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A Skips Drill: Your New Favorite Drill To Improve Your Running Form

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Runners often hear about the importance of proper running form; we know that running with good form can reduce our risk of injury and improve our performance.

However, the practical side of things is trickier: how do you improve your running form?

Although there are a couple of effective methods, one of the best ways to improve your running form is to routinely perform running drills that focus on aspects of ideal running form.

Running drills like high knees, cariocas, and bounding can develop neuromuscular firing patterns, coordination, and muscle strength that can help you run faster and maintain optimal running form more easily.

Another popular and effective running drill is A Skips.

A skips are a bit challenging to master, but once you learn the movement and can execute the running drill correctly, you can really enhance your stride and foot strike pattern.

In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about the a skip running drill, including the benefits of a skips for runners, how to do a skips, and progressions and regressions that you can try as well.

We will cover: 

  • What Is the A Skip Running Drill?
  • Benefits of A Skips for Runners
  • What Muscles Does the A Skip Running Drill Activate?
  • How to Do A Skips
  • Tips for Performing A Skips
  • Modifying A Skips: A-Marches for Beginners and A Skip Progressions

Let’s jump in!

Two people doing A Skips on the track.

What Is the A Skip Running Drill?

A skips are a dynamic running drill often included in the warm-up routine of runners, sprinters, athletes, or other sports that strengthen the legs, core, and upper body.

The a skip drill involves a high-knees skipping motion that improves foot strike pattern, running form, lower-body strength, and sprinting power, among other benefits.

Benefits of A Skips for Runners

Benefits of adding a skips to your workout routine include the following:

  • Increasing blood flow
  • Activating the legs, core, glutes, and upper body muscles
  • Increasing range of motion in the hips, knees, and ankles
  • Increasing speed
  • Encouraging optimal knee lift
  • Increasing hip mobility
  • Strengthening the calves and small muscles in the lower leg
  • Engaging the core and pelvic floor muscles
  • Getting the neuromuscular system firing
  • Reducing ground contact time while running by promoting midfoot striking rather than heel striking

As can be seen from the list of benefits, a skips are a great dynamic warm-up exercise because they get the muscles firing, blood pumping and increase the range of motion in the hips, knees, and ankles.

Adding a-skips to your warm-up routine before speed workouts and races can help prime your body for the faster running ahead, but you can also add them before easy runs to stimulate faster neuromuscular firing if that works better for you.

A runner on a track lifting a knee.

What Muscles Does the A Skip Running Drill Activate?

A skips are an effective dynamic warm-up exercise because they activate the glutes, hamstrings, calves, tibialis anterior, quads, core, and hip flexors, in addition to muscles in the upper body. 

Because the ballistic movement of a skips relies on skipping on the balls of your feet, the exercise strengthens the calves and intrinsic foot muscles, along with the core and legs. 

By dorsiflexing the foot during the upward knee drive, a skips strengthen the muscles of the shin (namely tibialis anterior), potentially reducing the risk of shin splints.

Additionally, a skips increase the range of motion in the hips, knees, and ankles.

Because the exaggerated upward knee drive requires using your core and hip flexors, a skips are a great way to strengthen the hip flexors for regular running and sprinting.

Weak hip flexors have been associated with an increased risk of running-related injuries.

A person doing A Skips in the grass.

How to Do A Skips

From an outside perspective, a skips can initially look super easy, but they take a bit of rhythm, coordination, and practice to nail.

Here are the basic steps for how to do a-skips.

  1. Stand upright with your core and glutes engaged, chest up, arms at your sides, and feet hip-width apart.
  2. Hop on the ball of your right foot as you simultaneously use your core to draw your left leg up so that your thigh is at least parallel to the ground. Dorsiflex your toes on the left foot so that they are pointing toward the sky. The right leg should remain straight.
  3. Rapidly claw your left foot to the ground, directly under your center of mass like a prancing horse, landing on the ball of your foot near the toes.
  4. Hop your weight to the left foot as you draw the right leg up to hip height, again with your thigh parallel to the ground.
  5. Alternate sides, maintaining a bounce to your skip and using your core, calves, and glutes to explode each leg up with power and speed.
  6. Your arms should swing reciprocally with each leg as you skip, just as they do while running, but focus on really pumping hard with the arms (using an exaggerated arm swing) to drive the legs upward. 
A person doing A Skips on the beach.

Start with just 20-30 meters of a skips, and then take a brief rest and return to your starting position.

You don’t travel forward particularly quickly when doing a skips because your foot is coming down right under your center of mass rather than far in front of your body.

Most of your energy is on the up-and-down movement and the rapid, quick ground contact time of each foot, not super long, loping strides forward.

As you get better, increase the distance and speed with which you perform this running drill.

Additionally, progress the exercise by doing high knees a skips, as described later on.

Tips for Performing A Skips

The following tips for a skips will help reduce the risk of injuries and improve the effectiveness of the running drill.

  • Keep your core tight, and really use your abs to draw the leg up.
  • Use good posture with your body upright rather than leaning forwards or backward.
  • Swing your arms powerfully and rapidly to drive the opposite leg upwards.
  • Keep your movements focused on the forward direction without rotating your torso, hips, or knees side to side.
  • Focus on moving your legs as fast as possible off the ground, really minimizing ground contact time as much as possible.
  • Land forcefully on each foot, as this will help improve your explosive power: the more force you apply to the ground, the more force gets transmitted back into your legs.
  • Stay on the balls of your feet near your toes.
  • Start with a slower rhythm, and increase your cadence as you hone your technique.
People running on the beach.

Modifying A Skips: A-Marches for Beginners and A Skip Progressions

As mentioned, a skips can be challenging for beginners, and if you’re not used to plyometric exercises, you might want to work up to this running drill by doing a-marches.

A-Marches are essentially the same movement patterns as a skips, but rather than hopping or skipping between steps, you march without fully leaving the ground.

The focus should be on driving your knees up as much as possible as if you’re trying to step over hurdles with your feet.

Here are the basic steps for how to do a-marches.

  1. Stand upright with your core and glutes engaged, chest up, arms at your sides, and feet hip-width apart.
  2. Stand on the ball of your right foot as you simultaneously use your core to draw your left leg up so that your knee approaches chest height. The right leg should remain straight.
  3. Rapidly march your left foot to the ground, directly under your center of mass, landing on the ball of your foot near the toes.
  4. Raise your right knee towards your chest, marching forward slightly with every step.
  5. Alternate sides.
  6. Your arms should swing reciprocally with each leg as you march, just as they do while walking and running. Pump forcefully with the arms to help bring your knee up.
A person doing high knees.

Progress from a-marches to a skips when you feel like you have the movement pattern down.

Here is a quick video demonstration of the a-march and a skip drill.

Once you master a skips, you can progress the exercise by doing a skips with high knees. Essentially, it’s the same exact exercise, but instead of just trying to bring your thigh up so that it’s parallel to the ground, you should bring your knee all the way up to your chest.

You can also progress to performing the exercise barefoot on the grass or sand, which will further activate the small intrinsic muscles of the foot and ankle. 

Just be careful about doing too much barefoot work all of a sudden; build up gradually. If your feet are used to being in running shoes all the time, the muscles need time to adapt to being unshod. 

Adding just a minute or two of a skip running drills to your warm-up routine can have a valuable impact on priming your body for a good run while simultaneously strengthening and mobilizing the hips, shins, and calves to prevent injuries.

For a look at carioca, another running drill, check out our step-by-step instructions on how to do it, here.

A person stretching their hip flexor on the beach.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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