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Steeplechase

The following information has been provided by Matthew Barreau who is a Track and Field Coach at Adams State College USA.

3000 metre steeplechase

The men's 3000 meter steeplechase is a 3000 meter race on the track that includes 35 total barrier clearances. The height of each barrier is 36 inches (0.914m). Each lap has a total of four regular barriers and one water barrier. The water barrier is the same height as other barriers, but is followed by a 12 foot (3.66m) water pit. For women, barriers are 30 inches (0.762m) tall.

In addition to the demands of high level endurance running, steeple-chasing adds the difficulties of incorporating co-ordination, agility, strength, and balance among other things. As important as efficiency may be for running, the increase in the number and complexity of movements of steeple-chasing requires a subsequent increase in focus on efficiency throughout the race.

Definition of phases

Three phases need to be individually analyzed in order to arrive at the complete biomechanical analysis of the event. The three phases in the order they will be analyzed will be the preparation, flight, and follow through phases. It is said that each phase is effected by the previous phase, and that any error can be traced back to a fault in the previous phase. However, because of the length between hurdles in steeple chasing (nearly 80 metres), the end of the follow through phase and the beginning of the preparation phase can actually be separated, making each hurdle a single entity within the race.

Preparation Phase

Regular Barrier

There are three different points at which the preparation phase can be said to begin. Since the goal of proper hurdling technique is to resume running form immediately upon landing, it could be said that the preparation for each hurdle begins as early as 75 metres before each hurdle. A more practical point at which preparation begins is at about 10 to 12 steps prior to hurdling, approximately 30 to 40 metres before the barrier. This is the point at which visual adjustments of the steps should be made so that stuttering or stretching in the final few strides to the barrier are eliminated.

Water Barrier

Just as with regular barriers, preparation can begin as early as a few steps following landing after the previous barrier. Most tracks have the water barrier inside of lane one, meaning that approximately 15 to 20 metres before the barrier runners must take a sharper turn to approach the water barrier. This is where final visual adjustments must be made.

Flight Phase

Regular Barrier

The onset of this phase occurs at the landing of the final step prior to takeoff and concludes after the body has completed its flight and has touched down on the opposite side of the hurdle.

Water Barrier

This phase will be slightly longer than the flight phase over regular barriers because of the added aspect of the water pit. While proper technique does not include a full-out leap to clear the pit, some effort must be made to clear the pit as far as efficiency will allow.

Follow Through Phase

Regular Barrier

The follow through is the time between the landing and the resumption of normal running form. The goal is to resume running as quickly as possible, and can be obtained by the second step after landing.

Water Barrier

Again, this phase is defined as it was before over regular barriers: from the time the first foot hits the ground after the flight phase until normal running form is resumed. It may be more difficult to resume normal running technique over the water barrier because of the increased forces placed on the body due to greater flight height, distance, and time.

Preparation for barrier clearance

The final 12 steps coming into the hurdle are probably just as important as the actual barrier clearance itself. It is, after all, the preparation for barrier clearance that will determine if the athlete is in the correct position to carry out barrier clearance correctly. Athletes must be able to gauge their distance from the hurdle as far out as possible, so as to be able to maintain their pace and rhythm over the hurdles. Minor adjustments made farther away from the hurdle will be much more beneficial as far as overall energy expenditure during the race. Corrections made near the barrier can be classified as either a "stutter" or a "quick step." Stuttering arises from an athlete needing to change the expected lead leg with which to approach the hurdle. A quick step is a minor stride shortening in order to place the body in a position better suited for raising the centre of mass. A stutter slows an athlete, while a quick step merely places an athlete on the toes more for takeoff.

Corrections farther out from the hurdle can probably only happen with practice; as an athlete becomes more accustomed to the pace at which he is approaching the hurdle, and his ability to determine his strides in relation to the distance from the hurdle, the preparation for barrier clearance will begin to correct itself. There is not much biomechanically that can be done during this portion of the steeplechase technique. It may simply be a product of repetition in practice and races, as well as a more concentrated focus during these final steps leading to actual barrier clearance that will eventually lead to an increased efficiency over the barriers. Drills can be used to improve steeplechase form

Regular barrier clearance

Various techniques can be employed to clear each of the barriers, both the regular and water barriers. Here we will focus will be on the traditional styles of clearance over the barriers: hurdling the regular barriers and stepping on the water barrier.

