Runners can’t run all the time, but one of the ways they can improve is by doing running specific workouts that will help your running technique while avoiding the pounding of the roads. When done properly, drills can improve your technique, form and speed. They are easy to do. Merely do drills two or three times a month for about 20 minutes before speed workouts.
Before doing drills, warm up for about with a mile or two of light running and stretch the major muscle groups.
A good routine for light drills is straight-leg kick, skips, and butt-kicks. Do each for 50 meters or so and follow with the same amount of jog before you do the next drill. With these drills, you are waking up the quads, calves, hamstrings and glutes, making sure they are ready to go when you push them during speed work. To get the hips and upper body, take long steps sliding sideways in a straight line or down a lane of the track shaking out the arms as you go in free form movement. After a few slides, cross one leg over the other as you move sideways picking up the trailing knee as you cross over the leading leg. Run backward a few steps then face the other direction leading with the other leg and repeat the sideways drills.
Stop at this point as you have done enough for the upcoming speed workout, but on some days you will want to keep going and make the entire workout of just drills. You can add high knees, the old football drill of high stepping into the middle of tires that are lying on the ground. Also, run backward for 100 meters or skip backward, as going backwards works your balance in a slightly different way than moving forward. Keep your eyes at the horizon and don’t look down to make the balancing act more challenging.
Run or hop on one leg for 10-15 steps and switch to the other leg, then switch back, so forth and so on for 100 meters. You can do bunny hops, little jumps working your ankles, feet and calves, ankles together and no bend at the knee, jumping with both feet at the same time. Do 10-20 hops side to side, run 20 meters and repeat for a few sets. Also, do one-legged side to side jumps, hitting each line of a track lane for 8-10 times, as the ankle and foot get strong catching the momentum of your weight headed in one direction and then pushing off toward the other direction. After a set of these, run 20 meters and repeat for a few sets.
Standing high jumps and standing long jumps are good drills that give you upper leg and glute strength. Do these from a half squat position, as the full squat jump is more injury prone for distance runners, though sprinters will train to do jumps from a full squat position. You can just do a handful of these, but do them in several sets. Jump straight up in the air for the high jump, and jump as far forward as you can for the standing long jump.
One drill that is good for race preparation is the turnover drill. Run for a minute thinking about quick steps, not speed. As you do this, count to yourself each time your right foot hits the ground. After a minute, the count should be at 90 or close to it. The reason for this drill is that runners will race their best, at about 180 steps per minute. This cadence will keep you from overstriding and help you focus on a good rhythm. Adjust your turnover if it is a little slow and then do this drill for a second minute.
After 20 minute of drills, you can cool down for a couple of miles or do some 100-meter strides at 5-K pace effort. A good way to do strides on the track is called “straights and curves.” Here, you run the straights at 5-K pace and jog the curves for a few laps, and then cooldown for a mile or 10-15 minutes of easy jogging.
Similar to drills are core exercises. This training will focus on your hips, glutes, abs and some arm and upper body. Having a fit core and upper body will help the legs run strong and give you a good posture, which makes running an easier effort. Pushups, pull-ups, crunches, planks (especially the back plank where you are on your elbows and heels, facing up in a straight position for 30-60 seconds) are all good core exercises. Lying on your side, you can do leg raises with your upper leg straight while you slowly lift it up and down 10-20 times. Also, laying on your back, you can work hips and abs by lifting both legs, keeping them straight, and raising them to a perpendicular position with the floor and then slowly lowering them back down to the floor.
These core exercises take the place of lifting weights and can be done once or twice per week to supplement the running. Keep in mind you are doing the core workouts to help your running and not to focus on building muscle or seeing how strong you can get. You only have so much energy, and saving most of the energy for the run-specific workouts and races will give you the best results for faster running.
Also, you may want to consider one day per week of a different type of aerobic activity that will save your legs from the pounding of all the running you are doing. Swimming, biking, and elliptical training will work, but my favorite is water running. It is best to do water running in the deep end of a swimming pool or in a lake or body of water where your feet do not touch the bottom. Water run while you are wearing an aqua-jogger belt.
Your posture should be straight up and down in the water. Use the hips to keep you in line as the tendency is to lean forward too much. Imagine yourself running on the ground using the same arm and leg movements as if you were running around Lady Bird Lake trail. The workout comes from the turnover. A good run in the water is where you get an 80 count per minute with the right foot turnover (you don’t have to count every minute as you will keep the rhythm going once you are on pace). You can do drills in the water and you can increase the intensity of the workout by increasing the turnover to 90 or more rotations for a minute in intervals with a jogging effort as recovery between fast repeats.
Use all these workouts to break the monotony of running day-in, day-out with no variety in exercise. You will save your legs and stay injury-free while still getting in some valuable strength and aerobic training. Of course, for runners the best workouts and most improvement will come from the running-specific workouts. Yet, taking a day here and there to do something else will keep you fresh for the next good speed workout while keeping you fit at the same time.