7 essential running drills to improve form and performance

7 essential running drills to improve form and performance

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Running drills are great for improving your running form and performance. They strengthen key running muscles, and improve coordination, balance and agility.

If you’ve never done running drills before, you may be wondering what they are.

You can think of running drills as ‘technical work’. They are dynamic exercises that focus on running technique and help you develop the technical skills and proper movement patterns needed for running.

They also improve the strength of your muscles and joints needed for strong, fast and less injury prone running. 

You may be more familiar with running drills if you are part of an athletics or running club. Many running coaches like to do them with their athletes to help them improve running form and develop technical skills like the ones described above. These all come together to make you a better athlete.

In this blog post, I’d like to share some of my favourite running drills. But first, I’d like to share some information about running drills just in case you are new to these.

running drills to improve form

When should you complete running drills?

Running drills are often done as part of a dynamic warm up before a run, race or hard speed workout. However, you can also do them as a part of a standalone session in which you focus on one or two technical skills.

If you are doing them as part of a standalone session, make sure you do a proper warm up before completing any drills. 

Aim to do running drills at least twice a week in order to reap the benefits. As with most things running-related, the more consistent you are, the better the results will be.

Who should complete running drills?

The beauty of running drills is that they’re suitable for all types of runners – from beginners to advanced runners alike. 

No matter your running experience and fitness levels, you can benefit from doing some form of running drill to reinforce proper running form and improve athletic performance

Just like strength training, running drills are recommended for all runners. However, if you have an injury or you are returning to running following an injury, be careful when completing running drills. They often involve high impact forces which could make an injury worse or predispose you to reinjuring yourself. 

If you ever feel pain when completing running drills, take this as a sign to stop. And always prioritise proper running form over speed or power. There’s no use doing running drills if your form is all over the place. 

In all of your running drills you should ensure you maintain a tall posture: high hips, chest up, head up, looking towards the horizon.

running drills to improve form

Where should I complete running drills?

You can do running drills almost anywhere you feel comfortable. Just make sure you have a large enough space (about 50m) in which to complete them. 

Roads, outdoor running tracks, grass – these are all good surfaces on which to complete running drills. 

If you are recovering from an injury, stick to softer surfaces like grass as a hard surface like concrete or asphalt may be too high impact.

What types of running drills should I complete?

When considering which running drills to do, make sure these align with your specific goals and needs. For example, if you struggle to lift your knees during a speed session, focus on running drills like high knees and carioca that get you into the habit of lifting your knees. 

Likewise, if you suffer with lazy glutes, running drills that target and activate the glutes like A-skips and straight-leg bounds will be beneficial for you to complete before a run. 

Although you can choose to complete a variety of running drills, they are much more effective when used to address certain movements or skills that you’d like to improve or work on. 

running drills to improve form

7 essential running drills to improve form and performance

Here are my favourite running drills. Before delving into them, note the following on completing each drill:

  • You will need between 30 to 50m to complete each drill.
  • Walk back to where you started before beginning the next drill.
  • Perform 2 to 3 sets of each drill before beginning the next one. 

As mentioned earlier, you don’t need to perform every single drill each time. Pick those drills that you think will be beneficial for you depending on how you’re feeling and the type of session you are about to complete.

If you’re based in the UK and a licensed run leader, UK Athletics share running drills via the Athletics Hub. These may also give you ideas and inspiration.

Butt kicks

How to perform:

Draw your heel up in a straight line towards the bottom of your butt or top of the hamstrings. Allow the knee to come forward, but not quite as high as the high knees drill. Try not to swing the heel in a half circle towards the butt. 

Benefits:

  • Increases the speed of the hamstring when it contracts, which can help you run faster. 
  • Works the hamstrings, glutes and quads which are all power muscles when it comes to running. 
  • Reinforces high cadence.
  • Improves hip flexor flexibility and mobility. 

High knees

How to perform:

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lift your left knee to your chest and then switch to lift your right knee to your chest. Continue the movement, alternating legs and moving at a sprinting or running pace.

This is a great all round running drill, perfect for tempo runs or longer speed endurance sessions. 

Benefits:

  • Cardio-intensive when performed at a fast pace, making it perfect for a warm up. 
  • Engages your core and strengthens all the muscles in your legs.
  • Improves your momentum, coordination and flexibility.
  • Encourages high knee lift.
  • Encourages arm swing. 
  • Promotes efficient footstrike (they reinforce midfoot landing). 

A-skips and B-skips

How to perform:

Skip forward, lifting your knee to waist height while keeping your back leg straight as you come off your toe. Continue moving forward, alternating legs, and striking the ground with your midfoot or forefoot while swinging your opposite arm in unison with your lead leg. Imagine you have gum stuck between your arm and your leg. 

B-skips are identical to A-skips. The only difference being when your knee is driven, kick out your extended leg like you’re trying to break down a door. 

You may want to walk through these drills before gradually progressing to skipping. These are both great to do before a speed session or challenging workout. 

Benefits:

  • Cardio intensive when performed at a fast pace, making them perfect for a warm up. 
  • Develop lower-leg strength.
  • Improves hamstring flexibility (B-skips mainly). 
  • Improve momentum, coordination and flexibility. 
  • Encourage high knee lift.
  • Encourage arm swing.
  • Promote efficient footstrike (they reinforce midfoot landing). 
running drills to improve form

Carioca drill

How to perform:

The carioca is a sideways motion where you cross your trail leg in front and then behind whilst you continue in a sideways direction.

You may have seen footballers complete this as part of their warm up. The carioca drill is popular with athletes like footballers and rugby players because it improves agility, footwork and works the lateral plane of movement.

Benefits:

  • Improves balance, coordination and agility. 
  • Reinforces high cadence. 
  • Improves hip flexibility and mobility. 
  • Trains hips beyond normal planes of motion. 

Straight-leg bounds

How to perform:

Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Stretch your right leg forward, whilst bending your knee as little as possible. Pull your right leg below your centre of mass and emphasise the explosive contact of the ball of your foot with the ground, whilst stretching your left leg forward. Continue alternating sides and moving forward. 

This is probably the most challenging running drill in this list, mainly because mainly runners perform it incorrectly. It can take time to get the hang of it so please be patient. I have included some key points below to help you with this. 

  • Keep your toes up but not pointed. 
  • Keep your body in an upright position. Do not lean back. 
  • Don’t kick your legs up. Instead focus on the downward and backward pulling motion. 

Benefits:

  • Activates the glutes and hamstrings.
  • Strengthens hip flexor muscles. 
  • Reinforces high cadence. 
  • Improves coordination.
  • Promotes active foot contact with the ground (e.g. feet are pulled directly under the body’s centre of mass). 

Forward lunge

How to perform:

Lift one knee to 90 degrees before taking a step forward and landing with your knee still at 90 degrees. Push from the glutes of your forward leg to initiate lunge of your other leg. 

Benefits:

  • Activates glutes, quads and hamstrings.
  • Improves balance and coordination.
  • Engages your core and abdominal muscles. 

Quick feet

How to perform:

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hips low. Push through the balls of your feet and run in place quickly. Stay low throughout the movement, and use your arms to do the quick steps as fast as you can. 

Benefits:

  • Cardio intensive when performed at a fast pace, making them perfect for a warm up.
  • Improves speed and agility.
  • Activates glutes, quads and hamstrings. 

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Caroline Geoghegan

Caroline Geoghegan (aka Run With Caroline) helps people become faster and stronger runners. She started her blog in 2018 to share her passion for running. Caroline is a UK Athletics qualified Run Leader and Run Coach and NASM qualified Personal Trainer.

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