January 27, 2012
Podcast from: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/why-running-drills-are-bad-for-you/
[00:00] About Graeme Turner
[05:14] What are Running Drills
[10:34] Why Most Running Drills are Bad for You
[14:11] Simple Verbal Cues to Think About While You're Running
[17:22] Which Running Drills are Best and How to do Them Correctly
[22:21] The Biggest Mistakes that People Make When Doing Running Drills?
[25:43] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, folks. It’s Ben Greenfield and on the other line with me is a guy who has a multitude of skills and he has given up a lucrative career in information technology to instead pursue his passion helping people achieve their fitness and their lifestyle and their triathlon and running goals. This guy knows a lot about running. He’s a nationally accredited triathlon coach down in Australia. He’s a qualified sports nutritionist, a strength conditioning coach, even a masseuse, and he’s coached kickboxers, MMA fighters, and also triathletes. The guy’s name is Graeme Turner and he doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk too. I’ve personally been to races with him, he’s competed in triathlons and running events for longer than I have, for over a decade. He’s done Hawaii Ironman; he’s done Ironman 70.3 World Championships, qualified for Boston Marathon, and he really understands athletes and I’ve seen some of the stuff he’s been doing and really appreciate it. Couple other accolades that he has on his resume are being a fourth degree black belt, so do not try and mess with him in a dark alley, and he’s even performed for a little while in a circus. But today, we’re going to talk about running and running drills, and in particular, why running drills are bad for you. Mr. Graeme Turner from Australia, thanks for coming on the call.
Graeme: No worries, Ben.
Ben: So, I’m going to cut straight to the chase here. Why are we talking about running drills? How did you get into this whole coaching and being interested in running drills and analyzing running drills gig?
Graeme: Yeah, good question. Growing up in Australia, I played a lot of sport as a kid. I played cricket, I played football, and when I was about 15, I switched over to doing karate in particular, full-contact karate and kickboxing and that involved a lot of running to keep fit as well. After about 15 years of just constantly getting beatings around the legs and all that pounding, my knees were shot. So, when I had them examined, I had osteo-arthritis in the knee, I had plicas which is basically a folding of the cartilage within the knee and I actually had all the cartilage removed from both knees through surgery. At the time, the orthopedic surgeon actually told me to give up all forms of running and all forms of [02:53] ______ sport. Now, my personality type doesn’t work well with being told that I can’t do something, so I really kind of worked on analyzing within running, not so much the biomechanics of running but what are all the different forces that are applied to the body. So, torsional forces, impact forces, and I guess you could say I was putting some of the physics back into physiology in terms of actually understanding how I could actually lessen those impacts. The interesting thing, I mean, that was 15 years ago, at the time I was told I’d need a full knee replacement within 10 years. And, I haven’t been back to that surgeon; I’m probably running faster now than I was back then.
Ben: Wow. So, in terms of what you did, you say putting a physics back into physiology when you kind of get down on the ground, pun intended, and put this stuff into practice, what kind of things did you start doing?
Graeme: Really, it was looking at where the foot was landing relative to the body. If you think about where the force is applied in terms of the body moving forward, anything that’s out in front or behind the body is really going to be applying different forces to what your body is actually suited for. I mean, if you think about trying to balance on something, and maybe this is where the circus comes into it, there are two ways you balance, you either counterbalance or you use momentum. And, a lot of the work that I see people doing is they’re more focused on the counterbalance rather than actually using the momentum.
Ben: Gotcha. So, we’re going to get into running drills and in terms of drills, what drills people typically do wrong. But, before we do that, I know there are people listening who may not even do drills at all and some people who may not be that familiar with drills or the drills that they do, the names of them, how they look, that type of thing.
Ben: So, if we were going to kind of get into semantics here for a second, when you throw around a word like “running drills,” what kind of things are you talking about?
Graeme: It’s really things that focus on creating a repeatable motion to creating proprioception within the body, creating a subconscious path for the body to move. So, it’s practicing techniques, even some of them slowly. I was with a guy this morning and one of his drills he actually sits down in front of the television to perform, but he’s creating a repeatable, subconscious movement and that’s really the focus of drills.
Ben: So, what kind of movement patterns are we talking about? Heel kicks, or high knees, or marching, or moving sideways? What kind of drills?
Graeme: Yeah, it’s interesting point that the most common drills that I see people do and I see people coaching are actually the ones that I see people doing incorrectly the most. And, those three drills, I mean, if you start with doing butt kicks. You’ll see everyone doing butt kicks out on the track.
Ben: You mean when you’re standing in place or on a track and just kicking your heel up to your butt?
