A’s, B’s, and C’s of Running
Before a race, you may see some runners performing hops, skips or jumps (also referred to as ABC’s) to help them prepare for the event. It looks strange, and not exactly like running, so why do they do this? Great question! Runners will give you a variety of answers – these ‘drills’ help improve form, or help you limber up, or perhaps they do it just because someone along the way told them to do so! It’s now time to clarify what this is all about.
Drills, What are They Good For?
First off, running drills don’t directly contribute to learning better running form, since they don’t represent the same muscle firing patterns as running. The excessive use of the hip flexors for the purposeful knee drive in A’s, the disproportionate use of the hamstrings in B’s and the purposeful lifting of the heel in C’s do not mimic how these muscles are used in running.
However, drills are great for developing body awareness and the ability to learn to use feedback to correct oneself. For example, practicing the A-movement slowly works the hip flexors, which can contribute to improved hip stability. Also, the single-leg stance helps identify if you are dropping either of your hips in the stance phase, and practicing drills can help bring this awareness and reinforce stable hips through repetition. Practicing drills at full speed can help reinforce body position, such as a forward lean at the ankles or having the feet land under the body.
Drills are also a great part of a dynamic warm-up before speed work as they increase range of motion and get you moving more quickly. Increased range of motion in the hips allows for a longer stride. Additionally, practicing quick movement in faster drills relates to less ground contact time, a necessary component of increasing stride rate to run faster.
How to Implement Running Drills
A basic Internet search for ‘running drills’ will result in lots of variations of A’s, B’s, C’s. Start slowly to mimic their motion for a strength workout, or to reinforce motor pathways, then speed up to develop coordination. A quick tip if you’re struggling – try the motion with your ‘legs only’ and place your hands on your head. This adjustment will also help develop your oblique muscles, as you will have to activate them to resist trunk rotation.
Other cues to remember:
Walk in the ‘hips tall’ position, which teaches proper alignment (proper alignment leads to better economy of running)
Head, shoulders and feet should be centered over/under hips
Eyes should be straight ahead with chest forward
Lean forward at the ankles, not the hips
Arm motion happens at the shoulder, not at the elbow, and hands shouldn’t cross the midline of the body
Dylan stretch 1
Nikki Reiter is a Mizuno Running Brand Ambassador from Kelowna, BC. She holds a master’s degree in biomechanics, coaches Cross Country at UBC Okanagan and is the founder of Run Right Gait Analysis Service (run-right.ca).