Importance of Running Drills

Articles in running magazines and on triathlon websites typically focus on running mileage and intensity as keys to improving, but little mention is made of running technique.  Seems that the skill of running is taken for granted… left, right, left, right.  What more is there?

Watch any international track & field competition or the leaders of a road race and you will surely see the skill of running performed as effortless.  When executed correctly, running is a skill of floating over the ground with little more than a touch of a foot to sustain forward momentum. Yet, little is written about ‘how’ to run, ‘how’ to improve running technique and efficiency.   It should come as no surprise then that many runners suffer repeated injuries, and struggle against resistance which makes consistent improvement seem impossible.  What else can be expected when mileage and intensity are believed to be the pivot points of training?

Coaches of the Oakville Legion Track & Field Club and the Burlington Track & Field Club make mileage, volume, and interval repetitions secondary to the training of technique, form, and posture.  In the book ‘Running with Kenyans‘, author Adharanand Finn interviews Brother Colm O’Connell – famed Irish priest who established the first training camp in Iten, Kenya and who has become the coach of numerous Olympic Gold medalists.  Brother Colm highlights the importance of developing technique despite the fact that Kenyans come to him already as beautiful runners.   But Brother Colm doesn’t want just good technique, he wants exquisite technique, ideal posture, impeccable form; hence his training program focuses on drills to develop good runners into excellent runners.  Olympic Decathlete and Long Jumper Jackie Joyner-Kersee reflects in her autobiography on how her coach Bob Kersee demanded perfect technique and wouldn’t allow his athletes to continue in a session until their performance errors were eliminated.

With this in mind, let’s distill running to a simple equation:

speed  =  stride length  x  turnover

Stride length is proportional to flexibility, and turnover is the outcome of both efficient technique at race pace cadence and conditioning to sustain race pace cadence.  Runners will talk endlessly about conditioning, but flexibility is typically met with a groan.  Yet flexibility is critical to stride length, and to minimizing effort and energy expenditure while running.  The role of flexibility in peak performance has been discussed in this blog here and here, and since articles on conditioning are plentiful, let’s turn the attention to technique at race pace cadence.

We don’t learn new skills at max effort or top speed.  New skills and strategies need to be introduced at an exertion level where an athlete can focus entirely on the concept without having to monitor anything else.  In running, drills teach the athlete to obtain movement from correct joints and muscle groups, developing patterns to utilize their range of motion and power with ease.  Practiced at low speeds, drills cause the brain to form new neural patterns for balance and muscle coordination.  With repetition, the speed at which these drills can be executed is slowly brought up to race pace cadence.  The outcome is that the athlete becomes capable of maintaining technique, form, and posture at competition pace maximizing efficiency. Then the athlete can use their conditioning to move towards the finish line as opposed to fighting against themselves (i.e. inflexibility) or the road (i.e. poor technique).

To help runners develop form, track drill and interval sessions are being held at Gary Allan HDSB this summer. The ‘New Programs’ link at the top of the webpage leads to registration.

The following videos demonstrate a few of the drills that will be used to learn proper technique:


These videos along with others are posted at the Track Star USA website.