Target Muscle/s: Glutes, hamstrings, erector spinae, obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis
Sets & Reps: 3 sets of 12 repetitions (each leg)
Tempo: Slow, medium, fast.
Frequency: Include in warm ups / skill sessions
The Leg Cycle Drill is an excellent way to develop a number of elements typically found in an effective running form:
• reduce over-striding
• increase cadence
• practice running tall
• increase propulsion
• improve arm movement
It is particularly useful for runners who have a tendency to use the muscles on the front of their legs (quadriceps) more than those on the back. In contrast to walking, running is about driving the legs backwards as opposed to lifting them up in front of you. Compare it to a bow & arrow: driving a leg backwards is the equivalent of pulling back the string of the bow…. your knee coming forwards is the release of the arrow.
The running cycle drill focuses on developing this driving back force by experiencing how increased drive backwards produces a naturally faster swing through. By incorporating the arms, the coordination & neuromuscular demands of actual running are close enough to mean that the skills can be transferred into your actual running.
1. Drive Down
From a single leg running position, drive the raised foot down towards the ground, aiming to land just in front of the other foot. At the same time, drive the opposite elbow back in a running motion.
2. Pull Back
As soon as the foot touches the ground, pull it backwards like a bull getting ready to charge. Though the action stays light, emphasise the drive backwards by scraping the ground beneath you, as if you were trying to get some chewing gum off the sole.
3. Swing Through
The more powerfully you drive back, the higher the heel will naturally want to rise behind you (a sprinter’s heel will reach their backside). As your bent leg now swings through, imagine there are pieces of string pulling both the heel and the knee of upwards. In effect, your thigh should come through almost parallel to the ground.
4. Repeat Cycle
You should now find yourself once again in your start position and ready to repeat the cycle, with your arms also having returned to their start position. These cycles work on your coordination, so do be sure to start slowly.
Short Grass – Long Grass
A useful cue when performing this drill is as your leg swings through imagine the foot is trying to clear grass growing below. To practice a low power drive, imagine the grass below you is not very long, i.e. your foot and do not need to move very high. As your confidence and fluidity increases, imagine the grass below is now a little taller, so by driving back more powerfully the foot and knee pass a little higher. Finally, for maximum drive, aim to pass over the top of long grass beneath you. Finding analogies like ‘move over the grass’ that make sense to you can be a great way of developing coordination & fluidity during drills.
If you get pain in the lower back when performing the leg cycle drill, it may be because you are arching your back too much when driving the leg back behind you. You may well need to do some hip mobility exercises such as the kneeling pelvic tilt beforehand. If in doubt, seek advice from an exercise professional.
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