Learning how to tumble properly, safely, and in a manner where progression is desired, students need to learn many fundamental skills. There is a lot of focus on skills that are not only desired by the athlete, but also required by the sport or activity. This may include such skills as forward and back walkovers, cartwheels, aerials, and front and back handsprings. Several of these skills take a lot of time and training to achieve. In many cases, it may take years to learn how to accomplish these skills. But one skill that is overlooked and not a major focus of development is the Hurdle Step.
Although many may think this is a petty skill that should not need serious attention, it is actually a very important skill that must be trained and learned properly. The Hurdle Step precludes most tumbling skills that begin with a run or stepping motion. These will include the cartwheel, round-off, aerials, front handsprings, etc. If the hurdle is not proficient, it will affect the result of the following skills.
The hurdle step (skipping motion) is a combination of several different elements. It begins with a run or jumping motion we call a power hurdle. It also entails a hopping motion and ends in a lunging position. All of these elements should be a focus on developing correctly for the hurdle to be proficient.
In the sport of tumbling and gymnastics, it is important that the athletes learn to run correctly. It is very common to see many students not being able to run with proper technique. Body position, stride length, and arm movements are elements that affect a proper run. The most common problem athletes have is the stride length. Many take small and very short strides while running. This may cause the athlete to have more of a forward lean than necessary and could cause the athlete to “trip”. When we see track and field athletes at the highest levels of participation, their stride lengths are incredibly long. This not only produces speed for the run, but also more power. When the run has short or small steps, it will make the hopping motion in the hurdle a challenge.
Within the hurdle, there is a hopping motion where the athlete hops on one foot. In most cases, we see a very short hopping motion that may be less than foot long. The hop should be long and travel several feet, as in the stride motion of the run. A short hop will certainly create a tripping motion while the athlete initiates the following skill like the round-off or front handspring. There will be almost no control in the connecting skill. I will often break this down and have the students train on that hopping motion. In almost every case (with the exception of advanced tumblers), students can hop further from a static position than from a running motion. The most common reason for this short hop is the steps of the run prior to the hop. If the athlete has too much of a forward lean in the run, the hop will likely be short.
The finish of the hurdle step should end in a lunge position. This position will vary depending on the level of the athlete. In more advanced levels, this lunge position will have more of a forward lean and a very large stride position. This is due to higher speed and aggression of the tumbling pass. At the lower levels, the lunge should be more of an upright position. This will allow the athlete to control their arms and body positions while preparing for the next skill.
In many cases, when we see a student struggling with performing skills such as the round-off, front handsprings, or aerials, it is not the actual skill that needs to be fixed. It may be the preceding skill that needs attention. Focusing on and correcting the run and hurdle step is typically and easy fix How Do I Fix That? It just needs to be isolated so the student can change and create a better habit. It is amazing how such a simple correction can enhance the performance of a skill. Another easy fix, which is so important in most skills including the hurdle step, is the arm position. Tight and straight arms extended up above the head while performing such skills can make a huge difference. When a student has loose and floppy arm and body movements, there is little control and creates slower and weaker movements. This should be a major focus.
More time should be spent on correcting these little things. The simple elements that are often overlooked can make the biggest differences on development and improvement.
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