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By Susie Fagerholm

Doctor of Physical Therapy

Thu May 14, 2020

Running form and technique is important to running efficient, however, to be able to achieve a more normalized running gait it is important to practice specific running drills before your run.  This article will explain key running drills that will help you run more efficiently.

Slowed Runner Pose

The first drill to begin with is the Slowed Runner Pose.  This drill helps with normalizing the key phases of running gait which include toe off, swing, initial foot strike, and a slight lean forward, along with a proper width of stance (about 1-2 inches).  To begin, stand in front of a long mirror that allows you to see yourself.  Place a 3-foot-long strip of 1-inch width tape between your feet to create a midline. Place one foot behind you with your forefoot pressed into the floor.  The stabilizing leg is under your hip with the knee slightly bent.  Tighten at the lower abdominals and glutes.  Flick your back foot up towards your glutes and then place your foot under your center.  Slide the same foot back behind you to repeat.

Run-in-Place Drill

The next drill to work on is the Run in Place Drill.  This drill helps with proper width of stance, neutral foot placement for landing and toeing off, and your cadence.  For this drill you need a long mirror to watch yourself and a 3-foot-long strip of 1-inch width tape between your feet to create a midline.  Begin with tightening at lower abdominals and glutes; work on a slight lean forward and use natural running arms.  When running in place work on landing midfoot to heel for best efficiency.  Also, work on flicking your foot up towards your glutes and picking your feet up as fast as you can to work on an increased cadence.  You can calculate your cadence using a watch or an app on a smart device; then work towards 165-180 steps per minute.  If you already know your cadence add 5 steps faster per minute at first and slowly increase as desired to meet 180 steps per minute.  

Slowed Runner Pose

Lean Forward Drill

After working on the Run in Place Drill it is recommended to practice the Lean Forward Drill.  Running is a controlled fall forward therefore, a slight lean of about 7-10% will help with forward momentum.  A slight lean forward also helps with core control. A proper forward lean should occur at the ankles and not the hips to decrease strain at the hip flexors.  Begin standing in front of a wall; place feet 2-3 inches apart with maintaining heels on the floor; tighten at lower abdominals and glutes.  Next, lean into the wall by hinging at the ankles. You should feel that you are performing a plank onto the wall.  Next, take your hands off the wall and hold the position as long as you can, then place hands back on the wall.  The next phase is to practice without the wall and fall forward into a run. It is helpful to stand next to a mirror to see if you are properly leaning at your ankles and maintaining a neutral torso. 

runner in a pose
Lean Forward Drill

X Marks the Spot Drill

Working on proper alignment and stability of your hips, knees, and ankles when on one leg is key for efficiency when running.  The “X” Marks the Spot Drill helps practice controlling the impact when landing all onto one leg.  When running, we place about 3 times our body weight onto our joints. That means it is critical to have good alignment and stability when we place each leg onto the ground.  Begin with a long mirror and tape an “X” on to the floor for a focus point and for working on lower leg coordination.  Stand on one leg with tightening at your lower abdominals and glutes.  Work on a slight lean forward and swing the arm opposite your standing leg forward.  Jump in place and work on a controlled and quiet landing by landing midfoot to heel.  Hold the landing for 3 seconds and repeat.  The slowed jumping helps with balance, stability, and when watching yourself in the mirror you can self-correct for proper alignment.  Later you can work on faster jumps to activate the fast twitch muscles after you have the coordination and stability in place.  

Agility Drills

Lastly, Agility Drills are important for working on coordination, core control, and foot placement.  You can use an agility ladder or tape lines on your floor in the shape of a ladder (a total of twelve 12’x12’ squares) and practice a wide base of support to activate the side hip muscles that are used when we are landing on one leg while running.  Work on landing forefoot to midfoot for a controlled landing. Additionally, maintain a slight lean forward, along with tightening at your lower abdominals and glutes.  Practicing different patterns allows for good foot control, stability, and body awareness.  Incorporate 2 and 1 footed jumping to make the drill more difficult. Begin at a slow cadence and work on a faster pace as you are more confident with the patterns.  Agility Drills are perfect to help warm up the small intrinsic muscles of your foot and ankle along with activating your core and hips.  

runner in a pose
X Marks the Spot Drill

These key running drills are best utilized before a run to help with proper muscle activation, stability, and coordination while running.

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