Run Better (and Faster) Now: Using Skill Drills to Improve Technique

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by VALERIE HUNT|Coach, CrossFit Endurance & Athlete Cell

Run Better (and Faster) Now: Using Skill Drills to Improve Technique

As a coach you have a responsibility to your athlete to make sure they perform a movement correctly and then help them progress as their skill increases. CrossFit places the highest priority on skill before intensity and volume; therefore we use PVC pipes to demonstrate proper technique before adding load to the lift. As you watch the athlete perform, you can help them correct any errors you see using verbal, visual or manual cues.

The Challenge of Coaching Running

But what happens when the athlete performs the movement when you cannot see them and the feedback is only their perception? If an injury happens, how do you know what they need to correct? As a running coach, this can happen often: “Coach, I went for a run and now my [knee, shin, calf, back, hamstring, heel, hip, IT band…]hurts!” Generally, if you send the runner to the sports med doctor, he or she will try to fix the hurt area and then tell the runner to take a break. When the athlete goes back to running, usually the pain returns. Until you correct the error in the movement, inevitably the pain will return.

We… use skill drills that are designed to teach the runner the perception of movement.
My goal as a running coach is to prevent the injury from happening in the first place by teaching athletes the proper movement of running so they can help themselves figure out their mistake. The best tools to teach this are video analysis and skill drills. The video analysis is a must, so that both the coach and runner can see — not just feel — what is actually happening when they are moving.

When you take a CrossFit Endurance seminar, we use video analysis so the runner can “see” their running form and the positive changes they make during the seminar.

We also use skill drills that are designed to teach the runner the perception of movement. When I first started coaching the PoseMethod, Dr. Romanov taught me a base of drills that he had developed. Over the last 14 years, I have gotten creative with these and find that different people respond to different verbal and visual cues. 

A common question I get asked is “Which one is the best drill?” The short answer is “All of them.” The goal of the drills is to help you feel the correct technique, so the “best” one is the one that helps you the most.

In January 2012, I took on a challenge to film 500 short videos of running tips and drills. The feedback has been really positive, with people now making specific requests! There seem to be three main problems in people’s running technique that can be corrected by a skill drill:

  • Heel striking or reaching (knee, hip flexor, shin, IT band pain)
  • Pushing (calf, plantar, hamstring, heel pain)
  • Alignment errors (back pain, shoulder or neck pain, hip flexor)

All of these issues can be resolved once the runner understands how to stand in the Pose position, fall forward and pull quickly. As simple as this is, there is a lot of work involved! [To review the basics of Pose running, read "Easy as Pose-Fall-Pull" here.]

Skills Drills for all Runners

Here are the top viewed videos of 2013, for the benefit of anyone who runs and wants to improve. Working on the details of running as a skill will benefit you tremendously. Enjoy, then get out there and run faster, stronger and injury free!

Warm-Up Drill: Wall Fall

[I]ssues can be resolved once the runner understands how to stand in the Pose position, fall forward and pull quickly.
First you will stand flat footed, arms out, and fall into the wall; once that feels comfortable, practice falling in Pose on each leg. As you get stronger, step back from the wall and fall toward it while changing support only once. Check to make sure that you land with your knee bent and your hips and shoulders in proper alignment. Move back farther to try three quick pulls, landing hard on the wall to make sure you are actually falling forward. Every time you land on the wall, check your Pose position. The goal is to be able to hold your fall forward as long as possible before having to change support.

Running Longer in Good Pose

Similar to falling against a wall as above, with this drill you are going to use a partner as the temporary “wall.” As always, when you fall forward be sure that your ears, shoulders, and hips are in alignment; your partner can help you adjust accordingly. Start running in place in that good falling position and continue to maintain it as your partner lets go.

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