I don’t care if you are an athlete, coach, physical therapist, or fitness enthusiast. If running is required for your success, then this article is for you. Financial constraints, poor weather conditions, and/or an abundance of information to sort through can leave you scrambling to determine what your best option(s) may be to achieve results. I propose a simple answer: in-place running.In-place running can effectively accommodate speed development, tempo running, and return to play, says @huntercharneski. Click To Tweet
Regardless of your role, I am going to guide you through three training modalities that in-place running can effectively accommodate:
- Speed development
- Tempo running
- Return to play
In-Place Running: Speed Development
I don’t often speak in absolutes, but I really believe that the ubiquitous trait everyone wants more of is speed. So how do we go about enhancing this quality by merely running in place? The simple answer is ground-contact time (GCT), or rather, a lack thereof. How do we limit ground-contact time through in-place running? I have found success for myself, athletes, and other coaches with the help of Gerard Mach’s work.
Gerard Mach is one of the more prominent track coaches to ever walk this earth, so let’s just get that out of the way. Second, he is notorious for his “A’s, B’s, and C’s”—more commonly known simply as “Mach Drills.” Since I want this process to be (perceived as) creative, not cumbersome, I will delve into the “A-Drills” exclusively.
Mach originally designed and implemented these drills to accommodate his athletes in the winter months, when weather was unbearable and space was sparse. The A-Drills have a myriad of benefits, including (but not limited to):
- Limb mechanics
Once the weather became warmer and more sprint-friendly, these drills transferred seamlessly to the track. The A-Drills are as effective as they are timeless, which makes them a perfect match for anyone with time constraints.
Modification and Application
Now, I understand that many of you are not elite-level sprinters and/or are not working with elite-level sprinters. Therefore, I will modify the means to help you on your quest for speed by using an elastic band harnessed around the athletes’ hips:
- Banded A-March
- Banded A-Skip
- Banded A-Run(s)
I know it looks fairly benign, ineffective, or like not “enough work,” per se. Follow and trust. I would rather you maximize the mundane than fall prey to outside entities that are complex and unintentionally incompetent.
In order to reap the benefits of the A-Drills, I highly suggest tethering the athlete(s) to a power rack, squat stand, or something similar. The band serves you and your athletes in many ways:
- Less movement restriction, as the band provides a sense of security for the athlete. It feels safer, which allows for more natural, free-flowing movement, especially in the upper extremities.
- Excitation is one thing, but inhibition is another thing entirely.
- Clean up foot-strike patterns, making it nearly impossible for the athlete to not step directly underneath their center of mass.
- Increase general strength and strength specific to running fast.
- Appease both the athletes and outside entities, as it is tangible and gives the illusion of “hard work.”
- “Pulls” the athlete into more optimal angles, whether acceleration or max velocity.
- Organic development of front-side mechanics.
- (Pertaining only to A-Runs): The band’s level of oscillation lets the coach know whether or not the athlete is keeping their frequency high enough to achieve the desired result. If the athlete’s frequency is subpar, the band will reveal a great deal of “up and down” action, (meaning their hips are dropping with each cyclical action). Conversely, if the band appears to be steady, that is a good indication of great vertical displacement between their hips and the floor.
Video 1. We mainly use the Banded A-March as a means to develop and enhance an athlete’s posture and proper limb mechanics.
Video 2. The objective of the Banded A-Skip is to develop rhythm and relaxation for the athlete to transfer to sprinting.
Video 3. The Banded A-Run is a phenomenal means to develop elastic qualities and reduce ground-contact times, both of which are essential to faster running.
Regardless of the variation, the quadriceps and hip flexors (both are kind of important for acceleration-based sports) propel the action in all three exercises. Simple doesn’t sell, but it works. Sometimes we need to tell the consumer what they need, right? Like Henry Ford said, “We don’t need faster horses, we need cars.”
The application of the A-Drills to your situation is just as simple as their modifications above. No different than an ideal speed session, we should be transitioning our athletes from slow to fast, or longer GCT to shorter GCT, right?
Makes sense, right? Fast individuals spend less time on the ground. Knowing this, why wouldn’t we train our athletes to mimic—or come close to—the GCT needed in order to run fast?
|Banded A-March||3-4 sets x 10-20 sec. / 10m||Partner’s set / Walk back|
|Banded A-Skip||3-4 sets x 10 sec. / 10-15m||Partner’s set / 40 sec.|
|Banded A-Run||3-4 sets x 5-10 sec. / 10-15m||60 sec.|
If your thirst for novelty needs to be quenched, you can play around with the varying step-over heights and angles of the athletes.
