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Matthew Barreau, a Track and Field Coach at Adams State College USA, provided the following information.

3000 metres steeplechase

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

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

Definition of phases

Three phases will be individually analysed to arrive at the complete biomechanical analysis of the event. The three phases in the order they will be examined are preparation, flight, and follow-through phases. Each phase is affected by the previous phase, and any error can be traced back to a fault in the last phase. However, because of the length between hurdles in steeplechasing (nearly 80 metres), the end of the follow-through phase and the beginning of the preparation phase can 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 the 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 about 10 to 12 steps before hurdling, approximately 30 to 40 metres before the barrier. It is the point at which visual adjustments of the steps should be made to eliminate stuttering or to stretch in the final few strides to the barrier.

Water Barrier

As with regular barriers, preparation can begin as early as a few steps following landing after the last 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 before take-off 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 the 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 the normal running form is resumed. It may be more difficult to resume a 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 barrier clearance itself. After all, the preparation for barrier clearance 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, to maintain their pace and rhythm over the hurdles. Minor adjustments made farther away from the hurdle will be much more beneficial regarding overall energy expenditure during the race. Corrections 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 to approach the hurdle. A quick step is a minor stride shortening 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 take-off.

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 with the distance from the hurdle, the preparation for barrier clearance will begin to correct itself. Not much biomechanical can be done during this portion of the steeplechase technique. It may merely 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 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. Thus, the legs will be viewed as being responsive to the arms. At take-off, the lead arm should be thrust forward and maintain the near 90-degree angle as expected in running form. The arm should be rotated inward, so the lead arm is now parallel to the ground and at shoulder height. Bringing the arm through quickly like this will require the legs to do the same. As they come through quickly, they will need to shorten their lever, which is 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 and 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 to clear the barrier when both energy and time are 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 analysed later.) The arm's movement to help facilitate the leg lowering is a simultaneous backwards 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 movement.

Trail arm/Trail leg

If the lead arm and lead leg follow their movement pattern, then the trailing arm should merely extend at the elbow while remaining close to the body. The minor extension will be caused by the slightly higher extension of the trail leg 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 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 (external hip rotation), they 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 take-off 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 the 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 backwards to accommodate the leg not reaching the ground quickly enough. TThe knee should never come above the hip, nor should the foot go outside the knee. These are two of the biggest culprits in a slow trail leg. Again, maintaining the trailing arm close 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 contact 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 moves 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 the 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 the 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 in the form. This is because of the increased distance the centre of mass must fall. 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 a slight pause.

After the pause, the leg can be brought forward in a regular running pattern. As the first leg out of the water, this leg will still require a bit of extra strength because the centre of mass will need to be raised slightly out of the water pit. However, the usual running pattern should still be maintained, as the focus is to run and not get out of the pit. After the body pushes off, the lead arm should be maintained in a regular 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 take-off 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 trailing arm should stay close to the body to minimize rotary movements
  2. extension at the elbow will correspond with an 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 close 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 trailing arm should continue to move in a normal running pattern. It is because the uncoiling will occur as soon as the body passes over the barrier, and the regular running pattern is 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, and the rest of the body, should pause momentarily, as mentioned previously.

General points to note on technique

The importance of being able to use either leg is obvious. The ability to lead with either leg means that the stride must only be adjusted by three feet at the most or half a typical running stride. Only being able to lead with one leg means the stride can be off as much as six feet.

Taking off too far away from the hurdle causes an extra loading upon take-off 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 their toes, which is more conducive to maintaining rhythm and pace.

Taking off farther away from the hurdle within apparent limits is better, 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 maintain pace and rhythm. 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 close 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. 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 are available 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: [Accessed