Lead arm/Lead leg

Arms are smaller levers, and therefore easier to control than the legs. Therefore, the legs will be viewed as being responsive to the arms. At takeoff, the lead arm should be thrust forward and maintain the near 90 degree angle as would be expected in running form. The arm should be rotated inward so that the lead arm is now parallel to the ground and at shoulder height. By bringing the arm through quickly like this, it will require the legs to do the same. As they come through quickly, they will need to shorten their lever, as they are much longer than the arms.

This will make the trail leg's heel come up to the butt. From there, it will have to swing quickly forward in a whip-like fashion. This will help maintain athlete velocity over barrier clearance, as well as a lower arc overall. If the lead arm is left long and reaches forward, this will cause a slower lead leg whip, and velocity will be lost in barrier clearance. This slower arc will necessitate a higher arc in order to clear the barrier; both energy and time will be wasted.

As soon as the heel passes the top of the barrier, it should begin its downward motion toward the ground. Since the body will still be travelling forward, there will be no danger of hitting the hurdle at this point with the lead leg. (The trail leg will be analyzed later.) The arm's movement to help facilitate the leg lowering is a simultaneous backward and downward movement of the arm to a regular running position; it should follow the same path that it took on its way up. The ultimate goal would be that immediately upon landing the athlete would regain their proper running form. Therefore, after the arm comes down it should immediately resume its running pattern. The arm should maintain a 90 degree angle throughout this entire motion.

Trail arm/Trail leg

If the lead arm and lead leg are following their pattern of movement then the trail arm should merely extend at the elbow while remaining close to the body. The minor extension will be caused by the slightly greater extension of the trail leg in order to create the push-off needed to clear the barrier. Keeping the arm close to the body will help minimize rotational movements. The trail leg needs to apply slightly more effort into the ground in order to raise the centre of mass slightly to clear the barrier. However, the leg should not ever become fully extended, as it would increase the chances of the body twisting. This is what happens when the body takes off farther away from the hurdle than would be desired; the longer approach requires a longer push-off, which in turn requires a greater twisting of the body to accommodate for this. After the trail leg leaves the ground, the toes should then point outward (hip external rotation), then should be pulled through forward and upward in an arcing manner. The toes of the trail leg should stay directly behind the knee. Again, the closer everything stays to the body the fewer amount of rotary forces will happen. At the peak of the barrier clearance, which is slightly before the hurdle, the legs should form an "L-7" form (see Figure 1). If the trail leg is any farther back of the position shown, it will cause an increase in rotational movements. As each error in a movement can typically be traced back to the previous step, a "stretched 'L-7'" is usually from a takeoff that is too far away from the hurdle. This is caused by an improper gauging of the run up distance, and so on.

Figure 1. Overhead view of "L-7" at peak of barrier clearance

Steeplechase--> Direction of movement

From the peak of the barrier clearance, the trail leg should move as quickly as possible back into the running position. A slow trail leg is one of the leading causes of improper hurdle form. This can lead to the torso leaning backward to accommodate for the leg not reaching the ground quickly enough. The knee should never come above the hip, nor should the foot ever go outside of the knee. These are two of the biggest culprits in a slow trail leg. Again, maintaining the trail arm as closely as possible to the body will help minimize any errors that may be occurring.

Water barrier clearance

The initial lead arm/lead leg turn into the trail arm/trail leg following the contact with and push-off from the barrier. However, it will not be moved into a new section, nor will the reference to those body parts be changed. Instead, the lead arm/lead leg will remain named as such throughout the entirety of their movements.

Lead arm/Lead leg

Movements here are very similar to that of the regular barrier clearance. However, instead of extending the lead leg to clear the barrier it should make contact with the barrier. The foot strikes the barrier on the closest upper corner at around mid-foot. The lead leg should then coil back up under the body as the body continues to travel forward. As the body travels forward over the lead leg, the foot should "roll" over the barrier. This coiling and rolling will help prevent this contact with the barrier from slowing down the athlete. Throughout all of this the lead arm follows the same pattern as it did with regular barrier clearance: remaining at 90 degrees while moving up and in to be parallel with the shoulders and perpendicular to the ground, then moving back into running position.

