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Improve your running form with these 10 running drills

female running
How to perfect your running formKen Redding - Getty Images

You’ve recently started running and you’re wondering what you can do to run with more ease and efficiency. You see people floating along looking as if they’re gliding effortlessly and ask yourself, how are they doing that? Well, there’s a way of becoming a faster, more efficient runner that doesn’t involve training harder or sweating more. Interested? Then improve your running form.

Of course, everyone has their own individual way of running (correct running form isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition) and should run the way that feels most natural to their body. However, there are certain pillars that the majority of experienced runners and athletes agree upon: feet landing underneath your centre of mass, rather than far out in front of you; a quick, snappy cadence, somewhere between 170-185; and an upright posture, with no leaning from the waist.

Dialling in your running posture can help to make you faster and also more resilient to injury. Try these drills and exercises to help you achieve better running form.

10 exercises to improve your running form

Balance test

WHY? Core strength is essential for good posture. An upright posture with a slight forward lean (from the ankles) ensures efficient forward acceleration and reduces stress on the body.

‘The core muscles in your abs and lower back provide the foundation for every movement you make,’ explains running coach, writer, podcast host, and founder of West London running crew Track Mafia, Cory Wharton-Malcolm. ‘Therefore, keeping your core engaged when you move helps you to run tall with a good posture and helps your legs move freely and efficiently. Find the sweet spot – braced just enough so you can still breathe easily.’

DRILL: Stand on the balls of your feet, just less than shoulder-width apart, and use your abdominal muscles to control your posture for 60 seconds while keeping your balance.

High knees

WHY? Increase your knees’ range of motion during the swing phase. With your knee more bent, you can move faster with less effort.

DRILL: Stand in your push-off position, with your left foot forward and your right foot back. Lift your right heel like you’re toeing off. From here perform a high knee lift. Replicate this in your runs for 10-15 seconds on each side.

High hops

WHY? Get the most from your push-off – from the point where your foot is flat on the ground to where your hip, knee and ankle are fully extended. Improving this will help you achieve a faster flight phase.

‘Your feet should land gently where it feels most natural, whether that’s on your forefoot, midfoot or heel. The aim is that regardless of what part of your foot you land on, you land with them as close to beneath your hips as you can,’ says Wharton-Malcolm. ‘Your foot landing too far in front of you is called overstriding and I liken it to being in a car and pressing the brakes and the accelerator at the same time – you’ll continue moving forwards, but you’re slowing yourself down, wasting energy unnecessarily and putting extra strain on your knees, hips and lower back.’

DRILL: High hops. Perform six 50m reps high-hopping on alternate legs with a walk-back recovery. Ensure your leg is fully extended on take-off every time.

The midline

WHY? Beware the crossover gait. If you imagine a line between your legs as you run, you need each foot to land either side of that line. If they cross it, you’ll be landing more on the outside of your foot, adding stress to your muscles and tendons.

DRILL: Find a line on a track or football pitch, and run eight 100m reps, keeping your feet on either side of the line.

Squats

WHY? The forces experienced as your foot hits the ground can be up to three times your body weight. Strong quads control flexion and minimise the shock.

DRILL: Squats. Keeping your arms at your sides, bend at the hips and knees to lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor, hold, then press back up. Perform three sets of 10 reps.

Cadence

WHY? For optimum efficiency, avoid excessive flexion through your joints as you land. Pronounced flexion of the ankle, knee and hip reduces the impact shock but decreases your rebound. Minimising it can keep you on the go, faster.

‘A great way to help lessen the risk of overstriding is to try to increase your cadence or stride rate – the total number of steps you take in a minute. You can try fast feet drills – imagine crushing grapes under your feet using rapid, small steps. You can also use a metronome app set to your desired cadence, or run to music with your desired beats per minute (bpm). Many of us run between 150bpm and 170bpm, so if the goal is to pick it up, I’d aim for a 5% increase. When I started working on mine, I tried drum and bass, which is around 175bpm, and I tried to hold it for one minute each time, then two and so on.’

DRILL: Cadence counts. During a run, count the number of right footstrikes achieved in 20 seconds. Aim for 30.


Arm swing

WHY? If your arms swing across your chest, this can translate to your legs and upset your form. An equal arm swing will help keep your legs straight.

DRILL: Stick two labels on your running top, on the side of your ribcage two inches below your chest. Perform 50m warm-up sprints, drawing your shoulders back and swinging your upper arms forward and back to touch the labels.

Tyre sprints

WHY? Focus on pushing forwards through your hips with each step. This will utilise your gluteal and hamstring muscles in the push-off and keep your centre of gravity consistently rolling forward.

‘Strong and balanced hips help you to run more efficiently, giving you more stability, power and drive,’ says Wharton-Malcolm. ‘As you run, try driving your hips ever so slightly forwards. It takes time and practice, but it’s important because if your hips aren’t doing what they’re supposed to, your legs won’t be able to access the power needed to help you run with strength.’

DRILL: Tyre sprints. Tie a tyre behind you, and using the resistance, lean forwards and perform six 60m sprints, fully extending your legs, with walk-back recoveries.

Create a gap

WHY? If your knees brush against each other while you’re running, there’s a good chance that’s from hip adduction – something that leads to an inefficient stride and, potentially, injury.

DRILL: Try to create a small gap between your knees while running. Strengthening the glutes is unlikely to address this on its own – although the resistance-band exercises featured here are still worth doing.

Run tall

WHY? Excessive ‘trunk’ lean (ie leaning from your waist) encourages over-striding. ‘I’m sure you’ve heard the term ‘run tall’ or run as if you have a helium balloon attached to your head, lifting your body up and forwards at the same time,’ says Wharton-Malcolm.

‘This means having your head lifted and your upper body in a straight line, not bent forwards at your hips or hunched at your shoulders. It also helps to look ahead at something in the distance, rather than the floor directly in front of you.’

DRILL: Ask someone to film you running side-on, and see if you’re leaning forward a lot from the waist. Try to ‘run tall’ and look straight ahead at the horizon, rather than downwards (providing it’s safe to do so i.e. there’s nothing to trip over).

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