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

Quadruped Running Drills Part II: Corrections

Last week in Part I, we covered common flaws in the execution of quadruped drills.  This week we’ll begin getting into strategies to correct these flaws.  Our focus will be on the two head position flaws (neck extended and head dropped) and one related to upper body posture (rounded upper back).    

Before getting into specific corrections, it is important to understand the how fully body postural conditions may affect one’s performance of these exercises.  Many are familiar with Janda’s crossed postures, but I’ll review those for a moment for the benefit of those who aren’t.  No one is entirely certain whether postural conditions result from the act of running or whether running causes postural conditions, but we do know that relationships exist.

Key points for head and neck position: Deep neck flexors become inhibited (or weak), while the upper traps and leavator scapulae become facilitated (or tight).  Patterns of inhibition and facilitation continue down through the body, but the deep neck flexors are the most critical to address.  (Also see our articles at Swimming Science on Packing the Neck). 

These conditions not only manifest themselves in quadruped, they also manifest while running.  While I give credit to any running coach who recognizes postural issues (as opposed simply churning athletes through the ringer and seeing who manages to survive...), trying to fix posture while running can be tricky and has become somewhat of a charlatan practice with the advent of multiple running form certifications. 

Running is an advanced expression of locomotion and flaws often result as guarding mechanisms for OTHER less obvious flaws.  Gray Cook’s analogy of asking your mechanic to fix your car while running alongside fits perfectly here.  Sometimes we need to regress the exercise (in this case moving from running to quadruped) to identify and fix the flaw once we have determined it is necessary to make changes.  Though quadruped exercises are the focus of this post, know that tall kneeling and half kneeling can also provide appropriate stances for exercise regressions from running.  Also consider wall supported drills, which we covered in a previous article. 

In short, there any many stance variables that may be suitable to regress from normal running and provide the optimal motor learning environment.  Consider the developmental sequence and how the choice of exercise fits within that hierarchy.  It is far easier to sort things out in quadruped or while supine than to fix things while running, though if someone has the requisite level of skill in the remedial postures they are ready to move onto advanced movements.  This progression happens automatically in the development of a young child from infancy through adolescence, but putting mileage on our bodies as adults forces us to intervene in the process for mature athletes.    

For corrective exercise interventions for quadruped drills, I would offer three different categories:

  1. Supplementary drills in quadruped position
  2. Regressions from quadruped position
  3. Ancillary tools

You can get even more detailed by mixing and matching resistance and assistance tools within these positions, but these interventions can serve as a starting point. 

1) Supplementary drills in quadruped

a.  Manual resistance: Sometimes the simple cue of “packing the neck” is insufficient.   Providing a tactile cue with a hand on the back of the head is sometimes helpful to teach the runner what proper alignment actually feels like.

 

b.  Dowel rod aligned on back: Keeping the body aligned along a rod is another external cue that can help remind athletes of the proper start position for quadruped exercises. 

c.  One of my favorites…quadruped chin tucks.  Body is stable while the head and neck move.  The brain must learn to control the head in coordination with overall spinal posture.

2) Regressions: For some athletes, quadruped position may not be the most appropriate exercise position.  You can regress into supine or prone exercises, which are less threatening to the brain due to the greater surface area of the body in contact with the ground.  Pretty obvious point, but one that is often overlooked!

a.  Head rotations – Practicing head position via chin tucks and gentle neck rotations.  I like a Miracle Ball or a Spikey Ball (RIP Ramsay McMaster) positioned behind the head to improve tactile awareness of head and neck movements in an unthreatening situation.  Moving the head and eyes while standing on one or two feet (especially while moving!) is a much greater threat than doing so while supine or prone.      

 

b) Rolling patterns: Learning to control rolling patterns involves control of the head and neck.  Sometimes increased awareness of what the body is doing through gentle movement can help remedy higher level movement issues.

3) Ancillary work – We can improve head position by improving tissue quality and movement of the thoracic spine.   T-spine mobility is an entire topic unto itself, but do remember that focusing away from the problem area can help remedy whatever you are trying to fix.  Preceding quadruped drills with working on tissue quality can make it easier to use proper form during the quadruped drills.  It only takes a few minutes during warmup or during a cooldown to prep the body for quality movement. 

Summary

As with most corrective exercise interventions, simply doing more of the exercise is not the best approach.  First we must recognize if a technical flaw exists (see part I).  Once the flaw is identified we must consult our toolbox of interventions, whether that means exercise, therapy, or even psychology to get the athlete on track.  With runners, having a quick eye and a strong command of appropriate supplementary exercises can be especially valuable in a group setting in which comprehensive breakouts are not always possible.  Being able to “bucket” athletes into common themes based on form flaws can promote greater teaching efficiency when assigning supplementary work.

In the next installment, we’ll turn our attention to the lower body flaws we commonly observe in quadruped running drills. 

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