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

Incorporating Running Drills into the Movement Reeducation Process of a 2:29 Marathoner: Case Study, Part 3

After the screening and assessment described in part 1 and the generalized corrective approach in part 2, this runner was ready to progress toward running drills.  We use drills as a pedagogical tool to fill the gap between corrective exercise and normal running.  Drills are themselves an advanced form of corrective exercise.  Each drill exists along a skill continuum between our fundamental movement patterns and the full running stride.  It often troubles us to see people talk about a "right way" to run without attention to what factors guided the evolution of a particular runner's mechanics.  Textbook perfection goes out the window when you have underlying pathology (a surgically repaired big toe within inhernet structural limitations) and more than a decade of motor programming shaped through tens of thousands of running miles.

We began with the wall-switch drill, which was an advanced progression from the straight leg raise, glute bridging, and chopping/lifting patterns, as each line of corrective methods challenged skills such as hip extension, glute activation, and posterior chain engagement. 


Watch more video of Wall Supported Running Drills on media.pikeathletics.com

The main difference between the wall switch drill and the full running stride was the use of the wall to support his body.  By placing the body into a less threatened state as compared to unsupported running (remember that running is a controlled fall), we gave his brain the freedom to learn effective core firing patterns specific to the running stride without fear of losing balance.   

We then moved forward with marching variations and skipping.  What a sight to behold as he could hardly skip! Literally. At first it was quite astonishing that someone who could run close to 5:40 pace for 26.2 miles could not skip ten feet on cue.  You might say, "He accomplished quite a bit without skipping…why does he need to skip now?"  Skipping is valuable as both an assessment and as a learning tool. The skip challenges upper body and lower body disassociation and is an advanced expression of the basic cross-crawl movement pattern. 

When babies learn how to crawl across a room (after first having passed more primitive movement milestones), one form of locomotion is the cross-crawl in which alternate side arms and legs drive the forward movement.  The progression from crawling to running takes the body from three or four points of ground contact (as in crawling) to a single point with one foot at a time contacting the ground during the running stride.  Runners need movement skills to cultivate a high level of neuromuscular malleability to deal with repetitive use.  At high levels of exertion and after long training sessions, motor patterns change in the presence of fatigue.  The drills also give us as coaches a baseline to assess his functional ownership of each movement pattern specific to running.

In subsequent weeks, we added height to the skips, and introduced high knee drills and bounding both for height and distance.  We also added small doses of lateral movements (shuffling, X walks) and backward movements (skipping and running).  The high knee drills initially reflected his struggle with the hurdle step pattern. He would start out cleanly in first few steps and then lose posture.  For this reason, we started with four to five high steps at a time, as he could not do any more in a single effort without losing form.  Simultaneously, we continued to maintain previous gains we made in the basic hurdle step correctives.

We had some interesting observations regarding his lateral and backward movements. His initial effort at backward skipping and backward running was MUCH better than the forward versions. It almost seemed like his brain’s "forward movement file" was corrupted.  Because he had not punished his body going sideways or backward, the lateral and backward movement "files" were less corrupted and he expressed these file contents with qualitatively better movement in those directions.  One of our missions in guiding him through drills was to transfer his multidirectional locomotive integrity into safe forward movement.  Left to its own devices, the body will find a way to get from one point to another in the fastest way possible.  However, the body's chosen route is not always the safest.


We had no role in setting his running workouts, but with each week he reported improvement.  He lived near a track and was able to perform running drills 2-3 days per week after easy runs.  He incorporated hill bounding into some easy runs, as he ran frequently on hilly dirt trails.  During the initial weeks he was able to run without discomfort on his normal runs for the first time in months.  He reported that tightness would return during long runs over two hours but by week three he ran free of all tightness. One measure of success was that he continued to report improvement as the training load increased.  While reducing training load is essential to allow for healing in the presence of pain and damage, the real test for corrective interventions is whether they withstand normal training.

Hopefully this three part series illustrates the role that general and sport specific corrective exercise can serve in bridging the gap between rehabilitation and performance.  Like our runner here, many endurance athletes live in a constant abyss between painful and pain-free training.  It is imperative that runners do more than simply treat discomfort and cut back training load.  A full-body multifaceted approach is imperative.  For this runner, a blend of daily soft tissue work combined with both general and running specific movement reeducation set him in the right direction.  We look forward to watching his return to the marathon later this spring.


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