Hurdle Drills – Marching Pop-Overs

Coach Steve McGill:

The marching pop-over drill is all about creating speed through the hurdle. It’s not just about getting over the hurdle, but about creating the feeling that you are faster coming off the hurdle than you felt going into it.

To me, the key to creating speed through the hurdle is getting a forceful push off the ground with the back leg at take-off. With the marching pop-over drill, because you cannot rely on speed to get you over the hurdle, and to help you maintain the rhythm between the hurdles, you have to rely on the push off the back leg to do it for you.

With this drill, I’ll set up anywhere from 4 to 10 hurdles, spaced anywhere from 9 to 14 feet apart, and the hurdles will be lowered at least one click below race height, maybe two, or even three if lowering that low is necessary to teach the athlete to do the drill properly. (Yes, that would mean practice hurdles at 24 inches for female hurdlers). The idea is to high-knee march to the first hurdle, to push off the back leg and jump forward over the hurdle, land, and return to marching, maintaining a three-step march between each hurdle.

This drill is very difficult to execute for hurdlers who are used to relying on their lead leg for all their speed and power. When doing this drill, they want to kick out the lead leg instead of pushing off the back leg. Because the hurdles are spaced so close together, there is no way this approach can work. The lead leg will kick the crossbar. Also, there will be what I call a “one-two” action – lead leg, then trail leg. And there will be a pause. The lead leg will extend, then comes the pause, then comes the trail leg. This way of hurdling requires much effort and is very inefficient, so it cannot be maintained for an entire race over ten hurdles. Therefore, when doing the marching pop-over drill, it is important to keep the lead leg disciplined. Keep the knee bent, make sure the heel doesn’t get in front of the knee until you’re ready to descend off the hurdle. Now, with a disciplined lead leg that drives knee-first, you can gain the benefit of a forceful push off the back leg. Both legs (in terms of how it feels and how it looks) rise together, knee first, both knees facing the front. This is what we want – the feeling that we are jumping forward over the hurdle and toward the next one.

At take-off, it is important to push the hips forward while pushing off the back leg. If you push off the back leg and don’t push the hips forward, the hips will rise and you will float. Also, you will want to lean forward from the waist at the same time, for the same reason – to push yourself forward and to ensure that you don’t float. The lean also helps you to get back on the ground faster.

Between the hurdles, you want to do your best to hold the forward lean. DON’T STAND UP OFF THE HURDLE. By holding the lean, you create more forward momentum. In the drill, holding the forward lean might cause you to stumble forward a little bit when you land, and you may find it hard to continue marching as opposed to speeding up and running. But that’s the exact problem you want to have – in the drill, and in a race. You want to feel like your body positioning is speeding you up “accidentally,” as opposed to feeling like you are working to speed up. You want the speed to happen to you, because that’s where the fast times are – in the danger zone, where you have to react to the hurdles coming at you.

Notice in this post I’ve never referred to the back leg as the trail leg. That’s because we don’t want it to trail. We don’t want it to lag behind. As soon as you push off the ball of the foot, you want to raise the knee (and slightly open the groin) and then drive the knee forward over the barrier, keeping the heel tucked under the hamstring. We don’t want the back leg to trail behind; we want it to drive to the front as soon as it leaves the ground. I call it the back leg because it starts in the back before moving to the front. Similarly, with every sprinting stride in a non-hurdle sprint race, the back leg is the leg that generates speed. The push off the back leg is what creates speed. Watch animals run – cheetahs, horses, etc. Watch how, when they’re going full speed, the two back legs join together to push forcefully. When such animals are just trotting at a leisurely pace, it is easy to see each of the four limbs touching the ground individually. But when they’re rolling at full speed, the back legs push off together.

As for the arms, they should stay as close to natural sprinting positioning as possible. Cheek to cheek. Lead arm should punch up, punch down. If the arms are flailing out wildly and/or crossing the body, you know you’re relying too much on lead-leg extension to get you over the hurdle as opposed to really pushing off the back leg.

In the above video of one of my athletes, you can get a feel for what the drill looks like. Matt here is a high school freshman in his first year over the 39’s. In the drill he’s going over 36” hurdles. You’ll notice the push off the back leg, the maintaining of the forward lean, the “accidental” speed-up between the hurdles, the up-and-down motion of the arms, the forward thrust of the hips, and everything else I talked about above.

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