Graeme: Yeah, that’s it. That’s exactly right and that drill is designed to do two things. It’s to create more speed of movement at the back of the running stride and it’s also designed to teach bending the knee and bringing the foot up underneath the body. And, what I see most people do butt kicks, they really focus on the first part; they focus on kicking at the back. And, 99% of people I see do it have their knee pointed exactly at the ground and there’s no flexing or no movement at the hip at all. So, they’re really just flooring their feet back as far as they can.
Graeme: The issue there is they’re not just flooring their feet back as fast as they can, they’re actually flooring their feet into the ground quite quickly as well. And, you’ll see them, they’re basically kicking their foot directly into the ground and what that’s actually doing is it’s creating a breaking motion. I often use the analogy with people the skateboard. If you were to stand on a skateboard and you wanted to stop that skateboard, the way you do that is by jamming your foot into the ground. If you want that skateboard to go faster, you actually skim your foot from the front to the back. And so, with doing the butt kicks, by jamming the foot into the ground, it actually creates a breaking force and what that means is people then need to affectively create momentum again to bring themselves over that breaking point. And a lot of people tend to do that through the hip flexors. If you look at a one hour run with an average cadence, that’s about 10,000 steps that people would be taking. So, if they’re creating that breaking force, that means that 10,000 times in an hour they then have to engage the hip flexors to push their body up over that point and that creates a lot of stress.
So, typically if I find people and they say yup I get really sore through the hips or the other one I find is blisters because their foot is trying to move forward while the shoe is actually trying to decelerate them, 9 times out of 10, it points to the fact that they’re doing that particular drill or that technique wrong.
Ben: So, if you were going to do a heel to butt kicks, is there a way to do them right?
Graeme: Yeah, the focus when you do heel to butt kicks is on lifting the knee. So, effectively you’re kicking the foot underneath your body, not out the back of the body.
Graeme: Now, the focus there too is whenever I talk about lifting the knee the keyword is always lifting; you are never pushing off the ground to get the knee up. You’re always raising that and then kicking underneath your body.
Ben: Gotcha. I think that I was at a triathlon with you down in Thailand and I think you showed me that one, in particular, where I tended to kick my heel up towards my butt and you showed me how you should almost lift your knee a little bit more. Just thinking about that, that one little modification of the drill helped out quite a bit.
Graeme: Yeah, it’s interesting if you ever go onto Youtube and look at someone like Michael Johnson, for example, running. He looks like he’s running incredibly upright, but if you look, he has very, very high knee lifts and then quite a fast snap. I mean, obviously that guy can run.
Ben: Yeah. Yeah, I think he knows a little bit about running.
Ben: So, we’ve got that drill and I know that’s a lot of times, referred to as the Cs running drill over here in America.
Ben: There are also, and it’s part of the As, Bs, and Cs track and field type of running drills, you see a lot of people doing with the As being kind of like a high knee skip and the Bs being kind of more like a kicking your leg out in front of you and pawing the ground. Are those other two drills that I just mentioned also drills that you see people doing wrong or are those drills okay?
Graeme: No, they’re quite a common one to do incorrectly as well. Sometimes people refer to those as strides as well. For a lot of people, what they focus on is the outcome rather than the drill itself and so when they’re doing those, they tend to reach forward in front of the body with their foot. What that means is that it’s even worse than butt kicks; they’re actually landing forward of their center of gravity, usually trying to land on the front of the foot, and that puts an incredible amount of force up through, for example, the Achilles which has to try and stabilize the ankle as well as have all that force applied to it. The interesting thing I found with those drills, especially when you coach guys over women is a lot of guys grow up playing a sport that involves kicking. Now, whether it’s they’re playing football, soccer, even doing karate, etcetera and so when they lift their knee, it’s almost a programmed motion to actually extend the foot like they’re kicking. And, when that comes into doing that A and B drills or doing strides, they automatically and basically subconsciously extend the foot out in front of the body when they’re doing that.
Ben: Gotcha. Okay. Cool. So, in terms of other running drills that you see people doing incorrectly or other popular running drills that you maybe wouldn’t recommend, are there other drills floating around out there other than the As and the Bs and the Cs that we’ve talked about?
Graeme: Yeah, the other one that I see a lot is people practicing leaning. So, they look at a runner and they look at them, they have a forward lean. So, they’ll actually practice doing a leaning drill and the interesting thing with leaning drill is there’s basically three spots you can bend within the body when you’re running. So, you can bend at the neck, you can bend at the waist, or you can bend at the ankles. A lot of people, when they lean, will automatically bend rather than lean and I think you’ve mentioned it before, but the human head weighs about 22 pounds, I think it is, and so to actually carry that when you’re bent at the waist or bents at the neck creates a lot of strain in the body. So, the correct part is to bend from the ankles so to keep your body straight, but even then I see people going back to that momentum versus counterbalancing will actually kick out the back as they lean forward to try and balance the body. So, they still have that same problem with jamming into the ground.
