Knee & Hip Flexion Drill for Better Running Form

Mar 26, 2014   //   by James Dunne   //   Biomechanics & Running Technique, Training Videos  //  11 Comments  //  Affiliate Disclosure  

One specific area of running gait we work on a great deal with runners and triathletes is the movement patterning of the swing leg.

Many runners tend to run with reduced hip flexion (think ‘knee lift’) for a given pace. With insufficient hip flexion, in order for them to achieve the required stride length for a desired pace, they end up extending (straightening) the knee excessively just prior to foot contact. This puts them in a position where all they are able to do is over-stride, landing the foot out ahead of relatively more extended knee than is optimal. Usually at this point the athlete will be heel striking heavily, but some may still display a plantar flexed ankle and forefoot strike, especially if they’ve been consciously trying to work on ‘not heel striking’!

Regardless of pace or foot strike type, we look to enable a runner to land their foot under a flexing knee to promote improved running form.

Many coaches pick cadence as one of the primary variables to manipulate in encouraging the kinetic and kinematic changes that result in a reduced tendency to over-stride. While I certainly do work with cadence a great deal, I believe we as coaches need in many cases to look past this and spend time re-educating fundamental movement patterns…

I use variations of the drill below to teach runners the movement of combined knee and hip flexion during running gait.

From an adequate swing recovery position of triple flexion (hip flexion, knee flexion and ankle dorsiflexion) for a given running pace, the runner should be able to comfortably land the foot under a flexing knee, without conscious thought about contact position.

Using this principal, our Online Running Technique Course (click for 50% discount) focuses on swing patterning, posture and cadence before consciously thinking about foot strike. We know that changing the swing pattern will often change loading at foot level fundamentally and subconsciously – rather than forcing a change.

Something important to consider…

Once I get runners familiar with the movement of combined hip and knee flexion bringing them into the recovery (foot under butt) position of swing phase, and they begin running in this way, the feedback is often that not only do they feel a lighter contact through not over-striding, but they can ALSO often feel an increase in Glute complex activity.

Glute complex activity increased with cued hip flexion?!

This is a blog post for another day, but in the mean time check out the Crossed Extensor Reflex – a neurological pattern where by increasing hip flexion on one limb, we elicit a response of hip extensor activity on the contralateral (other side) limb. Physios reading this will no doubt appreciate how important this can be to harness in a runner’s return to running phase of rehab. More on this to come in a future blog post :)

About The Author

James has an academic background in Sport Rehabilitation and a special interest in Applied Biomechanics. He currently coaches a large number of Runners and Triathletes across all levels of ability and performance. He's grown a strong reputation for enabling athletes to improve their running performance and overcome running injuries through improving their Running Technique and developing Running Specific Strength.

 

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11 Comments

  • Thank you.How will an athlete avoid injuries like knee and tendle and Hamstring injury during season?

  • […] is a high skill movement pattern. Here’s one drill to help you perform it […]

  • James,

    I remember this idea of raising knee from our course in Bath a couple of years ago. Still don’t quite understand raising foot. Doesn’ t it lead to a higher impact force (as foot now has further to fall?)

    Thanks

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Dave.

      I do see your logic, but from my experience runners with too low of a foot carriage (for a given pace) have no option but to over stride in order to achieve the prerequisite stride length for said running pace. In terms of vertical ground reaction force experienced at initial contact, an athlete’s tendency to over stride appears to be the bigger cause of increased impact.

      The skill of course is finding the appropriate ‘just enough’ amount of knee flexion (raising the foot) for the given pace. You won’t want to be running 9min miles with your heels kicking your bottom! When a sweet spot is found for a given pace, you’ll find that foot contacts become fleeting, and in fact lighter than with a ‘low foot carriage’ over striding gait.

      We should also consider the effect at the hip. Think of the swinging limb as a 3rd class lever. By flexing the knee (lifting the foot) we shorten the lever-arm and thus reduce torque required from the hip flexor complex of muscles to pull the leg through.

      Where many people go wrong: they try to over emphasise this (knee flexion) foot lift for a given pace, and end up running ‘drill style’ for what should be an easy run. As such foot contacts get heavy and their gait becomes bouncy as vertical oscillation increases. This may be what you’re experiencing.

      Cheers,

      James

  • Thanks so much for posting this.I am 46 years and your lessons keep me moving with high speed

  • Last november I had an avulsion tear of my left hamstring from my pelvis. Leading up to this I had had tightening of my hamstring and piriformis to the point I found it uncomfortable to sit for any length of time. I have recovered from that but over the last few weeks I’m beginning to get the exact symptoms in my right leg as last year in my left. I’m very anxious about tearing this side. I run 3-4 10k runs per week and believe I have an anterior tilt to my pelvis when I run or walk fast. My abdominal muscles and hamstrings are very strong but my glutes are rubbish. What am I doing wrong please? I attended one of your workshops last year and wonder if it is related to my hip flexor problem.My job as a ward sister is not sedentary.

  • Love that this is filmed in Newcastle! Hope you are back soon to do another workshop??

    • Thanks Lynne! Hopefully back in the North East later this year!

  • So how come some of the best runners in the world land their lead foot ahead of their knee:

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1056310937713762&set=gm.1105973486097093&type=1&theater

    It’s not for everyone as you need to be very fit, but a lot of elite runners including Mo run like this

    UKA Level 2 Coach

    • Thanks Richard,

      To risk stating the obvious… the picture you’ve linked to is of Mo in flight, well before initial contact. You’ll find that as his foot begins to load on the ground, it is occurring beneath a flexing knee.

      The same is true with most elite distance runners:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6m1j1iNIEx8

      and

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