As the foot rolls forward and the athlete prepares for pushing off the barrier, the forefoot should roll over to the front of the barrier so that maximum forward push is obtained. However, the push should not be the primary focus here.

When the push-off occurs, there will be a slight pause of the form. This is because of the increased distance the centre of mass must fall, a failure to implement a slight pause will cause the foot to land behind the centre of mass. This will create a hinged moment and the upper body will over-rotate. This then causes the second step down (the initial lead leg) to act as a support for the falling body rather than a way to propel it. Additionally, the lowered landing surface caused by the inclined water pit creates the need for the slight pause.

After the pause, the leg can be brought forward in a regular running pattern. This leg, as the first leg out of the water, will still require a little extra strength because the centre of mass will need to be raised slightly out of the water pit. However, the normal running pattern should still be maintained, as the focus is to be running, and not to be getting out of the pit. After the body pushes off, the lead arm should be maintained in a normal running pattern from then on out. It, too, must pause slightly as the rest of the body does.

Trail arm/trail leg

The push-off should be similar to that of the regular barrier clearance. The only difference in the approach to the water barrier is that the takeoff should be slightly closer to the barrier so that the height of the centre of mass occurs over the barrier rather than slightly before it as with regular barriers. Other than that, the approach to the barrier is just as mentioned before;

  1. the trail arm should stay close to the body to minimize rotary movements
  2. extension at the elbow will correspond with extension of the knee
  3. full extension of the trail leg is not desired
  4. forward movement is preferred rather than upward

As the centre of mass is passing its high point over the water barrier, the trail leg should coil underneath the body as closely as possible; the shorter the lever the quicker it will be moved through and the less time will be spent over the barrier. As the leg is coiling under the body, the trail arm should continue to move in a normal running pattern. This is because as soon as the body passes over the barrier, the uncoiling will occur and the normal running pattern is to be assumed as quickly as possible.

After the uncoiling, as the trail leg gets to the height of a normal running stride (the thigh will be just slightly lower than perpendicular to the ground), the leg, as well as the rest of the body, should pause momentarily as mentioned previously.

General points to note on technique

The ability to lead with either leg means that the stride will only ever need to be adjusted by 3 feet at the most, or half a typical running stride. Only being able to lead with one leg means that the stride can be off as much as 6 feet therefore the importance of being able to use either leg is obvious.

Taking off too far away from the hurdle causes an extra loading upon takeoff in order to jump farther to clear the hurdle. Not only will this cause more rotary movements, but this will also cause braking as the body will need to lower the centre of mass more to move it farther with one single effort. This will cause the body to take off from the heel rather than from up on the toes like with a quick step.

Keeping the eyes focused forward rather than down at the landing point will allow the athlete to run off the hurdle better. The body's centre of mass tends to follow where the eyes lead it.

Keeping the knee of the trail leg below the hip, especially on the front side of the barrier, will place the athlete in the position of landing on his/her toes, which is more conducive to maintaining rhythm and pace.

Within obvious limits, it is better to take off farther away from the hurdle, as it will allow for a flatter flight path over the barrier. Knowing how far away is too far will be evident if the trail leg's knee extension becomes too great, which will cause rotary motion.

Confidence is essential to hurdling; "attacking" each hurdle and "running off" each hurdle will help ensure that pace and rhythm are maintained. Listening to the sound of the steps can help tell you whether you are spending too much energy in the vertical plane of motion rather than the horizontal plane of motion.

The trail leg arm stays closer to the body if there is more forward lean at the time of barrier clearance. This is easier to obtain as the pace quickens; the faster you go the more forward lean may be necessary.

Never should the foot get in front of the knee; this does not happen in a normal running stride, and therefore should not happen here either. Focusing on keeping the wrist of the lead arm below the corresponding elbow after the initial forward thrust in barrier clearance can help with stability in barrier clearance.

Evaluation Tests

The following evaluation tests can be used to monitor the steeplechase athlete's development:

Rules of Competition

The competition rules for this event can be obtained from:


Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2007) Steeplechase [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/steeplechase/index.htm [Accessed

Related Pages

The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic:

Associated Books

The following books provide more information related to this topic:

  • How to Teach Track Events, M. Arnold