There are many good reasons to include running drills in your programme and here are just a few:
- They encourage an efficient running technique
- They dynamically stretch the muscles used for running
- They challenge and improve your co-ordination
When practising running drills it is important to perform them correctly and so it is preferable to practise them under the guidance of a coach or running leader who can observe your movements and give you feedback on how you are doing. If this isn’t possible you could ask a training partner or friend to watch or maybe film you so that you can see for yourself whether or not you are performing them correctly. Beware – practice does not make perfect; practice makes permanent, so, perfect practice is important!
Like any kind of running training you should start small and progress gently. Running drills require skill and you don’t learn skill over night. You should be prepared to practise the same drill over several sessions or even several weeks until you get it right and then you can start to challenge yourself by making the drill more complicated, speeding it up (if it requires co-ordination) or slowing it down (if it requires balance). When you’ve perfected a couple of drills you could then start to add more until you have built a repertoire that you are happy with.
So, where shall you start? You could build your repertoire of drills by breaking the running action down into four phases- drive, flight, support and recover and then work on drills that practise each of these actions. For simplification we can refer to these positions as A, B, C and D. In all of your running drills you should ensure you maintain a tall posture: high hips, chest up, head up, looking towards the horizon. Remember that your head is heavy. If you look down you will rotate too far forwards. Arms should drive back and not come across the body.
Drive phase – ‘A’ position
When you are in the drive phase you have the leg that is in contact with the ground in triple extension: hip, knee and ankle all extended upwards. The other leg will have all of those joints positioned at 90 degrees: hip, knee and ankle.
Ideas for drills that practise this action:
- Walking ‘A’ drills. Mark out a 20 – 30 metre lane. Begin in the ‘A’ postion, try to hold it for 2 – 3 seconds (this will help improve your balance), walk forwards and balance in that position on the other leg, continue for 20 – 30 metres. Body check – do you have a 90 degree angle at the ankle, knee and hip? Make sure your toes are pointed up towards your shin.
- ‘A’ skips . Skip along the same distance. Body check – as for the walking drills – 90 degrees at hip, knee and ankle, toes pointed up towards your shins, chest up, head up, look towards the horizon.
- Fast feet. You can break this drill into two parts: mark out 10 metres and a further 50 metres. Start in the ‘A’ position and then begin running with very fast feet but hardly moving forwards for 10 metres. You should be working hard, taking very fast but very small steps. When you reach the 10 metre mark you should transition into a fast run with longer strides.
Flight phase – ‘B’ position
This is when both legs are off the ground and so you are in flight. The toes on the foot that is about to come into contact with the ground should be pointing towards the shin, ready to land with an ‘active’ foot.
Ideas for drills to practice this action:
- Walking toe taps. Mark out a 20 metre lane. Walk along the lane moving from one foot to the other, landing on your forefoot when contacting the ground and pointing your toes up towards your shin whilst the leg is in flight.
- Running toe taps. Use the same 20 metre lane and bounce from one foot to the other. The landing and flight should be as it is above: landing on the forefoot and bringing the toes up towards the shins whilst the leg is in flight.
- Running toe taps into strides. Keep the 20 metre marker and then mark another 60 metres and 100 metres. Perform running toe taps to the 20 metre mark and then, keeping the action the same with fairly straight legs, increase the stride length to the 60 metre mark. When you get to 60 metres transition into your normal striding action with high knees.
Landing phase – ‘C’ position
Your foot should make contact with the ground underneath your centre of mass and preferably with a flat foot.
Ideas for drills to practise this action:
- Stepping over the ankle. Mark out a 20 metre lane. Walk along the lane and with the right foot performing a cyclic action by stepping over the height of the ankle of the left foot. Turn around and do the same with the left foot stepping over the height of the right foot. The foot should land underneath your hips and centre of mass and it should land flat on the ground. Body check – are you using your arms? Your right arm will drive backwards as your right foot steps over; your left arm will drive backwards as your left foot steps over.
- Stepping over the calf. On the same 20 metre lane perform the same exercise but step higher over the calf of the opposite leg.
- Stepping over the knee. In this drill the foot steps higher still as it cycles over the knee. As this is more dynamic you can run as you perform this drill and step over the opposite knee with every step rather than working on one leg at a time.
Recovery phase – ‘D’ position
When the leg has driven down and back to move the body up and forwards it recovers underneath your centre of mass (or underneath the backside!).
The drills you can practise for this action are similar to those that you practise for the drive phase except that the angles on the non- supporting leg are less than 90 degrees. You should squeeze your heel up and under your backside, whereas in the drive phase it is out in front and at 90 degrees. During this part of the running action your body’s levers need to be short: the shorter the levers, the faster the limbs can move and so the faster you can pull that leg through and into flight:
- Fast feet with heel squeeze. Mark a 10 metre lane. Run with very fast feet but hardly moving forwards for 10 metres and as you do bring your heel up and under your backside. You should be working hard, taking very fast but very small steps.
- Fast run with heel squeeze every third step. This is the same as the drill above but will challenge your co-ordination as you run with feet low to the ground for two steps and bring the heel high and underneath the body on the third step so that you alternate the right and left leg for each high step.
- Heel squeeze and extend out. Run this drill as above and extend the leg out and in front of the body before landing after each heel squeeze.
- Transition into striding. All of the drills above can be performed with a transition into normal striding. The second example lends itself particularly well as you can speed it up along 40 metres or so until it gets so fast that every step has to bring the heel up high rather than every third step.