Technique Drills for Runners
Technique drills for runners are usually performed using three activities, marching (walking), skipping and running. Each activity helps to develop important components of proper and economical running technique. There are several reasons for using the activities:
What are the specific benefits?
Marching, the most basic form of technical exercise provides an excellent starting point for beginners who will eventually rely more heavily on advanced drills such as skipping and technically sound running. Marching is performed slowly and deliberately at first but progresses in speed and cadence as balance, stability and body mechanics improve. The emphasis during marching (and in all of the drills) is on an upright body posture, coordinated movement of the arms and legs, a wide range of motion at the hips, knees and ankles and stability of movement (your body should not be "rocking" back and forth sideways or lunging forward). As you become more accomplished with the drills, marching will represent a nice warm-up for the skipping exercises.
Skipping is a more advanced motor skill than marching and requires a greater degree of co-ordination and motor control for correct performance. Compared to marching, the speed of movement across the ground is slightly faster when skipping, and the frequency of foot strike is double that of marching since each foot strikes the ground twice during a skipping stride. The ability to coordinate the cadence of the arm swing with the leg movements and the double foot strike is a skill that improves with practice. The basic form of skipping is slow and deliberate and should follow a straight line without significant deviation of the limbs or trunk to the right or left. During the drills, the arms and Legs will tend to move toward the centre line of the body slightly (as they should) but an excessive movement of the knees or hands across the midline of the body is often indicative of poor economy of movement. Over time, the speed of the skipping drills should be increased as your form improves, and your movements become more fluid and natural.
Of all the drills, technical running exercises are the most intensive and potentially most difficult to perform correctly. For one thing, the speed of movement of the arms and legs is the highest of the three forms of drills. The rhythm of movement, as measured by the cadence of foot strikes, closely resembles full stride running.
Finally, the ground-impact forces are significantly higher during running drills, compared to skipping or marching. The major difference between running drills and regular running is in the length of the stride (during drills, the stride is significantly shorter, to allow for better concentration on limb and trunk mechanics). Major benefits of technical running drills include improved intermuscular co-ordination (including the proper timing of arm and leg movements), an enhancement of dynamic balance and an upgrading of the power of the primary running muscles.
Marching "A" drill
Begin by walking slowly forward on the balls of your feet using small (12 to 18 inch) steps. Your heels should not touch the ground during this exercise. Continue by raising your right knee to hip level (with thigh parallel to the ground) on each stride. Your right foot should be "cocked" (making your ankle and foot look like a fishhook) at the top of the leg swing, and your right ankle should be directly under or slightly behind your right knee (your knee should be at a 90-degree angle or slightly less). Rise on the toes of the left foot, extend the left ankle and knee as your body passes over the left foot during the walking stride. Your trunk should be held upright (think "chest tall and slightly forward"), and your chin should be held level. Swing your arms slowly and deliberately in a mock running motion in rhythm with the marching/walking strides. Your elbows should be bent at approximately 90-110 degrees, and your hands should swing to chin level and slightly toward the midline of your body during the forward arm swing. On the backswing, your hands should move one to six inches past the "hip-pocket" position, to the rear of your body. You probably didn't realise that marching could be so complicated! Repeat this action, raising the right knee to hip level with the left leg moving through a normal walking stride into a full extension on the toes, for 20 to 40 metres. Walk back to your starting position and repeat the action, with the left knee rising and the right leg extending, for 20 to 40 metres. Continue to focus on short steps, proper posture and limb mechanics, whole-body balance and control of your marching rhythm. All of your movements should occur in a slow and controlled, not jerky manner. After performing the drill with each leg marching separately, combine the marching actions of both legs over the 20 to 40 metres distance. The marching high knee drill emphasises proper running mechanics - a driving knee lift, upright posture and a coordinated arm swing - and should be practised and mastered before progressing on to the skipping and running-technique drills.
Marching "B" Drill
Begin this high knee with extension drill in the same manner as the high knee drill walking forward slowly on the balls of your feet. Raise the right knee to hip level with each stride, and as the knee approaches hip height extend the knee by swinging the lower leg and foot forward to nearly full extension (your entire leg will end up parallel with the ground). Allow your momentum to carry your body forward, and step with the ball of the right foot one to two feet in front of the left foot. Your trunk should be held upright, and your chin should be level throughout the course of the drill. Your arms should compensate for the extended leg action by swinging in a slightly wider arc (100-plus degrees at the elbow) while maintaining rhythm with the strides of the legs. The actions of the left foot, ankle, knee and hip (extended) are similar to their activities in the high knee drill.
