Pick your favourites and do it over and over

Appendix 5: Drills

Drill #1: Toes facing forward

ALWAYS stand with your feet hip width apart, toes facing forward. You want your feet to go forward. If your toes are facing outwards, ballerina-style, that is where your feet will go when you run. You don’t want that. Continue to check your foot placement over the coming weeks until you get it right without thinking about it.

Drill #2: Posture

Stand with your feet hip width apart, toes facing forward. Stand tall. Chin up, arms bent 90° at the elbows. Shoulders relaxed. If you are not sure that you are in the correct upright position, place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Look down and move until your hands align.

Drill #3: The lean

You must lean into the run to keep the feet under the hips while running. To practise this, stand with your feet hip width apart, toes facing forward. Lean very slightly from the ankles to the point JUST BEFORE your heels come off the ground. This lean will vary dramatically from person to person and may only be millimetres.

WARINING: Make sure you are not leaning from your waist.

Drill #4: Arm swing

Practise this in front of the mirror. Have good posture – chin up, elbows at 90 degrees. Pull arms backwards as if you are running. Pivot from the shoulder. DON’T bring the elbows past the midriff of the body. Do a total of 20 alternating pull backs, 10 on each side. Rest. Repeat two more times.

TIP: Check you are not locking the upper body and rotating it from side to side when you pull your arms back.

The harder you pull with your arms when you are running, the faster your legs will move. Try it by pulling harder and harder and checking what happens. Useful towards the end of a run when you are getting tired or want a boost to finish strong.

Drill #5: Zombie arms

Hold your arms up and out in front of the body - Zombie style - jog for 20 seconds. Repeat a few times. You'll notice immediately that it helps you to activate your core so you can maintain an upright posture. Have some rotation going on in your shoulders? If you are not sure, this drill will quickly make you aware of that.

Drill #6: Heels down

Start with good posture i.e. chin up and leaning from the ankles. Lean against a wall and bring one knee up at a time. Keep the heel down and toes up.

Drill #7: Ground contact time

Bend one knee and hold that foot by the ankle behind your body. Hop on the other foot and land on the foot that you held by the ankle. Initiate movement of the foot on the ground BEFORE the foot in the air is released. This drill is vital to teach the body to have both feet off the ground while running and to reducing ground contact time to the minimum.

Drill #8: Midfoot strike

This drills works best with bare feet. Bend both knees. Drop fairly low. Lift one foot off the ground and find your balance. You will notice that your centre of gravity will be over the midfoot behind the little toe. This is how you want to land when you run.

Drill #9: Foot roll

This video demonstrates how the foot lands when you run. It’s not possible to think about this while you are running as there is not enough time! But it is important to understand how the body stores the energy that you can recycle when you run. The longer your foot remains on the ground, the more of this energy is ‘lost’ to the surroundings.

Drill #10: Putting it all together

This drills brings together all the previous drills you’ve done. Stand with the correct posture – chin up, feet facing forward, elbows at 90°. Start with a slow jog on the spot. Now lift the knees a bit higher. Now lean from the ankles and move forward for 5 metres. Repeat this at least 3-4 time.

Warning – make sure you do not lean from the hips, but from the ankles. The body must be in a straight line.

Drill #11: Run on the spot

Run on the spot for 15 seconds – go fast and then faster. Do three sessions. This drill teaches the body to increase leg cadence.

Keep good form for this drill. You will move forward slightly because of your momentum and a slight lean from the ankles will carry you forward. Focus on your arm swing, a midfoot strike and a relaxed upper body.

Drill #12: Hop on one leg

Hop on one leg for 10 seconds, then swap sides. Try to make big, forceful hops!. Build up over time to do 20 seconds on each leg. This drill is great to show how stable you are through the hips, pelvis, lower spine and knees. Another great thing it does is teach you to push off with the foot on the ground.

Drill #13: Quick skipping

Skip and have some fun looking around and enjoying nature. Practice a bit of mindfulness and gratitude. This drill helps your body and mind to connect to increase your cadence to 180 beats per stride. Pick up one leg off the ground with the start of a stride, while the other foot skips off the ground with two small and quick hops before the legs alternate. Swing the arms quickly to maintaining the high cadence. Continue for 15 to 20 seconds of skipping. Repeat 3-4 times.

