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Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Quadruped Running Drills Part I: Troubleshooting

Quadruped drills such as “donkey kicks” and “fire hydrants” are quite popular these days in the running community.  Running coaches love these drills because they are relatively easy to administer and can target the lower body without adding excess fatigue to the legs.  Plus, when big name coaches start sharing them at conferences and on popular running websites, everyone else tends to follow along with the herd.  

While these drills can be useful, many runners perform them incorrectly, though often through no fault of their own.  Flaws in the execution usually result from unchecked physical limitations that are best remedied through corrective exercises and/or manual treatment interventions.  We’ll cover those in future posts.  In this post, we'll troubleshoot the most common flaws.  Note that some flaws may appear simultaneously in the same runner...you'll probably see a few examples below!   

Neck extended

 Since we know that carrying the head like this would not be good while running, why should it be acceptable during drills?  Better to keep the neck "packed" which keeps the spine in more neutral alignment, promotes more effective core muscle firing patterns, and relieves stress on the neck and shoulders.

Head dropped

The opposite of the extended neck is the dropped head.  This isn't quite as common as the extended neck, but is still a frequent problem.  You wouldn't want to run this way, so we shouldn't do exercises this way either. 

Swayback  

Swayback can appear during the setup position or can appear during exercise when the hip tries to extend.  This flaw is often seen with an extended neck as a form of Janda's lower crossed syndrome (more on that in a follow up post).   

Hunchback

We all know that a rounded upper back is not something to promote.  In fairness, the girl in this picture may be doing the cat-camel yoga move, but there are many runners who plop themselves onto the ground with a rounded back.  Would you want to run this way?  Probably not.

Hand instability

In quadruped stance, the hands function like the arch of the foot.  Mid-hand stability transfers support into the shoulders, which allows for optimal development of shoulder girdle movement patterns, just as foot mechanics work via feedback loops with the hips.  In the developmental stereotype for upright posture in infants, hand stability comes before the pushup and upright stance.  Many runners let their hands slide all over the place during these exercises, which leads to other problems such as... 

Lateral movement

Runners lacking adequate stability often sway laterally (technically, this can be a mobility flaw too, but we'll discuss that more in a future post).  A common visual flaw is for the arms to bend when the hip rotates.  Sometimes the fix can be easy, such as regressing to doing the exercise resting on forearms, or all the way back to rolling patterns. The biggest problem with bent elbows is it reinforces poor scapular function, which can lead to form flaws like crossing the arms over the center line. 

Leg Externally Rotated

This is a signal of limited hip mobility, but some runners can cheat to gain more hip extension by adding external rotation, which is seen by pointing the toe outward.  Often the external rotation comes via the hip, but sometimes it can come from the lower leg. 

Grounded Foot Plantar Flexed

I wouldn't say keeping the ankle in plantar flexion (toe pointed) is inherently wrong, but there are no justifications as to why this way is better than a dorsiflexed foot.  Since many runners lack posterior chain activation, flexing the foot is an easy way to trigger the muscles of the backside without conscious thought. 

SUMMARY

In the next installment, we’ll break down these flaws in greater detail and explore corrective strategies.  Ultimately, these corrective strategies will allow runners to get more out of their quadruped exercises.  Attention to detail in the fundamental stages of exercise will pay dividends when we challenge the body during upright posture with the addition of running gait.  Improved developmental movement progressions will build greater physical robustness to handle greater training loads.  Just as a baby had to earn its way into quadruped position, runners should too.   

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