Repeat the high knee lift and extension action with your right leg for a distance of 20 to 40 metres. Then rest while walking back to the starting point, before performing the drill with your left leg. Finally, perform the exercise with both legs alternately over the same 20 to 40 metres distance. The marching high knee with extension drill emphasises hamstring flexibility and body control in addition to other basic aspects of proper running mechanics. It provides the basis for learning more advanced skipping and running drills.
Skipping "A" drill
The skipping high knee drill follows the same basic format for posture and limb mechanics, as does the marching form of this drill. The trunk position and arm and leg actions are identical to those of the march, but the cadence is slightly faster to accommodate the skipping action. Once again, the strides are short (about 12 to 18 inches between opposing foot contacts), and the action is performed primarily on the balls of your feet which helps you develop foot strength and balance.
Practice the skipping drill with one leg at a time before combining the movements (first lift only the right knee, then only the left knee, before alternating right and left legs) over a distance of 20 to 40 metres for each drill. The skipping high knee drill develops inter-muscular co-ordination during fast movements to a greater degree than do the marching drills, which are carried out at a slower tempo. In addition, the load placed on the musculoskeletal systems is considerably higher during skipping, due to a greater vertical shift of the centre of gravity during the exercise. This additional loading leads to increases in strength in the motor support structures of the feet and lower part of the leg, as well as the thigh, hip and trunk muscles.
Skipping "B" drill
This ''B' drill is like the "A" skipping drill, except that a swing forward of the lower part of the leg is added to the driving knee action. The emphasis during this drill should be on the "pulling down" (hip extension) of the swing leg rather than the kicking out of the lower part of the leg during knee extension. This "pawing" motion with the nearly extended leg is important for developing co-ordination and specific strength in the hamstring and gluteal muscles and should help prevent injuries in those areas (especially hamstring strains and tears).
All other aspects of proper running form (as outlined in the descriptions of the previous drills) should be observed. First, move 20 to 40 metres with the right knee driving and extending, then scoot through 20 to 40 metres with the left knee driving and extending, and finish by alternating from right leg to left leg over the same distance. Walk back to your starting point between drills to recover. This skipping "B" drill emphasises the development of an active foot strike, providing the basis for improved stride length, in addition to strengthening the hamstrings, improving co-ordination and balance and upgrading running posture.
Running "A" and "B" drills
The running "A" and ''B" drills are performed in the same fashion as the marching and skipping versions but utilise a short-stride (12 to 18 inch) running motion. These are the most advanced and difficult drills to perform correctly, and they are the most specific of the three drills to the actual neuromuscular patterns used during full-stride running. Movement rhythm, the frequency of foot strike, balance and co-ordination requirement, ground impact forces and energy expenditure are at their highest levels during these running drills. It is very important to maintain a forefoot (rather than heel) strike during these running drills in order to allow the foot and lower part of the leg to absorb the high impact forces. Upper torso and arm-swing actions should be similar to those in the previous drills.
Perform all running drills with one knee rising and the opposite leg "jogging" (low knee lift) for a distance of 10 to 20 metres. Walk back to the start and repeat the action with the other leg, before combining the actions and performing the drill with alternating legs. The distance covered (10 to 20 metres) for the running drills are shorter than for marching or skipping due to the greater intensity of effort. Over time, you may gradually increase the distance, but in the interest of maintaining proper technique and therefore positive training adaptations, it is wise to be conservative. It is far better to train over shorter distances with excellent form than it is to work over longer distances with average or poor form.
The running "A" and "B' drills develop specific intermuscular co-ordination, increase the strength of the entire foot/leg/hip/trunk complex, and enhance balance and body awareness during full-stride running. Running drills allow you to strengthen many important links in the running performance chain (posture, specific strength and power. mobility and agility) through the specific overload of the various links.
The following sample workouts are designed for runners of various ability levels. Do the following workouts two to three times per week at the end of your warm-up (before the main part of your training session begins) Please note: "1 X 20 metres each" denotes performing the drill for 20 metres with the right leg only, followed by 20 metres with the left leg only, followed by 20 metres of alternating legs. For recovery, simply walk back to the start between repetitions.
The information on this page is adapted from Reynolds (1995) with the kind permission of Electric Word plc.
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