After more than a decade of marathon racing, I had come to consider myself a pretty good runner. Then a respected track coach took a good look at my running form, and he told me about all of the things I was doing wrong.
Apparently my foot strike was off, I had too much lateral movement, and my arm swing was incorrect. By the time he was through with me, I began to think it was a miracle that I could even walk.
But there was hope for me yet. By breaking down the running motion into distinct movements, and practicing drills to improve those movements, my form and my speed improved. You too can achieve the same results.
Here are five drills that will improve anyone's form. Each of them strengthens a particular muscle group and improves the movement of the body through the running motion.
Before you start your next training run, pick a straight stretch of road about 50 meters long, or better still, go to a local track and do these after you've had a complete warm-up and stretch.
Plan to do each of these drills two to four times, taking only a short rest of 30 seconds between repeats of each drill.
1. Butt kicks
Just as the name implies, this drill involves trying to kick your own butt with each step. Taking short steps, kick your heel back and up as high as you can. This drill improves heel recovery, which is the part of the running motion where your leg rises up and coils for the next forward stride. This drill also strengthens the hamstrings, a primary muscle group used in running.
2. High steps
This drill involves taking short steps and picking your knees up as high as they can go. Think of the way those Clydesdale horses on the old Budweiser commercials used to prance. This drill strengthens the calves and hip flexors, and emphasizes proper running posture and the lift-off phase of running.
3. High skips
Everyone feels silly doing this at first, but believe me, it works. Swing your arms strongly and skip as high as you can. This drill helps build explosive power in your running stride, and it will help you climb hills and finish strong in your next race.
4. Stiff-legged running
Run keeping your knees as straight as possible. It helps to imagine that you're a Russian folk dancer. This drill will strengthen the hip flexors, which is the area where the bottom of your abdomen meets your leg -- a muscle group that's crucial to the running motion.
Think of these as slow-motion sprints. Don't run all-out; just run easily, but with the form you would use in sprinting. This drill gives you an opportunity to see how your body is moving during hard running, and gives you a chance to correct any problem areas you might have in your form. It also prepares you body for the next phase of your workout -- your actual distance run -- by lengthening the stride.
Do all of these drills at least once a week. They'll only take a few minutes, but they work for elite runners, and they'll work for you.
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