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Running Mechanics: Basic Drills

Training Tips

Running is a skill. Many believe that there isn't much more to it than getting out on the road and throwing one foot in front of the other. Wrong. Want to be faster? Want to be more efficient? Want to feel good running? Practice running for the skill that it is!

 

Here is a basic progression of exercises to improve your running mechanics. Ideally, this progression of exercises should be completed before every run. Whether it is a hard interval workout, or a 20 minute recovery day, practicing these drills before your run will build these mechanics as good habits. The goal here is to engrain proper running mechanics, so when you run you don't have to think about technique, because it occurs naturally!

The A's B's C's of Running:

A March

The A March focuses on initiating the running stride by emphasizing knee drive. Knee drive is important for two reasons: improving forward momentum, and increasing the range through which you can develop force to plant the foot.

Key points:

  • Drive your knee up and forward (thigh should be parallel to the ground)

  • Balance on the ball of your foot for a brief second during knee drive

  • Land on your heel and roll to your toe (practicing an active foot when running)

  • Move your arms with your legs

A Skip

The A Skip is a more dynamic progression of the A March. Instead of rolling from heel to toe, bounce on the ball of the foot, similar to skipping, focusing on driving the knee up and forward.

Key points:

  • Drive your knee up and forward (thigh should be parallel to the ground)

  • Bounce on the balls of your feet

  • Keep your toes flexed and pulled up (do not let your toes point toward the ground)

  • Move your arms with your legs

Chopsticks

The Chopstick drill is a regression of the B March and B Skip, all focusing on the next phase of the running stride: ground contact. Chopsticks reinforce the movement of pulling the foot underneath the body upon ground contact, pushing backward with your legs and feet to propel the body forward, and not just simply up and down. Also known as straight-leg run, begin with small strides and progress them to long strides.

Key points:

  • Keep your toes pulled up

  • Contact the ground with the balls of your feet, directly under your body

  • Remain up tall and slightly forward (leaning back will cause the runner to point their toes to contact the ground with the balls of their feet)

B March

The B march is a progression of the previous drill, essentially adding the knee drive of the A March with the ground contact of the Chopstick into a more running-specific motion. The goal here is improving how runners contact the ground, focusing on a dorsiflexed foot pushing down and back right underneath the body. Commonly, runners land with an outstretched foot contacting the ground in front of the body. This acts as a brake, initially decelerating the body. This requires the runner to use energy to overcome this braking force, and then push backward to move the body forward. These drills improve ground contact by reinforcing the foot landing directly under the body and pushing backwards (no braking force).

Key points:

  • Ankle is directly underneath the knee (not behind)

  • Foot is dorsiflexed (toes pointed up)

  • The ball of your foot contacts the ground directly underneath your body, pushing backward

  • Move your arms with your legs

B Skip

The B Skip is a more dynamic progression of the B March.

Key points:

  • Ankle is directly underneath the knee (not behind)

  • Foot is dorsiflexed (toes pointed up)

  • The ball of the foot contacts the ground directly under your body, pushing backward

  • Move your arms with your legs

C Run

The goal of the C Run drill is to focus on the third and final portion of the stride; the heel recovery. Runners have a common tendency to kick their heels back and up, spending too much time and energy recovering their heels for the subsequent stride. This drill helps engrain pulling the heel straight to your butt, recovering the foot by moving the knee up and forward.

Key points:

  • Heel moves in a vertical line up to your butt (do not let your heel pass behind you)

  • Knee moves up and forward as well

  • Stay tall and lean forward slightly (fight tendency to lean back)

  • Move your arms with your legs

Dribble Run

This is where we put it all together! Normally when I coach athletes through this drill and add a stride at the end, I get a "light clicks on" or an "oooohh!" reaction. We are adding the knee drive, followed by the foot pushing down and back underneath the body, followed by the heel pulling vertically up to the butt. This drill feels almost like riding a bike, as you are trying to cycle your legs through the previous drills combined (A + B + C).

Key points:

  • Drive your knee up and forward (thigh should be parallel to the ground)

  • The ball of the foot contacts the ground directly under the body, pushing backward

  • Heel moves in a vertical line up to your butt (do not let your heel pass behind you)

  • Foot is dorsiflexed (toes pointed up)

  • Move your arms with your legs

  • Stay up tall and lean forward slightly

Dribble Run (Small to Big)

This drill is excellent for teaching proper running mechanics through different speeds of running. Whether you are sprinting, jogging, marathoning, or late for the bussing, running technique is the same. With varying speeds, what changes is not the running technique itself, but the magnitude through which your legs move. This drill is a progression of the previous Dribble Run, but the goal is to move with little dribbles and progress them into big dribbles. This is where I like to add the stride, after the big dribbles, where I relax into a run for 20-30m.

Key points:

  • Drive your knee up and forward

  • The ball of the foot contacts the ground directly under the body, pushing backward

  • Heel moves in a vertical line up to your butt (do not let your heel pass behind you)

  • Foot is dorsiflexed (toes pointed up)

  • Move your arms with your legs

  • Stay up tall and lean forward slightly

Before each and every run, aim to complete each drill for a length of 15-20m. This will ensure that you build good habits when you run, and engrain proper running mechanics. This will make you a faster and more efficient runner!