Running Drills: Master Your Run Finesse

This article piggybacks my last post, Running Drills: Master Your Run Form, where I introduced one of the most basic run form fundamentals called, The Lean. Seems easy enough, right? Just lean? Not so. The drills require lots of practice and repetition. The Lean is just the tip of the iceberg in mastering the intricate fundamentals that build a foundation for efficiency, speed, and running finesse (not to mention reducing the risk of injury).

For the functional component of run drills, I’ve enlisted the support of professional run coach Mario Fraoli. As an age-group and elite run coach, Coach Fraoli trains runners for personal bests, Boston Marathon Qualifying times, and has even worked with athletes preparing for the Olympic Games. He is Senior Editor at Competitor Magazine and the author of The Official Rock ‘n’ Roll Guide to Marathon & Half-Marathon Training.

Fraioli explains that “a runner’s stride is a complex mix of two different energy sources: metabolic (energy produced by the muscles); and elastic energy (produced by tendons and other connective tissue that stretch and recoil like a series of springs that propel you forward). A runner’s fitness level will limit the amount of energy the muscles can produce, while the functional strength of the soft tissue will dictate the most efficient way for a person to run.”

Getting Started

If you’ve taken time off from running and/or speed work or are new to running, you should incorporate the following functional run drills into your weekly run routine. Start with one and build to two or three times a week for eight to twelve weeks total. Practice one to two sets of up to four unique drills (in no particular order). As your form and technique improve, increase to three to four sets.

The primary goal is to emanate perfect run form – imagine being Meb! As your confidence increases through repetition, the speed at which you perform these drills will also increase.

Putting Form to Function

  • Warm up well in Zone 1 for 10 to 20 minutes followed by 10 to 15 minutes of functional plyometric drills. Take your time; this is not a race.

  • Rest for 5 – 10 seconds between each exercise so you don’t overload or fatigue your muscles prior to the focus workout.

  • Post run drills, move onto your speed or other quality run workout.

The Drills


In these three exercises, Coach Mario demonstrates improving hip, knee, and leg turnover function. Repeat each drill 10 to 20 seconds each or 10-15 meters. A video of these drills can be seen here.

A’s – Focus: Leg speed and turnover firing from the hips.

  • Start by standing really tall (The Lean). Drive the knee upward as if you’re going to knee a soccer ball into the air. The knee should be at a 90-degree angle when in front of the hips. Alternate between legs with a nice, quick turnover.

B’s – Focus: Quickening the foot strike while keeping the foot under the body, the center of gravity. This helps minimize over-striding which lends itself to landing on the heel, resulting in a breaking motion.

  • Kick your leg straight up, like in the first drill, but bring the entire leg out in front of your body.

C’s – Focus: Heel lifts leading to a more efficient stride. Also known as “heel kicks” or “butt kicks”.

  • To do this, stand in place. Quickly lift your heel to your butt; alternate your left heel and right heel. Then lean in and move into short strides with quick running cadence. 


This is one of the most common run drills. Repeat this drill 2 to 3 times, for 10 to 15 meters.

  • Focus: Endurance and strength to hip flexors, hamstrings, ankles, calves, glutes and quadriceps. The goal is to propel your body in an upward, yet forward motion that builds momentum through the accompaniment of upper body motion.

  • To do this: hold your arms at a 90-degree angle. Stand tall and lean into the skip – bound high and forward. Land mid to the center of the foot. Feel how the landing foot rolls from your mid foot, to the end of your toe, into the toe-off phase.

Jumping Rope

During the run, energy transfers from the foot to the leg via the ankle joint. This repetitive motion has the potential to weaken tendons and lead to muscle cramping due to repetitive power (force) overload. This is a great exercise to practice two to three times a week, building anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes.

  • Focus: Strengthens the calf muscles that support the tendons and ligaments in the leg and foot.

  • To do this: Grab your jump rope and start jumping! Be patient as you develop your proprioception and find rhythm.

Cariocas (or Crossover Stepping)

In this exercise, you build rhythm and coordination, allowing you to utilize your lateral muscles (not often used in running). Perform 2 to 4 sets for 10 – 15 meters.

  • Focus: Relaxed running while focusing on speed and agility, opening up the hips while strengthening the groin, hips, and lower legs. 

  • To do this: In this exercise the right leg (lead leg) crosses over (in front) of the left leg (lag). The left leg then moves sideways to catch up to the right leg. When you reach the end distance, face the same direction -- the left leg now leads with the right following. As you progress, lift the knee of the lead leg higher over the lag leg and incorporate a hop while crossing over.

  • The key to this exercise is to build speed but to reduce excessive vertical oscillation, minimizing the bounce.

Prior to the start of short, fast distance races, such as a 5 to 10K’s, performing several of these drills will help you improve blood flow to working muscles and prepare your body for the high intensity output in your upcoming event.

By Dorette Franks, RDN, co-owner of Trifiniti Endurance. Dorette is also a multi-sport coach and offers individual, group, and corporate fitness and nutrition wellness coaching to those seeking help with nutrition balance, weight loss, and athletic performance. Her training plans have been utilized by Mio Global, Nike, The San Francisco Aids Foundation, the Golden Gate Triathlon Club, and she has received accolades in Triathlete, SHAPE, Runners World, and Women’s Health Magazines.

ABC’s Run Drills: Competitor Magazine

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