Running Drills

These drills are a combination of what I learned from John Hellemans and Mark Elliott. John and Mark are coaches with the New Zealand Multisport Training Centre. Additional ideas are from an article I read by Tony Benson as well as discussions with Joe Friel.

I do the drills at two main times, as part of my warm up for a Sustained Speed session and as part of a running strength/core conditioning session. Some of these drills require a fair degree of co-ordination. Seeing as you are only doing the drills 1-2x per week, you should give your muscles plenty of time to "learn" correct technique. Some will be a little awkward at first, this is normal.

Tony's article suggests that people can include these drills in a circuit routine that features: sit-ups, push-ups, burpees, single leg quarter squats, calf raises, modified dips, back arches, astride jumps, tuck jumps, hopping, can-can kicks and prone/semi-prone sprints. I'm including this list to provide you with ideas. In NZ, we tended to use the non-drill exercises as part of a 60 min running strength session. The focus when we were warming up for an SS session was more Core Conditioning.

Here is the list of the main drills (hopefully, you will have seen them before because it can be tough to explain some of these without a live example). While the drills can be done anywhere, I really like doing them on a soft surface.

Note that the explosive drills are stressful on the body. Start slowly with a small number of reps.

We would typically do a selection of drill 4-6x for 20-80m duration. In between the drills we would jog easily or walk. As these drill as are either technique or strength oriented, we weren't concerned on average heart rates.

Sideways running - No cross over, almost like a skip.

Sideways cross overs - This time you cross over and rotate your hips/shoulders as the left leg moves in front and then behind the right leg. Think fast feet on this one. Best to start slow and then build up the speed

Backwards running - Hold normal running form and jog easily backwards. Speed can be increased over time. Can also do quick accelerations to forward running out of the backwards running. When doing accels, I tend to get very low and rise as I accelerate (like a sprinter). Benson notes another method, heel up quickly to the butt then use quad to extend leg as far back as possible. I haven't tried this method.

Hands on head running - Alternate between normal running and hands on head running. We did this on the sand and it became surprisingly difficult as we sped up. If you have any lateral movement in your normal running gait then it seems to become more pronounced.

Butt Kicks - Hamstring drill, the thigh points directly down and doesn't move, body position is slightly forward. Kick leg up to the butt. Focus is on a smooth, action. Build the speed. Forward movement doesn't matter here. I can do the drill staying still.

Front Bench Kicks - Face the bench and place you left leg on the bench. Draw the right leg quickly up towards your butt. Goal is a quick movement up and a minimization of ground contact time. Hold arms is regular running position. Start with 10 reps each leg and build gradually towards 30. Once you hit 30, drop back down to 20 and add another set.

Rear Bench Kicks - Face away from the bench, place your left leg up on the bench behind you (knee bent, toe resting on the bench), draw you right leg up towards your butt, arms are held in normal running position. You may find that you need to do a little jump with your right leg to get it off the ground. The resting leg does not contribute anything to this drill (aside from balance). Aim for a quick action with minimal ground contact time. Start with 10 reps each leg and build gradually towards 30. Once you hit 30, drop back down to 20 and add another set.

High Knee A - Come up onto the ball of your left foot while raising your right knee. Grab your right knee and lift up while maintaining proud form. If you have trouble with balance, then keep your "down" foot flat on the ground. Speed is not important on this one.

High Knee B - This is the traditional high knees. Proud form, very slight forward lean, idea is to stay "tall" while rapidly lifting and driving down the knees. Benson notes that many people drop their hips on this one. He recommends focusing on the downstroke to keep the body tall. Turnover is rapid, forward movement doesn't matter.

Quick feet - Quickness drill, take baby steps and work on a very, very fast leg action. Arms and feet move very quickly. Not much in the way of knee action, movement is on and off the balls of the feet. Forward speed is not important.

Straight legs - I always think of John Cleese when I do this one. It is a Monty Python walk. Run forward keeping the legs straight. Forward speed is not important. Focus on quickly bringing the legs back under the body. Arms are held in normal running position.

Kick Outs - Similar to the straight legs drill, except the knee is brought up and the lower leg is kicked out and then the whole leg is brought quickly under the body.

Bounding - Running tall, extend the push off phase and bound. I use a mental image of a deer for this one. Relax shoulders and be sure to use arms as part of the drive phase.

Lope's Run - From a crouched position, bounding forward with a side-to-side component. When I do normal bounding my feet are striking in a lines that are virtually side-by-side. In this drill my feet are striking about five feet apart. The "push vector" is about 45 degrees. In the previous drill, you push straight ahead. On this drill your arms swing from side to side. Think Quasimoto.

Two legged hops - A great one to load the legs before doing an interval, or just as a drill on its own. Swing the arms forward when jumping. Start from a low position. Absorb the impact by bending the knees quickly on impact.

Low walking - Get into a crouch with your thighs parallel to the ground. Arms folded across your chest. Either walk around in this position, or stay still and (ever so slightly) oscillate up and down. Maintain until quads start to burn a little, then maintain some more.

"A" walk - Tony describes this better than me. "Walk tall, quickly lifting the foot straight up under the butt. This should induce a high keen lift and slight skip. Lower the leg to the ground with out any noticeable extension. Repeat with other leg. Keep forward motion slow".

"A" Skip - Once you have mastered the walk then you speed up and the foot "claws" as it hits the ground. Stay tall, move rhythmically. We found it really tough to alternate and tended to do several cycles on one leg and then alternate to the other leg.

Strides - One of Joe's favorites and great way to improve running economy. 6 x 30 left foot strikes on 1.5 min walk back rest. Run at 800 m race pace. Key is to focus on high cadence and lifting heel directly up to your butt. Lift the heel, knee lift is a result of the heel lift. Toes should be relaxed. Best done barefoot on grass.


The Monday night and Thursday morning sessions in Christchurch, NZ with Dr. John Hellemans and Mark Elliott.

Triathlon Sports Magazine, Jan/Feb 2001, Developing Speed, Tony Benson, pages 47-8.

The Romanov Academy, The Pose Method of Running, Video.

I don't have my copy with me but Endurance Athlete's Edge By Evans has a number of good running drills.

Back to Gordo Tips