Should Young Hurdlers Always Lead With the Same Leg?

Should we coach young sprint hurdlers to lead with one side only?

I find a lot of young athletes are being told to lead with the same leg over every hurdle in a sprint hurdles race. I presume that this is what people see advanced sprint hurdlers do.

Very good sprint hurdlers will lead with the same leg over every hurdle. This is because these athletes take three strides between the hurdles.

In other words, once the athlete puts the foot of their lead leg down on the track after clearing a hurdle, they will then take three running strides before leading over the next hurdle with the same leg. This will occur over every hurdle.

People see good hurdlers doing this and assume this is what beginners should be taught. But trying to emulate elite athletes is not always suitable for beginners and may even be detrimental to them.

Trying to emulate elite athletes is not always suitable for beginners.

For example, in the 60m hurdles, the Little Athletics Australia standards see the hurdles seven metres apart. For an Under 9 athlete, the hurdles are 45cm high.

It is very rare that an Under 9 athlete can take three strides between hurdles that are seven metres apart. Most youngsters at this age are able to take five strides which will see them lead with the same leg; but some can take four strides, which means that they will have to alternate lead legs.

If an athlete who has the ability to take four strides is being told that they should lead with the same leg, they will most likely add an extra stride in between the hurdles to achieve this. i.e. Take five strides.

Adding the additional stride will probably result in the athlete slowing down, hesitating or taking stutter steps between the hurdles.

My opinion is that coaches of young athletes should not insist that young athletes lead with the same leg. Simply teach them to run without hesitating or slowing down and to lead with whichever leg happens be in the position to do so when they reach the hurdle.

Don’t insist that young athletes lead with the same leg.

Therefore, we need to teach young athletes to hurdle with both sides of the body. Not only will this teach them the very important concept of running without slowing, it will promote a balanced physical development and is vital for any circular hurdling that they may later participate in – which often requires a switching of lead legs.

I would love to hear what you think!

Do you agree? What is your experience with this issue? Do you have another viewpoint or anything to add? Let me know by leaving a reply/comment or by contacting me using the details below.

Further reading


Hurdles: How to Get Young Athletes Started

How to Put Your Best Foot Forward in Hurdles

Cue Hurdlers to “Pop the Balloon” and See Terrific Results

10 of the Biggest Mistakes Young Athletes Make in the Hurdles

How To Get Kids Lower Over The Hurdles

5 Top Tips for Effective Coaching of the Circular Hurdles

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20150614_154020-1Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes and founder of the blog Learn more about him here and connect with him on TwitterFacebookLinkedin, Anchor or via email.

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2 thoughts on “Should Young Hurdlers Always Lead With the Same Leg?

  1. Adrian says:

    Hi Darren,

    This post is very relevant to our situation.
    My daughter is in the under 9’s and and the hurdle specs are as described in this post.
    She’s quite a good hurdler but one issue I notice is that she’s hurdling too high.
    However, upon review of her action on video, I can see that this is happening because she is getting cramped for room and taking off from what I would consider too close to the hurdle and this sends her on a slightly upward trajectory as the lead leg gets cramped for room.
    I’ve noticed that her strides, (4 steps), between hurdles get a bit choppy to fit them in.
    Do you know what I mean?
    The form on her first hurdle is very good as she has more room to get into a more appropriate take off position.

    Do you think it would be worth trying to stretch her strides out to 3 steps?
    My only concern here is that she may end up overstriding and may actually become slower this way. Or, it may oscillate between 3 and 4 steps because of how deep the landing point is into the next flight.

    I’m ok with the 4 slightly shorter than normal stride lengths between hurdles as the stride frequency naturally increases slightly, but I don’t like that she is getting cramped for room when taking off for the next hurdle and causing unnecessary height and air time.

    Do you have any thoughts on the best approach here?

    Many thanks.


    • Hi Adrian. With hurdling, I first teach kids to simply run fast and clear the barriers without slowing or hesitating, whichever lead leg that results in. If a child who is capable of consistently taking four strides between the hurdles is slowing or chopping strides, then it may signal the need to decrease the number of strides between the hurdles. My first move to achieve this is to work over two hurdles, with the first hurdle at correct distance and the second hurdles slightly closer than regulation distance. Even lowering the hurdle can help. When the athlete can confidently achieve three strides at the modified distance, the hurdles can be moved progressively further out until they are at regulation distance. This can also be done with hurdle three, four, etc. Darren


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