The high knees drill is one that every athlete has performed at some point in their career, no matter the sport, location, or age level. It is typically performed during a warm-up, utilized as a dynamic movement to increase body temperature, blow flow, and muscular elasticity. Although, there are various other benefits of performing the high knees drill, specifically for sprinters and runners. It is important for coaches and athletes to understand these benefits in order to grasp the true value of performing this drill effectively, as opposed to just going through the motion during a warm-up. That is why I have chosen to demonstrate, describe how to perform, and detail the benefits of this simple yet effective drill in our weekly blog post. To perform the high knees drill, stand tall and apply force into the ground through the balls of your feet, directly under the hips. Raising knees to 90 degree angles in the hips, while alternating leg drives and maintaining proper arm swing. Common mistakes that can occur include leaning too far backwards or too far forwards with the torso due to discrepancy in the hip flexors. Striking the ground flat-footed, or negating proper arm swing. The benefits of accurately performing the high knees drill, which are often overlooked, include improvements in running form (foot position , and knee drive) hip mobility, and hip flexor strength.
During the drill, it is important for the athlete to focus on their foot position when contacting the ground. During distance running and top speed sprinting, it is most advantageous for the force to be applied into the ground through the balls of the feet, and directly under the hips. The goal is to limit over-striding. Over-striding is when the foot contacts the ground in front of the hip and force is applied through the heel to mid-foot. This is unfavorable because allowing the heel to hit the ground applies the force in the opposite direction, hindering our velocity. Think of Fred Flinstone when he attempts to stop his car, pushing his heels into the ground. Over-striding also places high amounts of stress on the hamstring, leading to potential injury.
The other technical benefit of the drill that might not come as a surprise, is increased knee drive! having an optimal knee drive with 90 degree angles in the hips allows for various benefits during top speed sprinting. Benefits include, increased stride length, increased limb acceleration during hip extension, and greater force development during hip extension through utilization of the stretch reflex.
Increased knee drive allows for a larger range of motion in which the limb can accelerate prior to contacting the ground. An analogy that I like to use is hitting a nail with a hammer. If you only draw back the hammer a few inches, it has very little room to accelerate and it will not generate sufficient force. But the farther the hammer is drawn back, the more space it will have to accelerate, and therefore apply more force into the nail.
The stretch reflex is the subsequent muscle contraction following a stretch in that muscle group. When muscles are actively stretched, they become capable of a stronger contraction due to tension created in the muscle, improved actin-myosin interaction; which are the proteins that are actually responsible for muscle contraction, and inhibition of the antagonist muscle group. The higher the knee drive, the greater the stretch that occurs in the glutes and hamstrings, resulting in a stronger contraction during hip extension.
Performing the high knees drill with the SpeedMaker will promote stretch reflex in the hip flexors creating higher knee drive. It will also provide resistance against the action of hip extension, strengthening the glutes and hamstrings. As runners, we should make a habit of including hamstring work in all of our workouts because they are the main component in creating horizontal propulsion, and thus, acceleration and velocity. This can now easily be achieved with the SpeedMaker by simply performing your routine drills and exercises with the resistance training harness. The device will even adapt to the intensity of your workouts with different levels of interchangeable resistance bands. Thank you again for visiting the SpeedMaker blog, please view the video below in which I demonstrate the drill. Feel free to comment with thoughts, questions, or drills and exercises that you would like to see in the future.