When I first started performing running drills, I felt silly. Aren’t neon short shorts embarrassing enough?!
Now I had to include skips, hops, and other form drills. It made me feel silly to prance around like this – until I realized how beneficial running drills can be. They can:
- Improve the communication between your brain and legs – helping you become more efficient
- Strengthen not only the muscles, but the specific joints (like the ankle) needed for powerful, fast running
- Improve coordination, agility, balance, and proprioception – helping you become a better athlete
- Serve as a great warm-up before challenging workouts or races
These benefits translate directly to improved speed: run more efficiently with greater strength and you’ll finish any race faster.
Drills soon became a staple of my running career, something we did as a team before every hard session in college.
But if you never ran on a team, it can be difficult to know how to execute running form drills – and when to do them. You might have a lot of questions:
What drills are ideal for beginners?
When should form drills be done?
How often should I do drills?
Today I want to share seven of my favorite running drills that improve speed, form, and efficiency that you can integrate into your training.
But first, let’s dive into some background on drills.
Running Drills: When is the best time?
Drills are a type of skill exercise – also known as technical work for runners. Accordingly, they should usually be done after a warm-up but before the bulk of the training session.
This type of logical sequencing ensures you get the most bang from the workout (with the least injury risk).
Here’s a suggested order for most workouts:
- Dynamic Warm-up
- Easy running
- Skill work (like running drills)
- Workout (hills, tempo, repetitions, etc.)
- Easy running
- Strength work (like a medicine ball workout)
This sequence displays good programming. Just remember that not every session will include all of these training elements.
In terms of frequency, most runners can do drills twice per week for best results. They’re best performed before faster workouts, races, and other challenging sessions.
They can also be done as part of a circuit. You can see how this looks in Strength Running’s advanced circuit workout.
Who should perform this skill work?
Everyone! They’re a great way for beginners to increase their athleticism, reinforce proper mechanics, and improve their form.
They’re also beneficial for more advanced runners for the same reason.
Just like running and strength exercises are recommended forms of exercise for nearly all people, form drills are recommended for nearly all runners.
The only types of runners that should be cautious with form drills are those who are coming back from a serious injury. The increased impact forces of drills (especially if you do them on asphalt or concrete) can predispose you to reinjuring yourself.
Prioritize proper form and never complete any exercise that causes pain. After a few weeks, you’ll feel faster, more coordinated, and strong enough to potentially run a new personal best.
Where can I do form drills?
You can perform these drills almost anywhere there’s space. You’ll usually need about 50 meters of unobstructed space like a road, sidewalk, or field.
But there are a few places that are particularly recommended:
- The road before a hard workout or race (the hard surface can help increase muscle tension – and therefore, your performance)
- On an outdoor track – softer surface, no risk of tripping on something, and it’s more accepted to do these silly exercises there!
- On a grass or synthetic turf field – best for injury-prone runners or those who want to do drills barefoot for increased strength gains in the feet and lower legs
Just the other day I saw a runner doing form drills in the alley near my local Starbucks. So you can truly do them almost anywhere!
Running Drills Video Demonstration!
I recently spent a few hours at the track, filming a ton of new content. Part of that footage included seven of the most effective drills to improve speed and form.
Below is a video of all the drills – including cues, instructions, and slow-motion footage to help you understand them in more detail.
The drills are:
- High Knees
- Butt-kicks (variation)
- Straight-leg bounds
You can also see each drill in its own separate video on Strength Running’s YouTube channel (make sure to subscribe so you never miss a video!).
How many drills should I do?
It’s not necessary to do all seven of these form drills every time. That would take another 20+ minutes – valuable time for most runners!
Instead, choose 3-4 drills and follow these guidelines:
- Most drills should be completed for 30-50m (carioca may take more space)
- Walk back to where you started before beginning the next drill
- Perform 2-3 sets of each one before beginning the next exercise
Many runners may wonder what drills to choose if they shouldn’t do all of them. While it’s perfectly fine to do all seven of these drills, time constraints are a reality of our lives.
It’s best to choose drills that help with the goals of the particular training session and also your specific needs.
For example, if you struggle with IT Band Syndrome, I recommend A-skip, carioca and straight-leg bounds because they increase cadence, improve hip flexibility and activate the glutes – all of which help treat and prevent ITBS.
Here is a list of the drills above rated in terms of difficulty (#1 is the easiest, #7 is the hardest), plus how each drill is helpful:
- Butt-kicks (second variation in the video): improves quadricep and hip flexor flexibility while reinforcing high cadence
- High Knees: reinforces midfoot landing, high cadence, and hamstring flexibility
- A-Skip: reinforces midfoot landing, high cadence, and improves coordination
- B-Skip: improves coordination and hamstring flexibility
- Butt-kicks (first variation): increases hip flexor strength and reinforces midfoot landing
- Carioca: improves coordination and increases hip flexibility
- Straight-leg bounds: activates glutes and improves coordination
There are of course other drills, but I chose these because they offer the most benefits while being the easiest to learn.
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