Time is vital to any triathlete, so training that doesn’t take up much time will pay dividends. This is where drills come in. We all understand the importance of working on swimming efficiency and bike position, but very often running form is ignored. Yet form can be one the quickest and easiest things to improve with just three five-minute drill workouts a week.
A drill session plays three important roles. Firstly, it warms you up for your run workout by putting your muscles through the correct range of motion. Secondly, it improves your core strength. Finally, vitally, it makes you a more efficient, and therefore, faster runner.
I joined Paula Radcliffe on a training session at altitude in France a few years ago. It involved an easy run followed by 15mins of efficiency drills. As her marathon times testify, such dedication has paid off.
The key lesson for triathletes to take from this is that drills don’t have to take much time. Jog a few minutes, spend a few more minutes doing drills and you can get on with your planned training session. If anything it’s counterproductive to spend too long on them – you need to be fresh to make sure your legs move through the right range of motion.
The basic idea is that you’re working on perfecting how your legs move. Think of the motion your legs would have at speed if you were Usain Bolt and emulate that. If, or rather when, that same form doesn’t occur in real running, don’t worry. The slight adjustments being made will help. You won’t notice from one day to the next, but eventually it pays
off – as your run times will demonstrate.
All drills should be an extension of the normal running action, using the same arm action but with some exaggeration; the idea of drills is to improve and strengthen the running action, not to make it worse.
As with every form of exercise, if you haven’t done drills before, take it easy and if necessary do it all at a walking speed, just to get the feel of how the drill should be performed. Once you’re happy and confident then add a little more speed.
Some people include a butt kick within their drill programme. Personally I don’t, as I feel this isn’t a natural running action. If you are kicking your backside with the heel of your foot, you’re leaving your foot off the ground too long and wasting energy.
Start with the fast feet and move ‘up’ through your body like a gradual warm-up. Once you’ve finished the drills, run a few efforts over 100m or so to put everything you’ve just done into practice.
1 Quick feet/sewing machine
Start from a standing position, keeping your back straight and your hips slightly tilted forward. Pitter-patter your feet as fast as you can while pumping your arms as fast as you can – like the needle of a sewing machine. Don’t try to
move forward too much; just try to count how many steps you can achieve
in 10 or 20 metres. The aim of this drill is to achieve as many steps in a
pre-determined distance, not how fast you can cover the same distance.
2 High knees
Similar to the quick feet, but this time you need to concentrate on picking your knees up high in front. Begin from a standing position and move your legs up and down as quickly as you can, raising your knees. Not too high, though – if you tuck your elbows into your sides while holding your forearms out in front of you, this is as high as your knee should come. Try not to lean backwards as this will cause you lower back strain. You should feel this one in the thighs and hips.
3 Clawing/pull throughs
Keep your back straight and start from a walking position. First, extend your right leg out in front of you as if you’re stepping over something, before bringing it down to the ground as powerfully and quickly as you can, slapping the ground directly under your body. Now drive up on your toes with your left leg and repeat. This is great for your co-ordination, and is a fantastic one to help increase your leg cadence.
4. Prancing horse/bounding
From a slow jog pull your right leg through and up, pointing the knee forward and high. Then change leg on the next stride. Spring up and slightly forward throughout. Drive up with your arms – this will help you to keep the balance. This drill is good when performed on a hill, but be very careful and definitely don’t try to do it when running at speed, especially if you’re an inexperienced and/or a heavier athlete.
This is a sideways movement. Begin with your left side facing the direction that you want to go. Keep your arms out at both sides – this aides balance. Move sideways to the right, cross the left leg over the front, then right leg across to the side, left leg behind, right leg to the side and left leg behind, and so on. Do this for around 20 metres, then go back to the start and begin again, leading with your right leg.
Do this for eight to 10 reps. This drill is good for your hip mobility, balance, co-ordination and also a degree of core strength.