For most athletes, the beauty of running is simplicity. We can just throw on our kit and run when we have a free moment. Even a short run can clear my head and offer a sense of clarity during a busy day. But when athletes suffer from chronic injury, running’s simplicity often causes them to neglect proper form.
Although running is not a technique-dependent sport, paying attention to form while training leads to substantial benefits, including greater resistance to injury and a more efficient stride.
Runners who regularly incorporate drills into their training are better able to recruit muscles needed for the task, leaving them less prone to injury. And when the going gets tough, they are more efficient than the runner who doesn’t work on proper form. Marathon champion Meb Keflezighi credited his 2014 Boston Marathon win to the good form drilled into him practice after practice. Thanks to his training, his stride was strong even during fatigue.
Through repeated drills, Kelflezighi ingrained proper movement patterns into his muscle memory. Over time, good form became automatic. Once you reach the point where proper movement patterns are your default setting, you’re better prepared when fatigue starts breaking down your form.
Here are a few drills to complete one to two times a week. If time permits, complete them after warming up with 10 to 20 minutes of easy running, but before completing the meat of your run.
Running in place, lift your knees to waist level while landing lightly on the balls of your feet, taking fast, powerful strides. Make sure to stay upright while using your core and pump your arms as if you were sprinting.
The high-knee drill exaggerates the running stride, firing your calves, glutes and hamstrings while promoting knee lift and encouraging rapid turnover. If done correctly, high knee drill works the loading phase of your stride, where lower leg has completely “loaded up” and the shock is absorbed. The key to performing the drill correctly is focusing on driving the foot down and letting it spring back up off the ground. Use the same arm motion during this drill you use while running.
Using short strides, almost as if you’re running in place, slightly lift your knees and try to bring your heel directly under your butt with each stride. Alternate legs rapidly, focusing on executing a quick turnover. The butt kick drill further conditions and coordinates the glutes and hamstrings for a strong running stride.
The butt kick drill should almost feel like a variation of running with high knees (rather than simply kicking backward). Pull your heels up directly beneath you, keeping the knee, heel and toe-up throughout the drill.
Skip forward, lifting your lead knee to waist height while keeping your back leg straight as you come off your toe. Alternate legs and strike the ground with your midfoot or forefoot while swinging your opposite arm in unison with your lead leg.
High skips help to get the glutes and hamstrings firing. Focus on initiating that pull from the glutes as the hamstrings then join in the motion. This will ingrain the backward pulling motion important for running propulsion into your muscle memory.
As you move sideways, cross one leg over the other in front, then behind. Hold your arms out to the side to begin. As you start to get the hang of the drill, use your arms as you would while running.
Running takes place almost exclusively in a forward plane of motion. Yet muscles that operate in the frontal plane, such as abduction and adduction, play an important role in keeping us injury-free. The Grapevine helps build strength and coordination among these stabilizing muscles.