Ben: Gotcha. So, is there something people can, as probably as well as I do when you’re doing running drills and swimming drills, your IQ basically drops 30 points while you’re out there exercising. Are there simple visualizations that people can use to incorporate these concepts that you’re talking about? Someone who’s listening to this podcast right now and they’re out running, what kind of cues would you give them?
Graeme: Yeah, it’s interesting that the most valuable cue that I have when they’re running is the sound. So, when people are kicking too far out the back, you tend to get a scuffing sound as they’re running which is basically their deceleration as the foot is hitting the ground. When they’re extending too far out the front, they’ll actually get a slapping sound as their foot is actually hitting into the ground. So, that’s the cue that I actually ask people to do is listen for the sound, first of all, and that would give you a very good idea of where your foot is actually landing.
The other one that I focus on, the mantra for people, is lifting over pushing. So, people will read, “okay, I have to get my knee up” which is fine, but they’ll think to do that I push off the ground and that has a couple of different issues. First of all, it’s putting a load on the calves, so again, if you’re a longer distance runner, you’re basically doing a lot of extra work to lift yourself up. The other interesting thing and, this is something Danny Abshire was mentioning when you had him on the podcast, is your body doesn’t want to push off the ground until it feels that it’s stable. So, by focusing on the push, you’ll actually have more ground contact time and I call it heavier ground contact time while your foot gets stable to push your off the ground. And, obviously ground contact time is your enemy, that’s when you’re slowing down within your running stride. So, the focus that I give people is really lift, not push when they’re out running and they’re kind of the two things: listen to what you’re doing, focus on the lift.
Ben: Okay. Listen to the sound that your body is making as you’re running and then visualize instead of pushing off the ground, just lifting your foot off the ground.
Ben: If you picture a string or a laser line from your knee kind of going up towards the sky, does that help? I know, like in swimming, you can think about being a puppet on a string and your elbow gets pulled up towards the ceiling to get yourself to have a high elbow in the recovery of swimming. Does that concept kind of work for running?
Graeme: It can. I guess it’s something a little bit like swimming. I mean, you can consciously think of a… I think it’s seven things that you can consciously think about at one time. So, if you’re out running, you’ve already got some things like what’s the terrain, what’s up ahead, etcetera. So, I try and really limit, within people’s running, the number of things that they have to focus on. I mean, really, just keep it simple.
Ben: Gotcha, okay. So, we’ve talked about drills and I’ve kind of thrown some drills at you for you to talk about…
Ben: Now, if you were to just… let’s say you were to take a runner and you would sit down with them and you wanted to make them a better runner and based on the number of runners that you’ve seen, you were to take your favorite drills that you would be used to turn them into a better runner, what drills would you personally use? What are the best running drills?
Graeme: Sure. So, the most common drill that I use with people because a little bit like swimming with the hand, the foot is what’s called a long lever, which means relative to the body, there’s not a lot of feedback as to where it actually is. So, for a lot of people, they’re not actually aware of what they’re doing with their feet. And so, the first drill that I normally give people to do is to create a bit of awareness of what they’re doing and that’s called the toe up drill which is basically to pull your toes up against your shoe as you’re running. That will create awareness, but the other interesting thing it does, it’s almost impossible to kick your feet out the back while you’re putting your toes up. It naturally creates a small degree of knee lift when you’re running.
Ben: Okay and what’s the name of that drill?
Graeme: I call it the toe up drill, but I guess one disclaimer I’ll give on any drills, especially with the personality types of a lot of runners, don’t go out and run 10k trying to pull your toes up against the shoe. There’s a small muscle at the front of your shin that is not going to be particularly happy with you.
Ben: Okay. Okay. So, we’ve got that drill and what other drills?
Graeme: Yeah, the second drill, and I’ll give you the PG version, I call it the dog poo drill and the simple analogy is if you had something on the bottom of your shoe and you needed to wipe that off, then that is the motion that you’re practicing. Now, it’s a good one to start with standing next to a mirror or if you don’t have a mirror, just use the sun to create a shadow to work with because, like I said 99% of guys especially, can’t actually do this without extending their foot out in front of them. And so, what you’re trying to do is create that circle underneath the body, often referred to with running. You want to run like the Road Runner, if you remember in the cartoon, the upper body was completely still and he just had the legs going in a really fast circle underneath.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. So, you don’t actually have to have dog poo present to practice that drill, yeah? Just use the powers of visualization.
