good running form

8 running drills to improve your running form

The regular practice of specific running drills isn’t just for pro or experienced runners. The role of running drills is to activate the relevant muscles at each phase of the running gait cycle, building strength, coordination and flexibility – of benefit to all levels of runners.

Runners who regularly incorporate drills into their training will not only reduce their risk of injury, but also improve their running speed, form and efficiency.

The importance of good running form

Muscle weakness and imbalances, and poor posture and coordination can cause problems such as:

  • Overstriding: It happens if the runner doesn’t land under his/her centre of gravity. It then reduces the body’s ability to absorb impact.
  • Excessive bouncing motion (called vertical oscillation): It increases the pounding impact of each foot strike, inducing more stress to your muscles.
  • Tensed upper body: It can cause tightness on your lower back and shoulders..
  • Uniformity of pace: It is a lack of strength to change pace.
  • Inefficient arm movement: It’s hard to know what do with your arms sometimes, but they should swing like pendulums from top-down, forward and back (not across your body), propelling your forward.

We tend to focus on the legs and neglect the upper body, but the position of your torso while running (and overall form) is affected by the position of your head and shoulders and arms.

Here are a few tips to ensure that your upper body is relaxed and you are swinging your arms correctly:

  • Head: Avoid looking down at your feet to steer clear of neck and lower back pain. Try to gaze a few meters in front of you. 
  • Shoulders: Having them low and loose will help you keep a relaxed posture. 
  • Arms: They allow you to keep your balance but they also help pushing your body forward. Just picture hiking poles in your hands and try to use them to push at every swing.

Let’s be clear, good running form isn’t about looking good when running! It’s about using the right muscles and being as economical as possible.

Time to work on your form

We’ve selected 8 drills to incorporate into your training. First let’s cover when, where and how you can perform each drill. The look at the drills in turn.

  • When: Before (as a warm up), during, or after your run (as a cool down).
  • Where: Street, track, park or your garden.
  • Repetition: Repeat each drill twice over 50m.

B-skips

  • Muscles targeted: Quads (and calves and hamstrings)
  • Drill: Drive the knee upward (keep it close to a 90 degree angle), then extend the leg and bring it back down “scratching” the ground with your forefoot. Don’t forget to use your arms as well (opposite arm to the leg working, adopt same arm motion as if you are running).

Foot games

  • Muscles targeted: Calves (and ankle flexibility)
  • Drill: Set your foot on the floor alternating between the heel and tip of your toe. Your foot should land directly under the knee. Start slow and gradually accelerate the movement.
  • Variation: You can also perform a variation of this drill (as shown in the video). Start on the same position and reproduce the same movement while moving forward, hopping on your supporting leg. 

Bounding

  • Muscles targeted: Calves (abs and glutes)
  • Drill: Watch your overall posture: engage your abs and keep your back straight. Your knees should be slightly bent. Rebound on the forefoot as quickly as possible with an emphasis on quality of ground contact. Contact should be short and powerful.

A-skips

  • Muscles targeted: Quads (calves and hamstrings)
  • Drill: Keep the same posture as when running (upright). Drive the knee up above the hips and bring it down. Don’t forget to use your arms as well.

High knee with impulsion

  • Muscles targeted: Quads, calves and hamstrings (and core)
  • Drill: Move forward pushing up on your support leg: you should reach a full extension (15 to 30cm high). Make sure you block the other leg with the knee high (90 degrees). Use your arms and make sure you keep your trunk aligned with the rest of your body.

1, 2, 3 stop

  • Muscles targeted: Quads, calves and hamstrings (and core)
  • Drill: Move forward lifting your knee up to the waist (high knees) and block your knee up after 3 reps. Start with right knee lifted: 1 (Left) – 2 (Right) – 3 (Left). If that helps, count ‘1, 2, 3’ in your head every time one foot lands on the ground.

Static high knees

  • Muscles targeted: Quads, calves and hamstrings
  • Drill: Bend over slightly and take support on a fence or something similar. Your hands should sit at shoulder height. Make sure to align your body (do not stick your bum out!). Once you’re in position, lift your knee to form a 90 degree angle. As shown on the video, start with one knee up. Follow the rhythm: 1, 2, STOP… 1, 2, 3, 4, STOP… 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, STOP.

Heel to toe roll

  • Muscles targeted: Calves, quads and hamstrings.
  • Drill:  The goal of this exercise is to break down the running gait and ‘exaggerate’ it. Same as the A-Skip drill, drive the knee up above the hips, but bring it down unrolling your foot from heel to toe. Keep your body straight and use your arms. 

Practice these running drills regularly to build strength and coordination and improve your speed, form and efficiency.