Drills and core work? A little goes a long way…
A little information can be very dangerous…

This is going to be one of my rants. Know that going in…You’ve been warned.

I’ve noticed a fairly recent trend in the distance coaching realm that has everything to do with everybody searching for that little extra thing that separates them from other coaches or helps push their athletes over the top. There is nothing wrong with the idea. In fact, it’s great that coaches are looking in other places besides traditional distance training methods. I love thinking outside of the box.

However, the problem arises when we put too much emphasis on something for the sole reason that it is something new and different. You spend a lot of time researching training methods and talking to others about training and then you come across something that makes sense and, most importantly, is new. At first it seems like this is what you were looking for. It’s the missing link. A brand new discovery that will take you or your athletes to the next level. It doesn’t matter what the new thing is. Usually it is something with some merit, but because of your blind excitement for this new personal discovery, you put way too much importance on it.

That is what is going on in distance running right now. Look around. There has been an explosion of resources and coaches emphasizing various aspects of sprint training. This, on the surface, is great, because distance runners need sprint training. Neuromuscular training is one of the most neglected aspects of most distance runners training regimens. But, the problem is that sprint training is complex, much more complex than distance runners and coaches give it credit for being.

So what inevitably happens is that distance people just take what they have seen various sprinters doing. They take bits and pieces and assume that it will translate over to distance runners. That isn’t always the case. For instance, let’s take one of my favorite topics, sprint drills. This is one of the things that have proliferated in distance runners training in the past years. It’s not necessarily a bad thing , but many have taken it to the extreme and have no idea what the drills are doing and why they are doing them. Most distance coaches think of drills as a way to improve running mechanics, they are not. Mike Young has written about this on his site elitetrack.com if you want more info, or I believe I’ve covered the topic a couple times briefly on here.

What drills are good for is dynamically warming up, maybe some coordination training, and some are easy intros to plyometrics. But, the point is, because drills are relatively new for distance runners, they are taken to the extreme. Coaches are going crazy copying other coaches or coming up with their own routines. When if you just step back for a minute look at some of the drills that are being done and how they are being taught, you’d quickly realize that what you are doing makes no sense at all if it is for running mechanics. How anyone thinks the B skip drill (the way most people do it) simulates running mechanics or improves mechanics in anyway is beyond me.

I hate picking on certain people, so I apologize to whoever’s video this is, as the intentions were good. It just does a good job of showing the problem of knowledge being dangerous. I mean, most of these drills look like dance moves more than running specific drills.


Sure, they might dynamically warm you up, but there are easier ways to do that for the most part (some are worthwhile in there). No way, no how are these going to make you run better mechanically, in fact some will probably hurt.

Another place this is showing up is with another favorite topic of mine, core work. Is core work important? Probably. Is it as important as many are making it out to be right now? Most definitely not.

Once again, core work is “new” (not really, but it seems like it). That means it is automatically going to be overemphasized because it is the new key ingredient. I should clarify that I’m not talking about certain circuits for warm ups, or cool downs, or even workouts. Not talking about overall body circuits or strength endurance work or anything like that. I’m talking about core only work. You know the ab work like crunches, sit ups, planks, etc. that you see everyone hammering out.

Do a search around and you’ll see all sorts of great and crazy stuff to do. I’m not claiming to hold all of the answers. I have no idea if some of it works or doesn’t. I’m pretty confident that stability ab work is not that worthwhile (because it does a crappy job of activating the core and causes co-contraction of the agonist and antagonist muscles, NOT something you want to train). My only suggestion is to step back, think about what you are doing, be rational about it, think objectively, and then you should come up with a good answer.

After all, you want the most activation of the core muscles (abs/back, hips, spine stabilizing muscles,etc.)? Guess what gives you the most activation. Nope, not crunches on a swiss ball, not the Ab rocker or 6 minute abs. Nope, not planks or bicycles. The answer is the squat. Yep, putting some weight on the back and doing a simple squat activates the core muscles much more than any ab work out there. Does that mean it’s better? Not necessarily. It’s just an interesting thing to note. Although, doing squats won’t always give you that six pack, so who cares about the underlying strength right?

I’ve been guilty of this in the past. It’s easy to get carried away when something seems so right and it clicks in your head. RESIST the temptation. It is NOT as important as you think it is. Let it marinate in your head for a while. Think about things, use that brain. Chances are you’ll realize that while it may help, it’s not as essential as it once appeared.

It’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs. Generally something that is new will be overemphasized for a period of time before the next big thing comes along. At that point the old flavor of the month gets deemphasized. When this happens, it usually settles into about the proper amount that should be done.

Bottom line, am I against drills? Not necessarily. Am I against core work? Nope, not at all, think you need some. Am I against any other latest trend in training? Nope. I’m all for new stuff and innovation. The point is think about why you are doing something, how much it should be done and what in the heck the point of it is. It’s easy to get carried away.

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    1. Anonymous on August 8, 2009 at 11:31 pm

      Could you elaborate more on dynamic stretching and warming up as you have mentioned in the last two posts. Also, instead of taking us through what you shouldn't do to warm up, tell us what you do/what your athletes to do/other optimal options and preferences, and the role of dynamic flexibility and strength in a season?

      You mentioned that some of the drills in the video were good for certain circumstances, and could you tell us which ones those were?


    2. stevemagness on August 10, 2009 at 11:33 pm

      I will go through all of that stuff soon. It's in the plans…

      This rant was basically a quickly written commentary because I was going through some training literature and was tired of seeing various drills and such performed pretty poorly and with some wrong concepts.

    3. Anonymous on August 15, 2009 at 9:19 pm

      There is a well known private coach in your hometown who makes a living off of teaching kids drills and assessments of the kids' biomechanics. I love watching them do their A skips and B skips as their warmup at track meets.

    4. Calum Neff on August 18, 2009 at 6:16 am

      Good find on the video..it was hillarious! I couldn't help but keep thinking "damn I would love to live in one of those apartments along side the track!".
      I think we are on the same page with this but I might be a little more in favour of the drills then you. I think if taught from a young age like I was, or the group of elementary/junior high kids I coached it can do wonders. Mechanics, kinesthetic awareness (knowing where your body parts are), and warming up instead of static stretching (yuck) can really benefit from this.
      Most of those dance moves…drills from the video were either done wrong, would injure someone, or don't translate to running at all. And if were keeping on topic of pure distance running then you are right on the money, do they really belong?
      I must ask this though, do YOU do any drills or corework? 🙂

    5. Anonymous on August 21, 2009 at 3:37 pm

      just wanna say I love the website and I use it as a resource all the time. keep it up mag

    6. Jay Johnson on August 26, 2009 at 6:03 pm

      Love the post Steve – I agree 100% with the spirit of the post and I hope that doesn't come as a surprise since I sell DVDs that describe both core exercises and spring drills. Similar to Calum, I think it would be great for the sport if more middle school kids did drills to become better athletes as that proprioceptive stimulus is great at that age. I agree 100% with the use of the B skip, yet I must admit that the reason I've always hated the B skip was that my poor hamstring/glutt flexibility made it impossible for me to execute (though I hope to fix that in the coming months with some active isolated stretching and physio appointments).

      I will be posting in response to your post on my blog and I look forward to continued dialogue.

    7. Anonymous on November 20, 2010 at 1:04 pm

      Which of the drills did you think were good?

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