5 Simple Drills to Improve your Running Form and Performance

What’s up everyone? This is Scott Harms with Performance Therapies.

I’m a physical therapist and strength and conditioning coach. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed enough to work with many runners over the years of all skill levels – whether it be high school runners, college-level runners, or even recreational runners. Seeing different levels – the high-level runner and the low-level runner – has given me a great appreciation for what really makes a good running stride and what makes up a good runner.

Check out my YouTube video for some simple drills that will improve your running form and performance, or read the video transcription below. The video was originally created for a local group of student-athletes, but the information pertains to anyone that wants to improve their running form.

One thing that I frequently work with runners on and want to share with you is just the concept of “Owning the Start.” and “Owning the Finish.

What does “Owning the Start” mean? 

Owning the start can take a lot of meanings – for one, in your upcoming season we want to be ready and own the start of our season.

If we’re going to own the start of our season, we have to be prepared both mentally and physically.

You have to make sure you’re getting to work now to prepare your body so that you’re ready to run and start training at a high level – even before a running coach gets a hold of you. Don’t wait to get to work. Start building your strength. Start building your endurance.

Also, own the start to every race. That means to prepare yourself mentally, so you’re focused and you’re sharp and you’re ready to hit the ground running as soon as that gun goes off.

Own yourself physically. Make sure your mobility is ready. Make sure you’ve done a few drills to fine-tune your form.

What does “Owning the Finish” mean?

First of all, you can’t own the finish if you didn’t own the start so make sure you own that start.

Secondly, we’re going to talk a little bit later about owning the finished position in your running form because that’s going to be what propels you forward in your gait cycle. Your goal is to be better at the end of the year than at the beginning of the year so make sure you work hard all year so whether your goal is to win that state title, to make the state meet, or maybe just to be a better athlete, at the end of the season make sure you’re working hard throughout the year so you can own and finish strong.

Most people know what it means to “finish strong”. Just make sure you have a little left in the tank and give it all you have, so you have nothing left after you own the finish.

Lastly, we’re going to talk about owning the start and owning the finish in your running form.

What do I mean by owning the start? Our gait cycle starts when we hit the ground, so we need to be efficient in the muscles that absorb that load. When we hit the ground, our body compresses into the ground and the ground hits us back. We need to be able to transfer that energy into a forward movement.

When I hit the ground with a foot strike, I have to be really solid in the muscles that absorb that energy and then transfer that energy forward.

What drills can I do to improve my running form?

I’m going to give you a couple of drills here to work on owning the start of your running form – owning that impact position.

The muscle groups that we really focus on for owning that impact position are going to be our hip stabilizers, our quads, and our core.

Most important are hip stabilizers and the quads.

When we falter, it can be due to the system buckling when we hit the ground. A lot of times it’s that knee-buckling inward and the arch caving in our foot, or sometimes it’s the core buckling and the pelvis coming forward or getting in front of us.

If my core buckles as I come down, my hips come forward and my body’s moving back – which doesn’t make a very efficient stride forward.

We need to make sure we’re solid in our hips and our core, and then lastly strong in our quad.

I’m going to give you a couple of drills that you can work on first to be solid in the hip and the core and then second to develop that quad.

Drill #1) Banded Single-leg Balance with a Reach

To start, we’re going to take a mini band and put it around both knees. I usually like to put it somewhere near the knee, either just above or just below the knee. That band is going to try to pull the knee inward and we’re working to not let that cave-in or not let that lower half collapse.

We’re going to get in a stance position (our impact position) – weight through our midfoot, body over top of that foot, and then we’re going to try to stabilize everything.

The goal is not to let the knee or the hip cave. If that knee and hip cave we’re not as strong and efficient as we need to be. We’re just going to hold this balance position in our impact position and work on trying to reach the other leg out to the side.

As I reach that other leg out to the side, the band will try to pull my knee inward so I’m working pretty hard through my glutes to stabilize.

My core has to be engaged so that my body doesn’t start to lean one way or another, so ideally my shoulders stay level the whole time.

I don’t want to see this start to happen – because then I know I’m using the wrong muscles.

You could also vary the direction of the reach to make it a bit more challenging.

Drill #2) Weighted Step Back Lunge (Kettlebell)

The second drill will work on our quads.

Hopefully, you’re doing a lot of these things in the weight room already but I’m going to show you one variation. There are a lot of good things that can work on your quad strength – squats, lunges, and step-ups for example.

I like the kettlebell in front because it’s trying to pull me forward – trying to break my core– but I’m not going to let it. As we hold that kettlebell, we have two focuses. One: staying tall with our pelvis kind of tucked in underneath of us. Two: Not letting that knee cave-in.

Remember, we’re working on this weight acceptance – not letting that front leg buckle and then coming back up.

While doing this drill, really focus on accepting your body weight at impact. As I step back, I don’t want to put all of my weight on that back leg. We’re focused on the front leg.

Those drills are a couple of great exercises to work on owning the start position – owning that impact position so that you can then finish strong.

Now let’s go over how we’re going to own the finish position.

The finish in our running stride is going to have two main components as we transfer that energy back forward. One component is the hip drive or hip extension which is really powered by our glutes.

The other component of the leg drive of the forward leg coming up and through.

Drill #3) Wall Plank with a Leg Drive

The first step – find a wall.

Basically, we’re going to get in a nice forward lean at the wall so that we have some bodyweight going through our arms.

We should feel like we’re doing a plank. We should feel our core engaged and then we’re going to work on that hip extension that I talked about – really making sure my glute is working as I drive my other leg forward.

At first, we’re just going to pause and feeling a good drive. I’m trying to push my back leg into the ground as hard as I can.

The better we get a good push off the further we can get in the air on each stride, which means the less time we spend on the ground and the more efficient we’re going to be while running.

As I do that, I’m also focusing on my leg drive as one leg comes up. I want to make sure I’m driving it straight up and through and getting some good height there.

As I stride, if I get a good leg drive forward, I get further through the air and I don’t have to work as much through my lower half. If I get that good forward leg drive coupled with that push-off, we cover more ground per stride, which is going to help us be faster, whether we’re a sprinter or whether we’re a long-distance runner.

We can make it more challenging by adding a one, two, three, and hold.

Drill #4) Weighted Step-Ups

I’m going to use a kettlebell again for this drill. You could use dumbbells at your side, or you could do a goblet hold. There are all sorts of variations but we’re going to stick with the kettlebell for today.

In this demonstration, I’m going to hold the kettlebell at my side. I will make sure to keep my shoulders level, maintain that posture, and keep my core engaged.

We’re going to focus on that leg drive – trying to get that good hip extension and then get the opposite leg driving through. We’re stepping up, then controlling it back down. Driving through the box and back down.

Again, I’m really focused on my drive trying to strengthen my quads and my glute so I can push off a little bit better in my running form.

We can take that a step further by adding a little speed to it and just make it a single-leg drive.

Drill #5) Skips & Bounding

A Skips focus on that leg drive coming forward. We want to make sure we maintain a nice tall posture with a good solid core – driving that front leg up and through.

Bounding is going to develop that hip extension in that leg drive. As I bound, I’m really working on trying to develop that spring and that push-off. The better push-off we get, the faster we’re going to be able to run.

These are some great running drills to make sure you own the start to your season, own the start to each race, own the start to each stride in your running form. If you own the start, you’ll be ready to own the finish.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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