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“Running has a specific and predictable set of performance demands, which your training should reflect and prepare you for.”

Toe Dexterity Training

Are you able to lift your big toe up in isolation? How about the lesser toes? Are you able to splay your toes? If you are unable to do so, don’t worry as you are not alone. One of the many mantras that I frequently recite to runners seeking my services is “toes like suction cups” as opposed to clawing or hammering. While most folks rarely stop to consider whether or not they possess adequate toe dexterity, this is an ability worth mastering especially if you are runner. By owning your toe dexterity you will be able to essentially pre-tune the tissues of your foot in preparation for the shock of impact when your foot contacts the ground.

marching medball matrix

This is a great dynamic warm up drill that demands balance, coordination, and timing. All you need is a lightweight (4-6lbs) medball or equivalent object and you’re in business. I particularly like to program this drill combo for adolescent athletes as well as for patients during the the early portion of the rehabilitation process though it can be performed by anyone. Aim to complete 3-5, 10yd (9.1m) passes in a slow and controlled manner. I also encourage folks to freestlye with this drill and come up with some of their own variations.
Shoulder extension isometrics in SLS are an awesome exercise for runners. I specifically like them because they challenge you to get tall while assuming single leg balance. They also effectively train the posterior rotator cuff and shoulder musculature, especially when positioning the arms with the palms facing forward. Considering that the arms are relatively long levers, lightweight resistance tubing or bands work well. When programming this drill, I often recommend performing 3x30s holds on each side drawing the arms parallel with the trunk while getting tall towards the ceiling.
SLS + Hip ABD-Flex-EXT
When it comes to running, both feet are never simultaneously in contact with the ground. Needless to say, it’s important to train runners in single leg stance. Furthermore, running demands frontal plane control and capacity in the hip musculature. This is a great drill to challenge folks from a single leg standpoint while training the hip musculature; especially the hip abductors. I have folks put their hands in a “prisoner position” to ensure that they are fully upright while demanding greater postural stability since they can’t use their arms to augment their balance. The prisoner position also fosters thoracic spine extension. Otherwise, all you need is a mini band to secure around the lower leg and you are in business.
Four way step series
If there is one closed chain drill series that I prescribe to runners above all else, it’s undoubtedly the “Four Way Step Series.” The beauty of this drill series is that it relies on minimal equipment and challenges the runners from a triplanar standpoint. All you need is a stepper, cinderblock or equivalent and you’re good. I love this combination of drills because it challenges the runner in so many different ways. In particular it demands balance, ankle motion, as well as lower extremity strength and trunk control. When programming this drill series, one round = 1 rep and I typically program 3 sets of 5 on each side. It’s also worth mentioning that I tpically use a 6″ step with this series because otherwise compensations will naturally occur to work around one’s available ankle motion.
Unilateral bridge + knee extensions
Although running involves bounding from leg to leg in an upright position, never underestimate the value of an exercise like this. I think that the more movements and positions that we explore the better overall command we have of our body and how it behaves under different conditions. This drill is great to build strength of the hip extensors, especially the glute max while demanding lumbopelvic control. I also love building quad strength any chance I get so don’t hesitate to throw an ankle weight on and either hold a SLR position or perform 3-5 knee extensions before switching to the other side. Also note the arm mechanics that I incorporate into the drill as they reflect how the arms move during the running gait.
Bicylce bug on foam roll
I must confess that I don’t use foam rollers that much though this is one exception. Most folks know this exercise as the “DNS bug.” This is an excellent drill to challenge one’s breathing and trunk stiffness while superimposing lower extremity movements. Performing this on a foam roller makes it particularly challenging. While you should feel free to try without the use of the hands, I encourage folks to turn this in to a closed chain drill for the upper extremity by placing the hands flush against the wall. Once you master the baseline drill, simply add a mini band around the feet to further train the hip flexors and extensors. If you really want to make this challenging you can also progress to using single arm support and/or closing your eyes. Aim to perform 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions (back and forth counts as one).
Active knee extension + unilateral bridge
It’s a shame that it took me over a decade of being a physical therapist before finally coming up with this exercise. This is the epitome of “simplicity being the ultimate sophistication.” I tend to use this drill post run as a way to incorporate some posterior chain and nerve mobility while training the contralateral hip extensors. No need to get aggressive with straightening the leg as most folks will naturally tend to gain range with each repetition. Aim to perform 3 sets of 6-8 reps alternating between each side. You can progress this drill rolling on to your heel in terms of the foot that is in contact with the ground though by no means is this necessary.
The A&B march are advanced marching drills in that the performer is contacting the ground more forcefully than typical marching drills. I like to use these as a means to segway into the A & B skips, which can be seen below. Both of these drills are great ways to train front end mechanics and to decelerate the tibia in preparation for initial contact. The B march is also a great drill to incorporate into the rehab process for those rebounding from hamstring tears when adequate healing has occurred. They can also be used in performance coaching programs for sprinters and hurdlers. A good starting point when programming these exercises is to perform 2-3, 10yd passes for each drill.
A B C Skips
The A, B, and C skips are classics that most runners are familiar with and routinely perform. Once a runner demonstrates proficiency with the A&B march, I tend to progress them to these drills. Again, they are grounded in rhythm and timing. They should be reserved for the later stages of the rehab process though can be incorporated into any performance coaching program. Aim to complete 2-3, 10yd passes for each of the three drills. I particularly enjoy working these into my track sessions as part of a dynamic warm up.