For many years during my early days of running and all through college, form drills were a routine part of practice. They were often the fun part, as we got to skip, jump, hop and move in ways that seemed more like play than work.
Little did I realize how much these simple drills did to help me become a better runner. I know better now. Form drills can be used as both a dynamic warm up before a run or race as well as to work on your running form. They help to improve your neuromuscular connection, which in turn helps improve your form, especially when you become tired during a run or race.
Overall these drills help to work on your coordination, foot speed and agility, running economy, cadence (or strides per minute), balance, strength and power. That’s a lot of benefit for just a few simple drills. They may feel a bit awkward at first, but give it some practice and you’ll begin to notice an improvement in your ability to perform them well and over time begin to see that translate into better running form.
Here are seven drills that will help you accomplish all of the above (try to use your arms like you would while running, with a natural arm swing):
High Knees – think quick turnover;
A-Skip – traditional high knee movement, drive knees high;
B-Skip – high knee with an extended kick;
Butt-kicks 1 – think heel to butt while driving the knee up;
Butt-kicks 2 – traditional “butt-kicker” with lots of hamstring activation, helps loosen up hip flexors;
Carioca 1 & 2 – can also perform with high hip drive to activate and warm up hip muscles;
Straight-leg bounds – make sure to land on the ball of your foot and use your arms to counterbalance.
For a great video reference for each drill, check out this video on Strength Running’s YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6H8WLfyavWk.
How many running drills should I do & how often?
Most runners don’t have the time to complete all of the drills every time they run; instead, choose 3-4 drills and don’t forget to rotate through them and choose new ones the next time.
Most drills should be completed for about 30 meters; take a short break or walk back to where you started before beginning the next drill; and perform 2-3 sets of each one before beginning the next drill.
Begin by incorporating these drills on at least one run a week. If you incorporate a faster pace workout day doing a tempo or interval style workout, this would be an ideal day to add them in before your workout as a great warm up.
If you do strength training on an off day, these could be used as a dynamic warm up prior to lifting. Then slowly add them to two days a week or more. They can safely be done each day if time allows.
How are these drills helpful to me specifically?
If you can’t fit them all in and are wondering which drills may be best for you, particularly if you have any issues currently or have had problems in the past, there are certain drills that can help keep those issues in the past.
If you struggle with IT band syndrome, A-skip, carioca and straight-leg bounds are recommended because they increase cadence, improve hip flexibility and activate the glutes – all of which help treat and prevent ITBS.
For those who struggle with tight or painful hip flexors, the high knees, A and B skips, and butt kick 1 variation will help to warm up and loosen those areas. If you have piriformis pain or tightness, the second carioca variation is helpful in loosening up the hip musculature.
In case you aren’t convinced yet about the benefits of running form drills, here are details about why each drill is helpful in improving your running; Butt-kicks (second variation in the video) – improves quadricep and hip flexor flexibility and reinforces high cadence; High Knees – reinforces midfoot landing, high cadence and hamstring flexibility; A-Skip – reinforces midfoot landing, high cadence and improves coordination; B-Skip – improves coordination and hamstring flexibility; Butt-kicks (first variation) – increases hip flexor strength and reinforces midfoot landing; Carioca – improves coordination and increases hip flexibility; and Straight-leg bounds – activates glutes and improves coordination.
Running Form Drills