Drill #14: Stiff-leg run

I think this one is going to go well with the zombie arms drill! Run with your knees locked (as best as you can). This is going to activate your glutes and it decreases the use of the hamstrings.

Drill #15: Jump squats

This drill is used to develop explosive power. Another workout for your glutes.

Drill #16: Bounding

Run with long, leaping strides (like the first two jumps in the triple jump). You will be overstriding to do this, so you learn to retract your leading leg before impact. This is good to practice push-off power and stability on impact.

Drill #17: Count your steps

Warm up first. Then, over a period of 20 seconds, count your knee lifts (one side only). Multiply that number by three. This is your current cadence.

Drill #18: Run with a skipping rope

This drill is a good way to determine if you are using the correct form to aid you with your running. Do this drill barefoot, if possible. You’ll soon realise that you are landing on your midfoot/forefoot as landing on your heel will be too painful. A reminder as to why you need to run with a midfoot strike rather than a heel strike. Doing skipping will also teach you that running is about lifting your knee instead of pushing off on your back foot. Focus on lightly lifting the knee instead of forcefully pushing off the ground. Alter your tempo between slow, medium and fast speeds. Do a few sets 15-20 seconds each.

Drill #19: High knees

This is an oldie. This drill helps you to learn to drive your leg forward and use your thighs to strike the ground with greater force. It also teaches the body to lift the feet off the ground instead of forcefully pushing off to begin a new stride. As with ‘Run on the Spot’ drill, you will run on the spot but lift your knees to a 90-degree angle with your thighs parallel to the ground. Because of the lean, you will gradually move forward. Focus on controlled movements with soft, midfoot strikes, using your core to lower your leg down slowly instead of letting it crash to the ground. Also focus on the arm swing, albeit a bit slower than you would normally do it. By pulling with the arms, your feet will move too and you will be able to keep your balance better. Keep your upper body relaxed. Do 20 high-knee thrusts or cover 25-50 metres. Repeat 2-3 times.

Drill #20: Butt kicks

Another oldie. Flick your lower leg backward with the use of your quadriceps and hamstring muscles then dropping it back down to the ground under your centre of gravity. The movement needs to be quick and pronounced but relaxed so that you’re able to return your foot to the ground softly at the midfoot strike. Use a compact and consistent arm swing to keep your balance and maintaining a high cadence. You don’t have to literally ‘kick your butt’! Aim for 20 butt kick strides per set. Do 2-3 sets.

Use this drill to improve your form and efficiency in your stride. This drill may help increase the speed of hamstring contractions.

Drill #21: Donkey kicks

Begin with the correct running posture. Pull one leg backwards as if you’re kicking something behind you. While balancing on the midfoot area of the stationary leg, repeatedly pull the kicking leg backward, then allow it to recoil forward. This drill accentuates good hip extension and teaches your body to make foot strikes under your centre of gravity. Do 10 kicks with each leg per set. Do 2-3 sets.

Drill #22: Steep hill sprints

This one is not rocket science, run fast up some steep hills. You will not actually sprint! Keep it short – 20 seconds each. Do this when you are on a rollercoaster run.


Drill #23: Mountain climbers

Get into a press-up position. Keep your core braced and your shoulders, hips and feet in a straight line. Be careful to keep your shoulders above your wrists once you start moving the legs. Bring one knee towards your chest, then return it to the starting position. Repeat with your other leg, then continue alternating legs throughout.

Drill #24: Changing gears & Gliding

This is one of my favourite drills and a good way to tell how you are improving your pace without using much energy. The ‘Changing Gears’ part helps with developing a range of speeds, while the ‘Glide’ shows how efficient you are by coasting off your momentum. You need to do this drill often for it to have any benefit. Once a week is good. To ‘change gears’, select a straight (preferably flat) section of road or track. Start off slowly and every 20 metres or so ramp up the pace until you get to your current race pace. The idea is not to just run faster and faster. At the end of each 20 metre interval, there must be a ‘change of gears’ so you bump up the speed compared to the previous interval. Repeat this 3-4 time. DO NOT sprint! To glide, or coast, ‘let go’ and allow yourself to gradually slow down to a jog using momentum as long as you can.

When you start this drill, you may only be able to glide a few steps, but as you progress over the coming months, you can work up to 20 or more steps of gliding, and beyond.

© 2022, Lorraine Lawson

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