Acceleration is an important asset for any athlete. It is essentially the speed with which you change your speed. In other words, how fast can you get fast?
The ability to rapidly accelerate can give you a significant advantage over your opponents. It facilitates getting you to your top speed as soon as possible. It helps get you quickly out of a change of direction.
There are ways to improve your acceleration. One is to focus on your technique. Another is to improve your strength and power. This can be done through weightlifting, Olympic lifts and plyometric training. Yet another is to consistently train the elements utilizing speed training equipment like the mini hurdles.
Mini hurdles, sometimes referred to as speed hurdles, are simply a tool in the training tool box. As with any tool, you not only want to know how to use it, but also why.
The mini hurdle is not intended to imitate a tall track and field hurdle, other than both being obstacles. They have distinctly different purposes in training. You aren't using a mini hurdle to train the knee to lift the same way as you would a track hurdle, for example.
Whether you play football, basketball, baseball, soccer, or are even trying to go wicket to wicket in cricket, this tool can help you improve speed in your sport. Personally, they are one of my favorite pieces of equipment.
•You can use them every day, even if it's only briefly for quick drills.
•They are versatile. You can easily configure them in different ways going in a different direction (for an agility component) or simply change the spacing in a linear path.
•They are durable. Most mini hurdles can take a beating from getting kicked to getting stepped on.
•They can be used for hopping, not just running.
•Most importantly: they work! Let me explain why..
It may sound simple, but slow steps mean slow speed!
There are two main goals of the mini hurdles. The first goal is to teach what I call roadrunner feet. If you've ever seen the cartoon with the coyote chasing the roadrunner, you'll notice that the roadrunner's feet are a blur -- a cloud of dust. Another term you may be familiar with is turnover. I want your feet moving so fast that they are a blur.
This is also because it is a factor for speed. The formula for speed is:
I want a high stride rate. Usain Bolt is a great case study. Bolt is the world record holder for the 100 meter dash at 9.58 seconds. One reason he is so fast is because he has the turnover of a shorter sprinter, but he himself is 6'5''. The average sprinter is around six feet tall. Therefore, the length of Bolt's stride is naturally longer. With that, he has great turnover. He has roadrunner feet!
That's the idea behind the mini hurdles. I want the athlete to take off. Don't touch the ground to land, touch to take off again. The athlete needs foot contact to be quick and light. We are teaching the feet to quickly touch-and-go, touch-and-go.
Low is slow.
The second goal is to create lift. Athletes need to pick up their feet.
This is especially important for younger athletes. If kids don't get good lift, they can't optimize their stride length. So once again, this is a factor for speed. Low steps usually lead to short steps.
I coach it:
Everything needs to get up. Lift!
A six-inch mini hurdle is a nominal height for a youth athlete to clear. Depending on their age and level, one problem you may see in beginners is swinging the leg horizontally around the hurdle instead of lifting vertically over the apparatus. Keep this in mind as you’re coaching the athlete.
There are some simple ways you can solve these problems. While the hurdles don’t have as many patterns as the ladder, a few are particularly helpful for training acceleration.
As a preface, the standard amount of hurdles I use is 10-12, though I trust your discretion if you believe 6-8 will suffice. Also, standard spacing is at three feet. The third drill is partial to a longer course and longer spacing, but you can adapt accordingly.
Remember, it’s a game of inches!
Also, you can add a short sprint to the end of each one of these patterns. This allows the athlete to open up their stride even more and accelerate off the end of the mini hurdles to reach maximum velocity. This can also be accomplished with speed breaks.
Now, for the hurdle training drills.
My favorite part of this drill is the anticipation element. The key is having your athletes land with two feet on the third hop. The athlete must anticipate the landing and the subsequent transition. This is the single biggest way they will mess up this drill. The first time you do it, it might make you laugh how many kids accidentally cheat the landing and land on one foot. Coach it as you see it.
The hops themselves of course need to be quick and light. You can also reduce the hops to one or two. Either way, the focus is on transitioning from the landing into a fast first step.
Coming off the final hop, they need to lean forward a little more in preparation for the first step. This teaches body control. As they land, they need to explode out immediately. This teaches reaction. A simple but great drill.
This drill is basically a “slanted” sprint, or a one-step with a tilt. The athlete neither faces straight forward nor completely laterally. They need to orient their body in between at about a 45º angle.
One reason why it helps with acceleration is the nuance. It develops each side differently. When you do a rep facing each way, each leg has trained both elements.
The leading front leg will feel choppy with how quickly it has to get up and down. Three feet will feel like two feet. Don’t pound the ground. Keep the footwork light.
The back leg is required to take a longer path in the same amount of time, demanding quicker turnover. Don’t let the athlete open the hips too much. One common mistake is squaring the hips to the side, which creates an awkward stride.
Another reason this drill is effective is the way it teaches the forward lean. The lean helps the athlete not have to reach. As the athlete gets faster, they’ll naturally feel like they are falling. Challenge them to maintain their balance through the end. If they lean too much they could fall at the finish line. If they don’t lean enough, they won’t be able to execute the drill with speed. Like I say, “Don’t be careful; don’t be careless.”
3. Spatial Illusion
This drill is best done at 4-foot spacing with at least 10 hurdles. I even will occasionally use a baker’s dozen by adding a 13th hurdle. It works for this one.
The start is crucial with this drill because if the athlete doesn’t take a good first step, the rep will be compromised. The athlete needs to load a tad more and can explode more out of their stance. Just don’t kick the first hurdle. Athletes used to three-foot spacing can make this mistake.
With the drill itself, at the beginning, the spacing will feel long. In the middle, the spacing will feel just right. At the end, once they have picked up speed, they will feel like the spacing is tight. This will produce turnover. Otherwise, the last hurdle or two will get kicked. Just watch for wrecks since this can definitely lead to kids blowing up the hurdles.
Once again, make sure they are aware of their posture. Kids will tend to get upright in order to control their speed, but this only negates the purpose. Keep the lean and go fast.
Disclaimer: This drill can be difficult for elementary athletes or beginners . At your discretion, move the first space to three feet before expanding.
There you have it. The three mini hurdle drills that will increase your acceleration. Next week we’re staying on the theme and going to talk about some agility ladder drills that help with quickness. Stay tuned.