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Technique Drills for Runners

By Walt Reynolds - from Peak Performance Online

Technique drills for runners are usually performed using three activities - marching (walking), skipping and running. Each activity helps to develop important components of proper and economical running techniques.

There are several reasons for using the activities:
(1) The exercises serve as an excellent warm-up tool for both training and competitive situations. After all, running drills imitate specific characteristics of technically sound running form, including upright posture of the trunk and spinal column, proper carriage of the arms during the running stride, proper knee drive and leg action and the coordinated dynamic balance associated with shifting weight from one leg to the other

(2) The drills help to develop the important proprioceptive and kinaesthetic (body-awareness) abilities that a runner must have to deal with changes in terrain while running, and also to 'change gears' while training or racing. The drills are performed slowly at first while developing a 'feel' for proper technique, and proper technique is then gradually carried over to drills and runs carried out at faster speeds

(3) The exercises also help to strengthen specific muscle groups needed for powerful running, especially the muscles of the feet, calves, shins, thighs and hips. The ankle, knee and hip joints undergo considerable flexion and extension during the running stride, and each of these joints is exercised through a similar - or greater - range of motion during the various drills

Specific Benefits of Technique Drills for Runners

Marching, the most basic form of technical exercise, provides an excellent starting point for beginners who will eventually rely more heavily on advanced drills such as skipping and technically sound running. Marching is performed slowly and deliberately at first but progresses in speed and cadence as balance, stability and body mechanics improve. Emphasis during marching (and in all of the drills) is on an upright body posture, coordinated movement of the arms and legs, wide range of motion at the hips, knees and ankles and stability of movement (your body shouldn't be 'rocking' back and forth sideways or lunging forward). As you become more accomplished with the drills, marching will represent a nice warm-up for the skipping exercises

Skipping is a more advanced motor skill than marching and requires a greater degree of coordin-ation and motor control for correct performance. Compared to marching, the speed of movement across the ground is slightly faster when skipping, and the frequency of foot strike is double that of marching, since each foot strikes the ground twice during a skipping stride (left-left followed by right-right and so on). The ability to coordinate the cadence of the arm swing with the leg movements and the double foot strike is a skill that improves with practice. The basic form of skipping is slow and deliberate and should follow a straight line without significant deviation of the limbs or trunk to the right or left. During the drills, the arms and legs will tend to move toward the centreline of the body slightly (as they should), but excessive movement of the knees or hands across the midline of the body is often indicative of poor economy of movement. Over time, the speed of the skipping drills should be increased as your form improves and your movements become more fluid and natural

Of all the drills, technical running exercises are the most intensive and potentially most difficult to perform correctly. For one thing, the speed of movement of the arms and legs is the highest of the three forms of drills. The rhythm of movement, as measured by the cadence of foot strikes, closely resembles full-stride running. Finally, the ground-impact forces are significantly higher during running drills, compared to skipping or marching. The major difference between running drills and regular running is in the length of the stride (during drills, the stride is significantly shorter, to allow for better concentration on limb and trunk mechanics). Major benefits of technical running drills include improved intermuscular coordination (including the proper timing of arm and leg movements), an enhancement of dynamic balance and an upgrading of the power of the primary running muscles



Begin by walking slowly forward on the balls of your feet using small (12- to 18-inch) steps. Your heels should not touch the ground during this exercise. Continue by raising your right knee to hip level (with thigh parallel to the ground) on each stride. Your right foot should be 'cocked' (making your ankle and foot look like a fish hook) at the top of the leg swing, and your right ankle should be directly under or slightly behind your right knee (your knee should be at a 90 degree angle or slightly less). Rise on the toes of the left foot and extend the left ankle and knee as your body passes over the left foot during the walking stride. Your trunk should be held upright (think 'chest tall and slightly forward'), and your chin should be held level. Swing your arms slowly and deliberately in a mock running motion in rhythm with the marching/walking strides. Your elbows should be bent at approximately 90-110 degrees, and your hands should swing to nearly chin level and slightly toward the midline of your body during the forward arm swing. On the back swing, your hands should move one to six inches past the 'hip-pocket' position, to the rear of your body. You probably didn't realise that marching could be so complicated!
Repeat this action, raising the right knee to hip level with the left leg moving through a normal walking stride into full extension on the toes, for 20 to 40 metres. Walk back to your starting position and repeat the action, with the left knee rising and the right leg extending, for 20 to 40 metres. Continue to focus on short steps, proper posture and limb mechanics, whole-body balance and control of your marching rhythm. All of your movements should occur in a slow and controlled - not jerky - manner. After performing the drill with each leg marching separately, combine the marching actions of both legs over the 20- to 40-metre distance. The marching high knee drill emphasises proper running mechanics - a driving knee lift, upright posture and a coordinated arm swing - and should be practised and mastered before progressing on to the skipping and running techniques drills


Begin this high knee with extension drill in the same manner as the high knee drill - walking forward slowly on the balls of your feet. Raise the right knee to hip level with each stride, and as the knee approaches hip height extend the knee by swinging the lower leg and foot forward to nearly full extension (your entire leg will end up parallel with the ground). Allow your momentum to carry your body forward, and step with the ball of the right foot one to two feet in front of the left foot. Your trunk should be held upright, and your chin should be level throughout the course of the drill. Your arms should compensate for the extended leg action by swinging in a slightly wider arc (100-plus degrees at the elbow) while maintaining rhythm with the strides of the legs. The actions of the left foot, ankle, knee and hip (extended) are similar to their activities in the high knee drill

