The following drills will improve your running form in many ways—by strengthening key running muscles, by improving your range of motion via exaggerating some aspects of the running gait, by improving the communication between your nervous system and muscles, and by making you more mindful of good running form.
Aim to do these drills at least twice a week, even if doing so means cutting your run short. You don’t have to do them all every time. Rotate among the ones you need most. The payoff from the time invested—greater speed and less injury risk—outweighs what you’ll get from another couple of miles.
Three Skipping Exercises
These skipping variations increase stride length and knee lift, and improve single-leg balance. Skip for 20 yards, rest briefly, repeat. Do the exercises forward and backward, two times each. (1) Skip forward, raising your knees to a 90-degree angle, while the bottom of your raised leg's foot stays parallel with the ground. Pump your arms in sync with your legs. (2) Skip forward, tucking the foot of your raised leg under your butt, then extending your hamstrings (see photo) before landing. (3) Skip forward and snap your raised foot back as if you're trying to kick your butt, while keeping your supporting leg straight. Concentrate on quick movements.
Related: Steal Meb Keflezighi's training secrets in Meb for Mortals
Carioca and Quick Feet
These drills lessen your ground contact time and give you a quicker, more efficient turnover. Carioca drills also improve your knee lift and hips’ range of motion. Go 20 yards in one direction, then 20 in the opposite. (1) At a skipping pace, move laterally to the left, crossing your right leg first in front and then behind your left leg (video above). Swivel your hips and swing your arms. (2) Do the carioca drill, raising your front knee to 90 degrees (or as high as you can). (3) Quick feet: On the balls of your feet, shuffle forward as quickly as you can.
Jump, Hop, Hop
The next drills teach your running muscles to work in sync with each other, increase your power when pushing off, improve your ability to move in all three planes of motion, and strengthen several often-neglected muscles. (1) Bounce forward on both legs, moving just a few inches at a time. Hop 10 feet forward, then 10 feet backward. (2) Stand on your right leg with your left foot up. Hop forward 10 feet, and backward 10 feet (photo above), then switch legs. (3) Standing on your left leg, hop to the side 10 feet, then back. Switch legs, repeat.
Three Lunge Variations
Lunges build strength throughout your core and improve your balance. (1) Lift one knee to 90 degrees before taking a step forward and landing with your knee still at 90 degrees (video above). Push from the glutes of your forward leg to initiate lunge of other leg. Do for 20 yards. (2) Do the same lunges walking backward for 20 yards (yes, it's difficult!). (3) Lateral cross-over lunges: Stand on left leg. Cross your right foot over your left leg and squat as low as you can to the left. Bring your right leg back over and stand to repeat the exercise to the left. Do 10 times each side.
Three Lateral Squats
Lateral drills engage important gluteal muscles and improve your sideways balance, which is especially important when you're running on uneven footing, such as trails and banged-up roads. Do these 20 yards in each direction. (1) Squatting with feet and knees together, step sideways. (2) Squat with legs shoulder-width apart. Cross your right leg over your left foot, then move your left foot to the left (above). Repeat crossover pattern. (3) Next, cross your right foot in front of your left, then behind it (carioca style), while maintaining a squat.
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This is adapted from the book Meb for Mortals, written by Meb Keflezighi with Scott Douglas.