A few days ago, I stumbled upon an excellent feature by Trans World Sports on Norway’s reigning World Youth and World Junior Champion, Isabelle Pedersen. The powerfully-built Pedersen reminds me of a young Susanna Kallur, with her raw sprinting power and technically-sound hurdling fundamentals.
In the clip, Pedersen was doing hurdle walk-overs. I noticed that her trail arm (her right arm) had an open palm ala Carl Lewis throughout the entire arm action. Then it hit me, why not do the hurdle walkovers Pedersen style? Instead clenching my left arm in a loose fist, I could make an open palm to instill the proper relaxed arm swing motion on my left trail arm.
During the formative months of 2005, when I overhauled my entire hurdling technique thanks to Coach Toto, I never corrected this blatant flaw in form. I’ve always had a problematic trail arm. Instead simply swinging backwards and forwards during clearance, my trail arm always jerks towards shoulder (or chin!) height, before the resumption of a more orthodox arm swing. As a result, the path my center of gravity travels during the hurdling motion becomes mildly erratic, instead of being as stable as possible. The arms, after all, are key in providing balance against the enormous torque produced during the hurdling action.
Sprinting-in-between becomes harder, in light of this split-second break in momentum.
Nevertheless, I corrected all the other aspects of my hurdling: (1) lead arm (whereas before, it used to swing from a high arch, I corrected it to mimic Liu Xiang’s sword-like arm swing) and (2) trail leg (the squaring of the trail knee become more forceful, the foot became parallel with the hurdle top bar). Despite my troublesome trail arm, I improved dramatically because of the hours I spent drilling over the hurdles.
At left is my deficient form. At right is the proper trail arm action, courtesy of non-other than Liu Xiang himself!
Photos from Karla Lim and BBC/AP
The flaws of my hurdling technique becomes even more apparent during the lead leg action. By this time, the trail arm had settled beside my hip, albeit quite tensely. As you can see from the photo below, I bring my lead knee up too high. The result is more hang time, as the lead leg needlessly exerts excessive upward force.
Photos from Karla Lim and Xinhua
Mind you, I wasn’t like this before. In the summer of 2006, I remember how my thighs almost always graze the hurdle top bar – a good feeling for a hurdler! However, a spate of injuries (hamstring and a terrible forearm fracture) stunted my hurdling finesse. From then on, I couldn’t seem to replicate the sensation of precise clearing. Even if I ran faster times, the hurdling clearances almost always felt lacking.
Despite the aforesaid flaws, my hurdling technique has some good points too. I am particularly proud of my squared lead leg and parallel trail foot. My lead arm swing is also efficient, enabling my trail leg to smoothly clear the hurdle. Needless to say, I am quite proud of my overall trail leg action!
Photos from Karla Lim and IAAF
I am light-years away from an efficient hurdling technique, much less to even approach Liu Xiang’s form – or any other world- or regional- class hurdlers for that matter!
As soon as I wrap-up the 2010 season and take a breather, I’ll head out to the track again to correct the deficiencies in my technique. I believe that a smoother hurdling clearance can shave off as much as two-tenths of a second from my personal best.
I’ll start with the most basic of hurdling drills – the hurdle walk-overs. Hopefully, an open-palmed trail arm would promote a more relaxed arm action.