The Science of ABCs

The Science of the ABCs

There really is more to our routine warm-up than an opportunity to catch up with folks on the events of the past week. When we are doing the ABCs we are really getting ourselves ready to run - and run at our best. We have often talked about using these warm-up exercises to practice our running stride and this in fact is what happens. I recently came upon an article written by Lance Watson (Triathlete Magazine, January 2007) who wrote on the same thing and so I want to share some of this with you.

Posture and fitness are two of the main components of a good stride and running is mostly about the efficiency of our stride. We can focus on and improve our stride by using the ABCs to form a strong foundation for a smooth, dynamic running stride. The following information is taken from the article by Lance Watson as referenced above. For a complete version of the article go to and see the January 2007 edition.

The As

The focus of this exercise is to get the hip flexors firing. The hip flexors are the muscles at the front of the hips and need to work efficiently in a rhythmic and dynamic manner as it is our leg speed and our turnover that are driven from the hips. As out legs tire in a race and our quads become more fatigued, we have to rely more heavily on the hip flexors to keep the legs moving us forward.

To perform the A we need to start with checking our posture - stand tall and drive the thigh upwards much like trying to bounce a soccer ball into the air off the front/top of the thigh. Try to compress the hip joint to just over 90 degrees - raising the leg to a point where the knee is slightly above the hip and the thigh. Focus on driving the thigh upwards with force, and then return the foot to the ground and repeat with the opposite leg. If need be you can start doing these with a small skipping step which will allow for a split-second rest phase between upward drives. Progress can be made when you are to a point where you can do these in a manner than resembles running on the spot with high knees and quick feet. Make sure you keep your knees travelling in a straight up and down motion and that they do not angle outward. A common mistake is to drop the chest slightly during the knee lift or to rotate the torso. Both of these moves will shorten the length of the contraction of the hip flexor and decrease the effectiveness and efficiency of the A.

The Bs

This is often the most challenging of the three 'techniques' as it requires the most coordination. The Bs help us to retract the leg and get the foot down directly below us to keep our centre of gravity in place and to help us run "over our feet". Getting our feet down quickly and directly under us eliminates the common error of over striding and facilitates the development of a light, quick foot fall.

After lifting your knee in a similar manner as in the A drill, extend your leg until it is almost straight in front of you (and parallel to the ground) and then pull your foot back towards the ground. The focus here is on your foot - getting it out in front of you and then driving it back down to the ground and having it land directly under you. The ball of your foot should strike the ground under your centre of gravity. When the foot is coming down to the ground, focus on achieving some acceleration of the foot (your leg will follow) and skim the ground as if you are trying to scrape some mud off the bottom of your shoe.

As with the As it is important that you avoid dropping your chest and rotating your torso. To compensate and help with this tendency, think about standing tall and keeping your shoulders back. Don't fully extend your leg or lock your knee at the extension point. Keep the motion fluid.

The Cs (aka Butt Kicks)

The focus of the Cs is to increase our cadence and as a result help us build speed (that's what these workouts are all about, isn't it?). In this phase, which is the 'recovery' phase of the stride, we want to actually kick our own butts or get as close to them as possible without doing damage or injury. Again we need to focus on standing tall, not moving from side to side, and brining our feet straight up behind us, not allowing our toes and feet to rotate outwards. Your feet should stay in line with your shin and your knee. This is a good time to note whether one foot rises farther and more easily than the other which, if it does, could indicate an issue with flexibility imbalance.

Putting it all together

As we have mentioned many times, these three drills are focussing on and developing the components of our running stride and as such each component part must be isolated and practiced to result in overall increase in speed and efficiency. We "put it all together" when, after isolating the component parts, we do our interval runs or "striders". Just as with any sport you need to focus on and improve the basic component parts before putting them together in the actual activity.

I trust this helps with your understanding of a part of our weekly warm up activity at XS and as the understanding increase and the parts get easier, the results will be seen during the workouts and in competition.

Happy running - Tim Klassen