A smoother looking, faster you isn’t just the thing of dreams - it really can be achieved with just 15 minutes of technique work each week.
These exercises are best done in this order:
- Warm up
- A short run
- The form exercises (each about 15 metres, three times)
- Cool down, thinking about the posture and form you’ve just been working on
If that sounds like a lot of hard work, fear not! These exercises are easy and fun, and vital for all sorts of things, from running faster to avoiding injury. Don’t think of it as changing your existing form, rather working more efficiently with what you’ve got.
Start from the bottom up
Plenty of us are heel strikers, but it’ll come as no surprise that the fastest runners are those who drive off the ball of their foot and it’s been proven that pushing off from your toes helps in the prevention of injury. With that in mind, let’s kick off the session with an ankle mobility exercise, done at walking speed. Simply stand nice and relaxed, and in an exaggerated movement walk forward pushing up off your toes. Think about your ankle doing a lot of the work along with your toes. Posture is important, so stand tall and look directly forward.
This is not unlike skipping. Concentrate on pushing up using your toes in a forward motion - almost bounding. Keep your body upright and look forward. And do it slowly! There are no prizes for fast skipping in this session.
Add some pace
A quicker cadence is something all runners want, and this practice adds a bit of pace, while still working on that ankle mobility and toe drive. Think sewing machine: short pitter-patter steps as quick as you can, again nice tall posture, driving off your toes. Five or ten metres is fine for this - you’re not going quickly forward, more super quick up and down with minimal forward motion.
Perhaps the most important area to think about - a nice, free moving hip action will help you run faster and keep that perfect form. Think Mo Farah at pace for a mental picture of what we’re aiming for. Once again, this is a walking exercise - nice and upright, raise your right knee in front of you, parallel to the ground and then out to the right and back down with a smooth rotating motion. Opening the gate is a good way to visualise the exercise.
To maximise the benefit of these exercises, you’ll need to make sure all of them are completed with perfect posture. This is simple - stand up straight and look ahead. Keep your shoulders nice and relaxed, with no tension in the neck and your arms nice and loose. The phrase ‘run tall’ is perfect in this instance. To keep it all constant, concentrate on your eyeline - keep that nice and steady, looking into the mid-distance on a level plain.
There are many other drills you can learn similar to this. You don’t need to do them all in one sitting, but it’s handy to add a few to your repertoire.
Put it all into practice
After these quick, easy exercises, do three or four run-throughs over about 80 metres; don’t worry about pace, but really concentrate on your form.
In training sessions, England Athletics coaches use the ‘H’ shape as a guideline. This means the shape your body and legs form at pace should look like a H. Again, think of Mo Farah sprinting at pace and you’ll see that nice upright body, extended back leg and high lift of the front - H.
Once or twice a month, look at your cadence over about a minute during a relaxed run. Say in a 5x1min workout, in the third minute, try to increase your foot strike rate. Then return to your normal rate. Changes will occur, but they’ll take time.
3 smooth sessions
Throw your stopwatch away while running these workouts - nice and relaxed, mentally picturing a smooth action as you run. They’re best run on the track, but a level grass surface such as a cricket pitch or golf course will be fine.
1-3, run fast for 30m, ease off for 30m and then back to full out pace
4-6, run easy for 30m, pick it up of 30m, then back to easy
7-9 through the gears each 30, so easy, fast, super quick - all the while feeling relaxed and smooth
Through the gears over each 100, so nice and relaxed for the first 100, pick it up to three quarter pace for 100 and then smoothly accelerate into top speed over the final 100. Take 4min rest and repeat
Run easily for the first 400m, roughly at your 5km speed; then ini the final 200m smooth accelerate to flat out; walk 200m recovery.