Back to Basics: Form Drills

In an effort to rekindle some old habits and develop some new ones, I’m learning to do running form drills. I didn’t begin running until after college, so I’ve never been part of a team where the coach taught them and used them regularly. One of my goals is to begin every run (for now) with drills. When I was in physical therapy, the therapist had me do several form drills. When I’ve done workouts with my coach, he’s done a few drills with me. I had a vague idea where to begin, but I did a little research and came up with three different sources with some good information.

Last Wednesday, I had a six mile recovery run on the schedule. I was headed to a nearby trail and thought, perfect day to start adding in some form drills! I had a few ideas on where to start based on what I did in PT, and what I’ve seen the cross country kids at the school I teach for do.

Form Drills, Day 1
Run Type/Distance – Recovery Run, 6 Miles
Source: Essential Form Drills for Speed and Efficiency 

I did a five minute walk to warm up to find a somewhat secluded spot to try a few drills and not look like a total weirdo stay out of the way others using the trail. For each drill, I started at the closer end of the barn and would stop just past the barn, right before the tree that has a sign on it (on the left):

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Since this was my first try at this whole thing, I chose a few of the familiar drills from the article that seemed easy to understand and got started:

  1. Butt Kicks – to engage the hamstrings and accentuate the recovery portion of the running gait and improve leg turnover cadence.
  2. High Knees – accentuates knee lift and glutes and hamstring power, which are keys to running fast and efficiently, as well as powerful and efficient leg drive.
  3. Skips –  increase stride length and knee lift, and improve single-leg balance.
  4. Hamstring Extensions – increases mobility of the hamstring and gluteal muscle groups and enhances forward hip extension necessary for running fast with efficient form.
  5. Straight Leg Shuffle – helps stimulate neuromuscular timing for quick- cadence running, while also reinforcing a flat or midfoot footstrike. Combined, those stride components can greatly shorten ground contact time and eliminate the counterproductive braking associated with a heel-striking gait.

Thoughts: It only took me about five minutes to do these and I really liked most of them. On my run, I noticed that I seemed to be more conscious of my form but don’t know if that was because my muscles had some “instruction” or because it was in my head. Either way, it was good that I noticed something and paid closer attention to what I was doing.

Form Drills, Day 2
Run Type/Distance – Tempo Run, 8 Miles
Source: 5 Drills to Make You a Better Runner
I stumbled across some drills that our buddy Meb swears by, so of course I had to give them a try. I mean, he is kind of amazing. They were a little more extensive and involved. At this point, I wasn’t about to trek all over the park to find a good spot. I set up shop right next to the parking lot. It was flat, no one was in my way. Perfect.

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  1. Skipping Exercises – there were three of them: skips, extended leg skips, and backward skips. I did the first two in PT and the backwards skips were harder than I thought they would be. I see a lot of value in skipping drills. I ran some hills after and I feel like I am much more conscious of lifting my knees, and my quads were actually pretty sore.
  2. Carioca and Quick Feet – there were also three exercises here: carioca, quick feet, and quick arms. Once again, these seemed beneficial and I’m sold on the rationale: to decrease your contact time with the ground.
  3. Jump, Hop, Hop – Designed to keep your muscles working in sync, these were not my favorite. I can’t really say whether or not they have value since the single leg hopping aggravated my Achilles. Maybe I was doing them wrong. It’s not worth aggravating the injury, so I’ll revisit these again when I’m pain free.
  4. Three Lunge Variations – I do lunges in my strength training, so I don’t know that I really saw an added pre-run benefit from this.
  5. Three Lateral Squats – Like the lunges, I also do squats when I strength train.

Thoughts: These took about 10 minutes to complete. I liked the skips, carioca and quick feet. They were common drills from the previous day, and I could see myself using them often. As for the hopping, well, not a good idea right now. The lunges and squats make a lot of sense since they strengthen large muscle groups, but I’ll keep those exercises to my strength training days.

Form Drills, Day 3
Run Type/Distance – Recovery Run, 4 Miles
Source: Advanced Marathoning
I wrapped up my research with my tried and true book, Advanced Marathoning, by Pete Pfitzinger. There are just four form drills listed there and they were very similar to what I did up to this point. I was running in Lehigh Parkway that afternoon, so I parked my car and used the end of the little walkway below and continued just past the little Trout Nursery sign:

image

  1. Skip March Walk – Basically a slowed down version of a regular skipping drill . It’s a little awkward but it emphasizes lifting the leg.
  2. Skip March Run – Same old skipping drill that I’m getting used to.
  3. Kickout – Same as Meb’s extended leg skips, its a skipping drill with the kickout at the end.
  4. Fast Feet – Also known as quick feet, this emphasizes taking as many short, quick steps as possible.

Thoughts: Much like the drills on the first day, these were easy to complete before a run. They took less than five minutes and I felt more conscious of my form when I ran.

Conclusion
I liked a little of each routine so I put together a routine of my own, drawing from all three sources. I do two sets of each and use an area that is 50-60 feet long, and it takes a little more than five minutes. I added a link on each drill to a YouTube video in case you’re interested and want to give them a try.

  1. Butt Kicks
  2. Skip March Walk (Part 1 of the video is the walk)
  3. Skip March Run (Part 2 of the video is the skip)
  4. Extended Leg Skips (Kickout Drill) – (The “B” skips in the video)
  5. Backward Skips
  6. Hamstring Extensions
  7. Straight Leg Shuffle
  8. Carioca
  9. Quick Feet

I’ll let you know after Grandma’s Marathon if any of these little tweaks worked. 🙂

Do you do running drills? If so, which ones?

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8 Replies to “Back to Basics: Form Drills”

  1. I didn’t start running till after college either so I’ve never had any instruction on form drills. You’ve certainly done your research on them though and I can’t wait to see what difference they make for Grandma’s. Also, yay for running Grandma’s!!!

  2. Drills are great. I think that’s one of the reasons I have a decent enough running form, drills from high school and jr high. I still do some of them after I cool down, and look like a dork doing them. lol
    Good job on completing all of those.!!

    1. I was out running on the trail near the high school where I teach today and one of my coworkers was biking it and she was laughing at me because I was doing drills! Haha!

  3. I’ve never really done drills before, but I just finished reading Meb for Mortals and got some great ideas from him…and now from you too! Thank you so much for sharing all of these! Once I’m really ready to get back into training like normal (still taking it easy because of my back) I will definitely be giving these a try!

    1. I want to read that book!! I will have to add it to my summer reading list. I think the drills are really helping. I feel more conscious than ever of my form. Let me know if you try incorporating them into your routine!

    1. Meb actually said he does them 6x/week, and that he recommends as often as possible! In my research I read anywhere from 2-3 times per week to every single run. Since I’m really trying to kick this Achilles thing, I’ve been doing my little routine before every single run. In my head, I notice a difference! I guess I’ll see on 6/20 if it makes a difference!! Let me know if you try them!

  4. Absolutely amazing and informative write up Allison!!! High knees, butt kicks, and fast feet are regular drills for me 🙂

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