What are the underlying kinetics and kinematics that make Dayron Robles better? The most obvious aspect is to look at his technique but the key concept is the relationship of his technique to the demands of the event. His seven step approach is one glaring difference so I will focus on his other 9 hurdles and what he does differently and the same with elite hurdlers. Here are some questions that I asked myself before exploring what makes Robles the fastest in the world.
What factors that we see in his technique that are style and not necessary for others to imitate?
What improvements were done over the last few years and why? Obviously he has changed his mechanics slightly but why that order? What can we learn of the development strategies employed?
What can all of us do better in order to keep up with the evolution of modern sprint hurdles?
First let’s get into the fact that his coach is constantly producing great hurdlers and the hurdles is something that requires great coaching. No matter how talented a hurdler is, the event is artificial and requires a lot of both the coach and athlete. I would argue that Dayron represents the most efficient hurdler ever as he shuffles without loosing speed off the hurdle and is reaching higher average velocity between hurdles as well as not demanding more energy to keep those velocities up. This may seem like a simple summary but the primary elements are that he can shuffle his steps in all contacts starting from his take off point through flight mechanics.
(1) Lumberjack stated the following observation:
Robles is very interesting to me. His trail leg comes very high and down quickly then steps 2 and 3 look slow like he’s bounding with a very low knee lift the two steps preceding the hurdle. It doesn’t look to me quite like the choppy shuffles like Liu and others. I think he takes off further than most elites too. The Paris Golden League was the first time I saw him in person and I thought wow he’s just jogging and killing everyone, then the time came up at 12.88 and I was stunned.
Lumberjack does hit the nail on the head with this one. The choppy steps that Liu appear faster but they are very similar in touchdowns as Robles simply gets out and does what Liu does. Xiang will not walk down Robles so he is starting from behind from hurdle one on. His shuffle technique allows him to come down close to the hurdle as his take off is consistently out. That race he was next to Ladji Doucouré, another talent that is a prodigy himself that takes care of the breaking and propulsive phases of the take off and landing with great execution. Ladji has great 100m speed (his 4 x 100m gold medal is evidence he can hold his own) and uses it as he is able to shuffle properly and not open up too much like some sprint hurdlers. The reason I bring up Ladji when we are talking about Robles is that they take care of the most time sensitive factors first and not allow style to hamper efficient actions. Robles is a cleaner hurdler, but the similarities are enough to see the evolution of the event by the young talents. Again the primary need is to get the whole center of mass to travel as fast as possible.
(2) His arms are not examples of what to follow as what he does differently doesn’t help Robles that much or at all it’s just that what he does to balance out his trail and lead leg. His arm mechanics do get to the right points (back and forth) it’s just that his width of his forearm can be appearing like a lateral motion, but they don’t slow down his timing. Focus on what the shoulder action is doing back and forth since the humerus connects to the Latissimus dorsi, part of the spinal engine of the pelvis. The motion is back and forth overall but does have some winging that doesn’t interfere with his speed.
(3) The trail leg is not as delayed as others and appears to be incomplete when in take off to the naked eye. The real issue is that his trail leg has some incredible abilities to land with pretension that allows for very little reduction of speed and shuffles so well into the run it’s seamless.
(4) I have no information about the eccentric abilities and kinetics of the lead leg on touchdown and his trail leg but the change in velocities are minimal both above and below his average horizontal speed in regards to his step speed between the hurdles. Minimal changes in speed are important as fatigue of the race is a factor and the event is twice as long as the alactic distance (theoretical time of 6.5 seconds) proposed by most pioneering coaches. This allows athletes to use more elastic contribution to the race and less concentric (read depleting) requirements.
(5) The lead leg is not a product of the lead leg action but the flight distance as well as the the take off leg (trail leg) changing his pelvic position. This goes back to the spinal engine again as I believe the pelvic motion is giving him the diagonal chop. Robles reported height is not on the IAAF biography but we all know he is a tall athlete. His snap down is not as fast as others but doesn’t need to because of his perfect flight path that just barely skims down. Like the HJ when an arch is not necessary but often used, the snap down action may not be necessary if the flight path is perfect and the athlete is tall. Hurdlers that are shorter can’t take advantage of this I believe. Again we don’t have good information on the kinetic differences on various styles of hurdles that I know of.
(6) Robles looks calm but signs of concentration are on his face so he is working hard (mentally) on not working hard (physically). He doesn’t rush anything and the feedback both on the ground and in the air is amazing and I would bet his proprioception is off the charts to feel the sensations that he is adjusting at extreme speeds.
In summary it seems that the development of Robles can be contributed to both his shuffling and trail leg changes over the last few years. I would not focus on shuffling with HS kids too much but I would give them a full pallet of running styles and distances to have in order to do well short term and long term. How I look at the information is we will focus on jamming the hurdles so the athlete can focus on keeping the steps tight and then focusing on the lead arm in order not to float too much. Its hard to do all of this at once but keeping the hurdles 80cm closer or more should do the trick. Obviously talent is key but we all can learn to dance a little Rumba and Mambo. I hope that others will contribute their observations and conjectures.