Running drills are often used by coaches and runners as part of structured running training sessions. Visit any athletics track and you’re likely to see a coach overseeing a range of strange looking movement patterns that sometimes don’t look much like running at all. If you’ve been confused by these silly walks and funky moves you are not alone. I’ve often found myself wondering about why you’d want to subject your body to these odd-looking rituals. However, potential embarrassment and strange looks from your neighbors aside, these traditional running technique drills can and do serve a useful purpose.
It’s an area that I’ve not written much about as I wanted to fully appreciate what could be achieved by using the the classic running marching and skipping drills. In the past I’ve favored specific strength work and actual running training like hill sprints or strides as being the best place to work towards and practice elements of good running technique. But I’ve now embraced my inner silly walker – if you need any further inspiration check out double-jointed actor John Cleese at work in this famous Monty Python sketch.
Potential benefits and uses of running drills
Recently we’ve been using running drills a bit more in our coaching work with encouraging results. Drills are not prescribed in isolation but form a useful bridge between strength training, specific stimulus like strides and hill sprints and any improvements we might suggest for a client to practice. The drills provide a neat way to focus on specific elements that otherwise might be hard to isolate during running.
Introduction to running drills video
This introductory video explains our thinking on running drills and includes demonstrations of each drill as we discuss why and how you can perform drills in your training.
Limitations of running drills – keeping it in perspective
It’s important to realize that just focusing on just one training element i.e. doing drills won’t be a magic Christmas pudding that delivers perfect running form. On the contrary; working on a range of things such as strength training, footwear mix and looking at your running training is intuitively the best way to become a better athlete – no matter what you’re level of ability.
Each drill also shouldn’t be seen as being directly transferable to your normal running gait – the reason is because each drill focuses on a small component of running in relative isolation. This is a potential limitation of only relying on drills for improving your running technique. However, it makes running drills a useful learning tool or teaching method, as it pulls out some of the more troublesome aspects of running technique making them easier to focus on and understand.
Drills in practice: A-March
A good example of this is around the A-March or high knees drill which we believe is a great way of focusing on getting the feel for extending the hips fully during running. The high knees aspect of the drill helps pull you up to attention and really lengthens your spine while you engage the glutes to stay stable and supported.
It’s also a great way to simulate the knee drive combined with a complete hip extension in faster running referred to by Dr Mark Cuccuzella in his principles of natural running video. Mark is a barefoot running advocate that has excellent knowledge of running technique. Watch this video with an eye on technique rather than thinking you need to run barefoot.
Anyone can do the walking drills
The walking or marching drills in particular can be done by almost anyone and are the best place to start. Just like strength training, master the technique first and then add weight, or in the case of running drills, faster and more dynamic movements. Even if you don’t do running drills to work on technique they do provide another interesting way to warm-up and put your muscles through a dynamic stretch before running.
My experience with running drills
My coaching partner Mark has been hassling me to do a few drills to improve my not so brilliant coordination; so I’ve been patiently doing the complete set a couple of times per week for two months. I have to say I’m getting better each time (with the exception of B-Skip which is really hard to master) and enjoying completing them as a different way to warm-up. While there hasn’t been any miraculous strides forwards in my running ability I have felt that the drills have helped me with two aspects that I’ve been working on in training.
The first is completing the hip extension as discussed above – the A-March and A-Skip drills have really helped me isolate the feeling of getting that last little bit of extension that I’ve been missing. The second area was a bit of a surprise; an improvement around foot-function during running. The drills have given me a better feel for loading the foot in concert with activating my glutes and hamstrings. The improvement here is about better coordinating these elements.
So a closing word about drills, definitely useful, but should not be seen as something to be used in isolation. In some ways I think these running drills could be considered a glue that helps piece together your other efforts to improve running technique. For me getting a benefit out of using the running drills was a good reminder that you need to constantly mix things up in training to continue learning and keep the body stimulated.
Words, video and images by Brian Martin
For more information check out my Running Form Drills guide.