How to Snap Down a Lead Leg Quickly for Women's Hurdles

Sally Pearson of Australia throws her lead leg over the hurdle on her way to London Olympic gold.

Sally Pearson of Australia throws her lead leg over the hurdle on her way to London Olympic gold.

The challenge of the 100-meter hurdles in track and field lies in attacking them aggressively -- accelerating instead of slowing as you approach each hurdle, taking four precise strides and then hurdling again. Even though you have a dozen or more strides between 400-meter hurdles, you still need to get your lead leg down as quickly as possible and keep piling on speed. You can copy the phenomenal lead- and trailing-leg techniques of women’s hurdler Sally Pearson of Australia, who bought home 100-meter Olympic gold in London by 0.02 of a second.

Schedule one day a week for hurdle skills work, including lead-leg drills. Set up five 27-to-30-inch high hurdles about 20 meters apart and prepare to take six to eight runs. Warm up with walking, jogging and simulated hurdling movements.

Run through the hurdles at high velocity to challenge your ability to maintain correct technique at speed. On one of the runs, focus specifically on actively pulling your lead leg downward as you come over the hurdle. Dip your head as you come over the hurdle so you won’t be leaning backward as you land. On additional runs, work on keeping your lead-leg foot at a set distance above the hurdle, tucking your heel of your lead leg to your butt just before clearing the hurdle and exploding for an active takeoff step.

Drive your lead arm down as you snap your lead leg down to avoid hip rotation. Your lead leg is typically your left while your lead arm opposes it, and thus is typically your right. Keep your hips level throughout your run to maintain horizontal velocity; avoid twisting your hips as you clear the hurdle. Consistent snaps of the lead leg and arm help you to race over the hurdles as if they do not exist, in the same style that Pearson displays of a stone skimming across a lake.

Drive your trailing-leg knee upward as your lead leg snaps down and touches the track. Bring your trailing leg down swiftly after your lead leg -- Pearson spends only 0.3 seconds in the air over each hurdle, for example -- and seamlessly return to your sprint, advises hurdles coach Steve McGill.

Items you will need

  • 12 practice-height hurdles
  • Free weights


  • To build your endurance and lead-leg technique, work up gradually from five hurdles to 10 and then 12 -- two more than the regulation 10 during a race. That’s a trick Pearson learned from her lifelong coach Sharon Hannon. Add a strength-training program that includes bench presses, power cleans, squats and circuits, as well as plyometrics, to increase your speed and explosiveness without bulking up.

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An award-winning writer and editor, Rogue Parrish has worked at the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and at newspapers from England to Alaska. This world adventurer and travel book author, who graduates summa cum laude in journalism from the University of Maryland, specializes in travel and food -- as well as sports and fitness. She's also a property manager and writes on DIY projects.

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