Graeme: No, yeah, I mean you can if you really want to embed this drill, but yeah, it’s not necessary.
Ben: Good to know because I’m certain some people may have tried to drag their dog out so they could do the dog poo drill.
Ben: What else other than the toe up and the dog poo? Any others that you recommend?
Graeme: Yeah, the third one that I use with people is I do use the leaning drill with people just to get them having that slight amount of forward momentum, but I combine that with knee lifting. So, that they are leaning forward basically to the point where they just feel themselves lose balance, but with a strong focus on pulling the knee up in front of the body.
Ben: Gotcha. Okay, so those three? I’m sorry, what was the name again of the last one?
Graeme: It’s knee lift drill.
Ben: The knee lift drill, okay. So, we got toe up, dog poo, and knee lift. Can people actually see these drill anywhere, like for the visual learners, like myself, who would actually want to see videos of these?
Graeme: Yeah, there’s actually… I’ve put the dog poo drill up, without any dog poo, on Youtube. I’ll send you through some link to those drills.
Ben: Perfect because then I can… What I’ll do is, for folks listening in, I’ll embed these in the show notes for this episode and if you’re listening this sometime after it comes out, just go to the website and do a search for run drills and it’ll probably come up in the hits because that’s what I’m going to title this post.
So, okay, those three drills sounds like that’s a really, really good place for people to start. So, if you were to give the takeaway summary, the synopsis of this, Graeme, as far as the biggest mistakes people make running, for the people who just want your concise summary, what are the biggest mistakes that people make when doing running drills?
Graeme: Yeah, I think the one biggest mistake people make in running drills and I think, in pretty much all triathlon drills is they focus on the outcome. So, strides is a classic example where rather than focusing on strides, which is really about lifting your knee higher and if you have high knee lift, you have a larger circle and it’s pretty simple geometry that says that that is a bigger stride, where people focus on reaching out in front of them thinking that’s what is required to make the larger stride. Same with the butt kicks, they’re focusing on the outcome, kicking their butt, rather than actually focusing on what the drill itself is trying to program into them. The other comment I’d make to the most common mistake people make is they do them too much, right. And, by that, frequency is good, but you don’t necessarily need to go out and do 5km of butt kicks.
Ben: Gotcha. Okay.
Graeme: Sorry, there’s one other thing…
Ben: Go ahead.
Graeme: There’s one other thing I’d probably say,, the most common bit of feedback I get from people when they have drills, is they go yeah I did that, but it felt really weird and so I stopped. And, I guess the takeaway there is weird doesn’t mean wrong, weird just means different. I guess, if I was to look at their normal running style, I’d probably say, “well, that looks pretty weird.” And so, what I quite often do is after I’ve done some drills with people is say, “right now I want you to run 50 yards, running like you normally run” and a majority of people come back and go, “yeah, actually the way I was running is what feels weird.”
Ben: Interesting. Okay, cool. What I’m going to do is I’ll put the videos you talked about in the show notes for this and then, folks, if you want a little bit more direction from Graeme, he is a featured coach now at Pacific Elite Fitness, meaning you can hire him to coach you for triathlon, for running, for endurance sports, and he even does some fitness and nutrition and lifestyle stuff too. So, he is definitely Ben Greenfield Fitness endorsed. I wouldn’t have him featured as a coach Pacific Elite Fitness if I didn’t really, really trust him and see the type of coaching that he’s doing. So, if you’re interested in having Graeme work with you, maybe even sending him some running videos to analyze your running gate, to coach you on a monthly basis, whatever your needs are, Graeme is now available to do that. So, if you want to do that, I’ll put a link in the show notes to Graeme’s personal coaching page at Pacific Elite Fitness or you can just go to PacificFit.net and find Graeme there. So, a guy with a lot of skill and a good eye especially for these running issues.
Graeme, thanks for coming on the call today.
Graeme: Thanks, Ben.
Australian running drills expert and triathlon coach Graeme Turner was told by doctors that he should never run again because he had destroyed his knees playing sports.
But he refused to listen, and instead used his knowledge of physics to train his body to run in a way that did not stress his joints. He is now both a triathlon coach as well as a wealth of knowledge of running drills.
In this audio interview with Graeme, you'll find out:
-Why most running drills are bad for you…
-The most common mistakes people make when performing running drills…
-Which running drills are best and how to do them correctly…
-Simple verbal cues to think about while you're running…