believe, too, that the best form of strength training for a sprinter/hurdler is actual sprinting.

A training program like ours that is characterized by low volume, high intensity and large amounts of recovery will lend itself to success for the dual hurdler. The low volume training is especially helpful for the athlete who needs both speed endurance and fatigue-free training. The dual hurdle coach should always be mindful that the 400 Hurdles, as one coach so aptly put it, “is the only event that requires an athlete to perform a technical maneuver while in anaerobic distress.”

That in itself presents a number of concerns for the dual hurdle director. Combining the need for endurance and quality speed and hurdle rhythm sessions that simulate actual competition may be the biggest challenge. The “ideal” training for the hurdler is actual meets…competition. Thus, an everyday goal of the coach is to mimic competition as closely as possible. And that can be extremely challenging.

Another obstacle that faces the coach is obtaining quality repetitions to build a race model for the 400 hurdles. It is further compounded if you train in a cold weather climate that forces the athlete to train indoors for up to five months out of the year (which sometimes can be the case for programs in the Midwest). That is one of the major reasons coaches from the Midwest include 400 Hurdle training in the Fall months prior to the indoor.

Speaking of indoors, the undercover season is a critical preparation period for the combined hurdler that many coaches bypass. Coaches should always be mindful of the old adage: “You are what you train to be.” In addition to competing in the 60m hurdles, there are a number of indoor events that can prepare the athlete for the 10-barrier sprint hurdles and the intermediate hurdles when the athlete moves to the outdoor season. The 200m, 400m, 600m and the 4 x 400m relay are all events available to the hurdler indoors that can greatly contribute to the sequence and progression of training and, ultimately, success for the dual hurdler. The speed component and the speed endurance and special endurance 1 and 2 training required for those events will greatly enhance the success of hurdlers who compete in both events during the outdoor campaign.

It is very apparent that oftentimes very good indoor 60m hurdlers do not reach the same levels of excellence outdoors where they lack the necessary speed endurance over 10 hurdles. With the required training that competing in both hurdle events demands, that won’t be the case with the dual hurdler. Most coaches will agree that the energy requirements for the sprint hurdles are basically the same as they would be for the 200m. The problems result, however, because coaches don’t always train hurdlers as such.

Quite often indoors (and outdoors as well) our hurdle technique speed sessions are what we term “combined” hurdle workouts where we prepare hurdlers for both events. From a mechanical and technical perspective, there is a great deal of “carry-over” and the sprint hurdler is a better 400m hurdler as a result. And vice-versa. There is no question the 400 hurdle training will strengthen the sprint hurdler.

Our program certainly doesn’t neglect the speed endurance energy systems for the 400 hurdles while competing indoors. Despite training on a 200m indoor oval, the dual event athletes will often do intervals that include hurdles. This not only aids the athlete in making adjustments, alternating and steering, but forces the athlete to hurdle in a “fatigued state” and learn how to manage fatigue that they will face in the outdoor one-lap hurdle race.

It is critical that the coach of dual hurdlers not over-drill. There is no question that drills are extremely important. But only meaningful drills that serve an actual purpose and have the highest degree of transfer should be included on the training menu. Anything else is quite senseless and actually takes away energy that the hurdler will need for far more important training. Ludwig Svoboda, a hurdle coach from Czechoslovakia, said it best when he concluded that “many of the common hurdle drills develop a technique that is useless in maximal speed performance.” As Vern Gambetta, a noted training authority and one-time track and field coach, often says, “Do the things in training that you need to do. Not what is nice to do.” Keeping athletes “fresh” is of utmost importance. Maximizing energy and organizing the training to obtain the utmost benefits from the amount of energy expended should be the goal of every coach of combined hurdlers. Utilizing all available time and managing the time restrictions are always a concern with any athlete, and certainly with the dual hurdler.

With this concept in mind, most outdoor interval sessions should be a combination of “open” intervals and intervals that include hurdles on the competition marks at the correct spacing. This not only enables athletes to train the energy systems that they will utilize in a race and obtain the needed endurance component, but work on the “race plan” in all types of weather. It is critically important to rehearse the race plan over and over and build a sense of confidence for the race model under all types of conditions.

We are reminded of the quote by University of Louisiana at Lafayette track & field coach Tommy Badon: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Well said. The hurdle intervals will most certainly enhance race distribution, planned changes in rhythm and aid in late race adjustments. Those three variables should be of utmost importance for every coach who trains a 400m hurdler.

Again, this method of interval training works very nicely with our philosophy of low volume, high intensity and large amounts of recovery. An example of a workout session that we are referring to:

@@1 x 350m @ 98% with spikes with hurdles 1-5 on marks (12-15 minutes recovery) 1 x 300m @ 98% with spikes (10) 1 x 300m @ race pace with hurdles 1-4 on the marks (spikes)


There are many challenges that await the coach who is confronted with the assignment of implementing a training program for an athlete who wishes to partake in both hurdle events. But as we have outlined, it is certainly very feasible. It does, however, require a very hard-working and dedicated athlete and an innovative, creative and well-organized coach who can maximize the different energy systems in sometimes unique ways. A year-around, global approach that builds upon each succeeding phase will ultimately prepare the athlete to be a successful dual hurdler, or present the hurdler with the option to choose one or the other by the championship season. As this article has shown, it is very, very doable, and it is being done very successfully by a number of athletes and coaches throughout the country.


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5. Maher, Amelia, Director of External Operations and Administration, South Atlantic Conference (Former University of Mary coach), Research, Editing
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