Athletes who come to triathlons from sports other than running can often see major benefits from improving small, but intricate parts of their running form. This includes cadence, stride length, overall speed, foot speed, and ground contact time.  While the use of agility hurdles won’t necessarily make you faster, it can help you improve several aspects of running that relate to speed. 

To get started, you will need to either purchase or make your own set of agility hurdles. See the photo below. And, if neither is an option, know that cones will work too, but you must run over the cone. The major difference with most substitutes is that you can “go around” the cone, not directly over. One of the main benefits of using ability hurdles is to get the leg lift over the hurdle.

In short, agility hurdles are ideal, but you can use any “item” about 6 inches high. But if you use a substitute, make sure to go “over” the item and not to the side. This will insure proper leg knee lift when going over the item.

Example of purchased hurdles on the left and home-made hurdles on the right.

Two examples of when and how to use agility hurdles are as follows:

  1.  To improve speed. If you are working on improving your speed, you can use the drills (listed below) prior to a speed workout.  Do your normal 15-20 minute run warm-up and running drills.  Next, do the drills listed below prior to your final normal strides before your main workout set.  As you progress into your main set, try to remember the form you had while running over the hurdles.  Stay tall and quick on your feet.
  2. To improve form. Set the hurdles up and do several passes of run-throughs prior to a normal/long run.  You only need to do the single-step through a few times.  The point here would be to focus on your posture and being light on your feet.  Remember the feeling so you can recall it on your longer run.

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Example exercises you can do with agility hurdles:   

*Remember to EASE into the drills. 
*Begin with only doing one pass-through of each exercise. 

Most distance athletes spend very little time doing true speed work and this drill will get you up on your toes more than you are used to.  Failure to build into the full routine over several workouts will result in VERY sore calves.  

For set up: Space your hurdles 3 feet apart. Place a cone 12 yards from the last hurdle. After each pass through the hurdles, accelerate for 3 yards past the last hurdle and then run out the remaining 12 yards. That is one set.

1. One Step between each hurdle. Run through 2x, once leading with the right foot, and then once leading with the left foot. 

2. Two steps between each hurdle. Run through 2x, once leading with the right foot, and then once leading with the left foot.

3. Two foot Hop over each hurdle. The goal here is for quick ground contact time, NOT height over the hurdle. You should be quick, quick, quick.

4. Two foot hop over 3 hurdles and then run out of the remaining hurdles all the way to the cone.

5. Side Running. 2X facing right and 2X facing left: Turn perpendicular to the hurdle and run over sideways. DO NOT cross feet. MAKE SURE you remain 90 degrees to the hurdles. DO NOT face hips forward. If you find yourself facing forward, a good thing to focus on is to turn hips slightly MORE than 90 degrees. You don’t have to accelerate after the last hurdle but DO run out to the cone.

6. Three steps in between each hurdle. Run through 2x, once leading with the right foot, and then once leading with the left foot. 

This video is a good visual reference for some of the drills above. 

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One final note about the drills above.  The important point is to be QUICK off the ground.  There is a tendency to want to “hop” high over the hurdle.  While that may be useful for sprinters, jumpers, or power sports, for the purposes of these drills, focus on being quick.

With continued practice, you should begin to see improvements in your running form and speed.

Coach Bill Ledden knows that true success in the world of triathlon isn’t simply about crossing the finish line. It’s about the process of setting goals, being determined to reach them and most importantly, the learning that takes place along the way.

Bill is a both a USA Triathlon and USA Track and Field Certified Coach.

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