“Is that it?” Yes. That is all. I am a fan of brevity. With everything else on your plate (warm-ups, jumps, throws, plyos, lifting, cool-downs, etc.), the simplicity of this session will be more than sufficient to move the needle on getting faster.
In-Place Running: Tempo Running
Speaking from first-hand experience, I have found tempo running to be one of the most, if not the most, beneficial rejuvenation means for human optimization, second only to a good night’s sleep.#Temporunning is one of the most beneficial rejuvenation means for human optimization, says @huntercharneski. Click To Tweet
What Is Tempo Running?
I was first made aware of tempo running through the work of the late, great Charlie Francis. In short, tempo running consists of interval-based runs aimed directly at building work capacity. Charlie had two subcategories for these:
- Extensive tempo
- Lower velocities
- Develops general fitness
- Promotes recovery via circulatory mechanisms
- Intensive tempo
- Higher velocities
- Adaptation to lactate tolerance as well as removal
- Strength endurance
- Useful for those performing in aerobic/anaerobic sports
Modification and Application
Whether your aim is directed toward extensive or intensive tempo, in-place running with an elastic band can accommodate either protocol.
|Tempo Running Equivalent|
|Tempo Runs||Banded In-Place Running|
Having experimented on myself with the above equivalents, there are two points I must stress to practitioners who wish to apply this to their situation:
- Work-to-rest ratios of 1:1 are more than sufficient, provided the intensity is submaximal (less than or equal to 75%*).
- Execute in a lower amplitude Running A fashion. I suggest a shin step-over. The frequency will be high enough to limit GCT and provide a circulatory effect, yet low enough not to blunt recovery and disrupt the central nervous system.
*An easy, practical way to gauge proper aerobic intensity: You should be sweating, but the difficulty should not make it impossible to hold a conversation with yourself or your workout partner(s) during the session.
Video 4. In-place tempo run with bands.
How Much Tempo Running?
As Derek Hansen’s work has shown, the amount of volume needed per session, as well as on a micro-cycle basis, depends on the demands of the sport. Here is what Derek has suggested, along with the equivalents I have provided:
|Athlete||Per Session||Banded In-Place Running Equivalent||Per Week||Banded In-Place Running Equivalent|
|Football Lineman||500-1000m||30 sec. x 5-10 sets||1,500-3,000m||15-30 sets|
|Football LB & RB||1,500m||30 sec. x 15 sets||4,500m||45 sets|
|100m Sprinter||1,600-2,200m||30 sec. x 16-22 sets||4,800-6,600m||48-66 sets|
|Basketball (Interior)||1,800m||30 sec. x 18 sets||5,400m||54 sets|
|Football Skill||2,200m||30 sec. x 22 sets||6,600m||66 sets|
|200m Sprinter||2,000m-3,000m||30 sec. x 20-30 sets||6,000-9,000m||60-90 sets|
|Basketball (Perimeter)||2,500m||30 sec. x 25 sets||7,500m||75 sets|
|Rugby (Forward)||3,000m||30 sec. x 30 sets||9,000m||90 sets|
|400m Sprinter||3,000m-4,000m||30 sec. x 30-40 sets||9,000m-12,000m||90-120 sets|
|Soccer (Center Forward, Center Attacking-Mid)||4,000m||30 sec. x 40 sets||12,000m||120 sets|
|Rugby (Back)||3,000m||30 sec. x 30 sets||9,000m||90 sets|
|Soccer (Outside)||4,500m-5,000m||30 sec. x 45-50 sets||13,500m-15,000m||135-150 sets|
With traditional tempo running, upon completion of the set(s), you will walk the length of one working rep (i.e., ~100m). With banded in-place running, just simply idling for 60 seconds has been more than sufficient, in my experience. We are not reinventing the wheel here. We are simply being innovative. As far as the exact sets and rep scheme(s) are concerned, I’ll leave that to you, as you know what will keep your athletes’ output and engagement at a high level.