Repeat the high knee lift and extension action with your right leg for a distance of 20 to 40 metres. Then rest while walking back to the starting point, before performing the drill with your left leg. Finally, perform the exercise with both legs alternately over the same 20- to 40-metre distance

The marching high knee with extension drill emphasises hamstring flexibility and body control, in addition to other basic aspects of proper running mechanics. It provides the basis for learning more advanced skipping and running drills


The skipping high knee drill follows the same basic format for posture and limb mechanics as does the marching form of this drill. The trunk position and arm and leg actions are identical to those of the march, but the cadence is slightly faster to accommodate the skipping action. Once again, the strides are short (about 12 to 18 inches between opposing foot contacts), and the action is performed primarily on the balls of your feet, which helps you develop foot strength and balance

Practise the skipping drill with one leg at a time before combining the movements (first lift only the right knee, then only the left knee, before alternating right and left lifts) over a distance of 20 to 40 metres for each drill

The skipping high knee drill develops inter-muscular coordination during fast movements to a greater degree than do the marching drills, which are carried out at a slower tempo. In addition, the load placed on the musculoskeletal system is considerably higher during skipping, due to a greater vertical shift of the centre of gravity during the exercise. This additional loading leads to increases in strength in the motor support structures of the feet and lower part of the leg, as well as the thigh, hip and trunk muscles


This 'B' drill is like the 'A' skipping drill, except that a swing forward of the lower part of the leg is added to the driving knee action. The emphasis during this drill should be on the 'pulling down' (hip extension) of the swing leg rather than the kicking out of the lower part of the leg during knee extension. This 'pawing' motion with the nearly extended leg is important for developing coordination and specific strength in the hamstring and gluteal muscles and should help prevent injuries in those areas (especially hamstring strains and tears). All other aspects of proper running form (as outlined in the descriptions of the previous drills) should be observed

First, move 20 to 40 metres with the right knee driving and extending, then scoot through 20 to 40 metres with the left knee driving and extending, and finish by alternating from right leg to left leg over the same distance. Walk back to your starting point between drills to recover

This skipping 'B' drill emphasises the development of an active foot strike, providing the basis for improved stride length, in addition to strengthening the hamstrings, improving coordination and balance and upgrading running posture


The running 'A' and 'B' drills are performed in the same fashion as the marching and skipping versions but utilise a short-stride (12- to 18-inch) running motion. These are the most advanced and difficult drills to perform correctly, and they are also the most specific of the three drills to the actual neuromuscular patterns used during full-stride running. Movement rhythm, frequency of foot strike, balance and coordination requirements, ground impact forces and energy expenditure are at their highest levels during these running drills. It is very important to maintain a forefoot (rather than heel) strike during these running drills in order to allow the foot and lower part of the leg to absorb the high impact forces. Upper torso and arm-swing actions should be similar to those in the previous drills

Perform all running drills with one knee rising and the opposite leg 'jogging' (low knee lift) for a distance of 10 to 20 metres. Walk back to the start and repeat the action with the other leg, before combining the actions and performing the drill with alternating legs. The distance covered (10 to 20 metres) for the running drills is shorter than for marching or skipping due to the greater intensity of effort. Over time, you may gradually increase the distance, but in the interest of maintaining proper technique and therefore positive training adaptations, it is wise to be conservative. It is far better to train over shorter distances with excellent form than it is to work over longer distances with average or poor form

The running 'A' and 'B' drills develop specific intermuscular coordination, increase the strength of the entire foot/leg/hip/trunk complex, and enhance balance and body awareness during full-stride running. Running drills allow you to strengthen many important links in the running performance chain (posture, specific strength and power, mobility and agility) through specific overload of the various links

Sample Running Techniques Workouts


Do the following running techniques workout two to three times per week at the end of your warm-up (before the main part of your training session begins):
March 'A': 1 X 20m each
March 'B': 1 X 20m each
Skip 'A': 2 X 20m each
Skip 'B': 2 X 20m each
Please note: '1 X 20m each' denotes performing the drill for 20 metres with the right leg only, followed by 20 metres with the left leg only, followed by 20 metres of alternating legs. For recovery, simply walk back to the start between repetitions


Carry out the following running techniques workout twice a week at the end of your warm-up:
March 'A': 1 X 20m each
March 'B': 1 X 20m each
Skip 'A': 2 X 30m each
Skip 'B': 2 X 30m each
Run 'A': 2 X 10m each

March 'B': 1 X 20m each
Skip 'A': 2 X 30m each
Skip 'B': 2 X 30m each
Run 'A': 2 X 20m each
Run 'B': 2 X 10m each

Key Summary Points About the Running Drills

1. Emphasise proper trunk posture on all drills, keeping your chest up, your back straight, and your chin level

2. Swing your arms smoothly and under control, with hands coming forward to chin level in front and just past the hip in back

3. Emphasise the lifting action of the knee on the swing leg while keeping your foot cocked upward. Emphasise the driving action (extension) of the support leg at the ankle, knee and hip while stressing a 'tall on your toes' action with the supporting foot

4. To develop optimal movement coordination, perform all drills when your energy levels are high - before your main workout begins. Performing drills when fatigued leads to less ideal posture and form - and fewer gains in efficiency

5. To reduce impact forces and minimise the possibility of injury, perform all drills on grass, a rubberised track, a wood floor, or some other type of resilient surface

Walt Reynolds

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