Running Drills to Cure Heel Striking and Shin Splints

Mischele Stevens

Coach

Barrie, Canada

Triathlon, Endurance Sports

Having poor running technique can be painful and costly. The gadgets and gear to help correct you can be overwhelming, the costs of therapy for issues related to improper running form can be astronomical, but most of all running in pain robs us of the joy of the sport. Let’s get you running more efficiently, in less pain, and with an added bonus of running faster.

 

Classic signs of poor running technique include, but aren’t limited to, lower back pain, knee pain, and shin splints. Typically these symptoms are due to heel striking where your foot makes contact on the ground first and then you follow through with your body which creates huge amounts of impact on your body as a whole. This type of running is very common and can be a challenge to correct. With the help of gravity and some work on your part, we will move you to running on your midfoot and change your center of mass to reduce some of the intense impact that heel striking can produce. There are some drills and tips to help you correct the heel striking which will also have you running faster with less effort by using gravity to work in our favor.

 

 

Before you begin any drill, start by finding the feeling of being on your midfoot. You can do this by standing flat foot, keeping a stable midline, arms at your sides, then just lean forward without bending at the waist. Lean from the ankles and shift your weight towards the ball of your foot. Be sure not to lean too far so you can keep your alignment. Leaning too far will make you break your form and put your foot out to keep you from falling on your face. The feeling you get having the weight on the ball of your foot is where you want to be. It’s this small lean that we want to keep while executing the drills and subsequent running.

 

Ball of the Foot Drills

The biggest part of breaking free of the heel strike during running is to get used to being on the ball of the foot or midfoot. Depending on who you ask, it is the area forward of the arch, before the toes. For these drills, it's best to keep the following in mind:

 

Why? It’s an important drill to teach us where to land while running and how to fall forward.

 

How? Stand upright with tight midline, neutral hips, and correct posture. Be sure to look forward and not at your feet. Start by hopping in place while maintaining your starting posture. Hop in place 10-20 times then add a lean from the ankles. Feel your weight shift to the ball of the foot and hop forward 10 times. Be sure to be aware of the feeling. Repeat 2-4 times more. Be sure to let your heel kiss the ground.

 

 

Wall Drills

These drills teach you how to fall into the forward movement as well as how to pull the foot off the ground using the hamstring without pushing off.

 

Wall Leans: Facing a wall, stand with straight posture, stable midline, shoulders relaxed, and hips neutral. Extend your arms straight out and fall forward into the wall maintaining a fixed body. Keep looking straight ahead and not at the ground. Run in place and be sure to pull feet off the ground.

 

 

Back to Wall Drills: Stand with back to the wall with feet a few inches out from the wall. Posture is straight and your body weight is on the ball of the foot. Pull a foot of the ground using the hamstring and make a figure 4 posture (notice in the video) and then return your foot to the ground and back on the ball of the foot. Any push off with the foot instead of lifting will result in hitting the wall behind you. A good practice is to execute 20-25 pulls per foot.

 

 

 

Common mistakes with these drills is breaking at the hips where your butt is back and your chest has dropped forward. Your knees could be too high up, pulling foot too high and letting the back foot trail out behind you instead of under you.

 

Gun Drill (aka Charlie’s Angels)

This drill helps with the feeling of falling forward without breaking at the hip while maintaining a stable midline.

 

To do this drill, resume your standard body position—correct posture, hips neutral, shoulders relaxed, knees slightly bent, and looking forward. Extend arms out in front of body and clasp hands while keeping arms locked out. Begin running in place by pulling feet off the ground in the figure 4 posture while maintaining locked out arms. Keep the midline tight and with no breaking at the waist. Fall forward at the ankles and run while keeping your arms from shifting side to side.

 

 

Common mistakes for this drill are things like breaking at the hip, high knees, your foot trailing out behind the center of mass, keeping your knees low, and instead of pulling the foot up you are doing “butt kickers.”

 

Partner Fall

This drill will get you comfortable with the degree of lean needed without worry of falling on your face. You will learn the amount of lean needed to obtain optimal forward movement.

 

Partner #1 stands in the new standard figure 4 position while partner #2 supports their body weight at the shoulders to keep them from falling. Partner #1 runs in place with midline stable, looking forward, making a figure 4, and pulling their feet off the ground using the hamstring. At the time partner #2 feels the commitment to the lean and technique they let go and move out of the way. Partner #1 continues with a quick very short test run while maintaining form.

 

 

The most common mistakes done here are that partner #1 leans too severely or fails to hold correct posture by breaking at the hips. Be sure to maintain the lean from the ankles and look forward.

 

Be sure to video yourself while you working on your technique to ensure you are getting into the right position, leaning from the ankles, and your legs look like a figure 4 and not a butt kick.

 

Use These Drills as Progressions

Once you put together these running drill progressions you will be ready to test them out on the road. Don’t rush it and reduce your mileage to start. Remember while doing your drills and your runs to get your heels down to save from blowing out your calves. You will be amazed to not only run with less pain but to also use gravity to run so much faster with little effort.

 

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