In-Place Running: Return to Play
A little over a year ago, I decided to go “all in” on sprinting. To better myself, of course, but also to become a better coach for my athletes. In doing so, I had to piece together more than four years of athleticism that had been lost since my time as a collegiate athlete. Throughout that process, I had more injuries than I can count on both hands and feet. Pulled hamstrings, torn plantar fascia, deformed gastroc, you name it.
Fortunately, as Ryan Holiday wrote in The Obstacle Is the Way, I was able to turn a perceived problem into a tremendous triumph. Each injury was another wonderful learning opportunity. With the help of Derek Hansen and his return-to-play (RTP) protocols, outside entities had a difficult time discerning whether or not I was injured. Why? I was training.
When it comes to RTP, medical professionals are chomping at the bit to throw you in a boot, cast you up, and/or completely immobilize your periphery for no less than 6-8 weeks. If you ask me, this is beyond stupid: It is damn near malpractice!
Imagine—considering you’re healthy—putting one of your legs in a boot for six weeks. After that time has come and gone, you will be extremely detrained, weak, and in bad shape, right? Knowing that, why the hell would you put someone who is injured in that position? Why not make tiny steps in the right direction every day rather than standing still? Nurture > Nature.
In-place running with the help of a band (depending on injury) has served me and those I have worked with very well. Injuries that have been remedied with this method include:
- Torn Achilles
- Torn Plantar Fascia
- Torn Pectineus
- Torn Gastroc
- Low Back Strains
- Torn Pec Major
With in-place running being an effective rehab process, the next question you may wonder is, “How is it so?” I’m sure I sound like a broken record when I say ground-contact time is the answer. Now, if you have a high-speed camera (120 frames/second), you can easily see whether or not the GCT is comparable to before the injury happened. Me? I trust my eyes. If the injured athlete is achieving four or more strides per second, then I know we are on the right track. How? Because I have been there myself.
Video 5. Using in-place running with the help of a band in return-to-play based sessions.
Begin your athletes with higher frequencies and lower amplitudes. From there, it is no different than the accumulation of volume in any other aspect of training. An example:
- Day 1:
— Dribble 3 sets 10 sec. in an every minute on the minute (EMOM) fashion.
- Day 2:
— Dribble 4 sets 10 sec. in an EMOM fashion.
- Day 3:
— Dribble 4 sets 20 sec. in an EMOM fashion.
- Day 4:
— Higher amplitude means (Ankle Step-Overs) and follow same set and rep scheme as the following days before progressing to higher amplitudes.
But what about training surface? I’m glad you asked! Depending on the injury, of course, you may want to start your athlete(s) on sand, grass, or turf, before going to a harder, more elastic surface like your gym’s flooring.
Video 6. Training on sand as an option in return-to-play scenarios before moving on to harder surfaces.
Okay, GCT makes sense for all lower-leg injuries. Now sell me on how in-place running remedies injuries in the trunk! No sweat. Watch what is happening during in-place running—no matter the amplitude.
What is happening? An abundance of contractions throughout the torso (provided the arm action is appropriate) induces a great level of blood flow to the area. Over the course of 3-4 sets, there will be some upper body hypertrophy induced. My friend and colleague, Thomas Bowes, suffered an acute low back strain and he could not extend his hips. What were we to do? Simple: “micro-extensions,” if you will, with Dribbles and Ankle Step-Overs until he was able to fully extend his hip through Running A’s.
Video 7. Thomas Bowes performing Dribbles and Ankle Step-Overs in process of recovering from acute low back strain.
From there, ask questions, receive feedback, trust what your eyes are seeing, and be a coach. That should give you all the information you need to determine the next day’s surface, means, and intensities. At the end of the day, the RTP protocol of your choice boils down to the SAID principle: Specific Adaptations for Imposed Demands.
What adaptation are you pursuing? Apply the means with careful vigilance and base your decisions on what the athlete is presenting.
A Sensible Approach
The industry is at a crossroads. On the left is the way things have always been done: novelty-based, convoluted, and full of pitfalls. On the right, however, is a smooth, simple, and, dare I say, “boring” path to success.
Whether your situation inhibits an ideal speed session, lacks a facility and climate for work capacity training, or needs to get back to health, I believe there is a place for in-place running despite its lack of pizzazz.
In a day and age where young coaches are easily influenced by random acts of buffoonery on social media, it seems as though common sense isn’t so common. Nutty is now the norm. My advice falls in line with what Mark Twain once said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”