By the age of 2, most children have begun some form of running, whether it looks more like a fast walk or an uncoordinated shuffle forward. As they get older, their running pattern matures so that by the age of 6, your child should be running with proper form.
You can help your child to develop good running form and run faster with 5 simple exercises that can be performed at home.
1. Exercises to Improve Hip and Ankle Mobility
Improving flexibility in the ankles and hips is essential for proper running form and also helps to protect from injury. Below are two exercises that can be performed by your child to improve their hip and ankle mobility.
- High knee walks: Have your child take a step forward with their left leg then flex their right hip and bring their right knee to their chest, grabbing their shin to pull their knee close to their chest. They should hold this position for a few seconds then relax and release their leg. Repeat the motion on the opposite leg as they take another step forward. They should do this for several steps to perform multiple repetitions on each leg.
- Standing calf stretch: Have your child stand with their hands on a wall or countertop. Instruct them to perform a lunge so that their back leg is straight, with toes pointed forward and heel on the ground. Bend their front knee so that they feel a stretch in their back leg. They should hold this position for 30 seconds. Perform twice on each leg.
2. Supine Bridges
The glute muscles are important for running as they generate the force needed to run. One easy exercise that your child can do to develop these muscles is a supine bridge. Have your child lay on their back with their knees bent. Instruct them to lift up their hips, keeping their feet and shoulders on the ground, so that their body is straight from their shoulders to their knees. Hold this position for 5 seconds, then slowly lower to the ground. Repeat for 10 repetitions, and do 2 sets. Performing this exercise 3-5x/week will help increase the strength of their glute musculature.
3. Jumping Exercises
Jumping helps to develop the lower extremity muscles needed to be a strong runner. Have your child do a set of 10 jumping jacks, jump rope or skip forward. These can be part of a warm-up prior to running or performed several times throughout the week.
4. Play Red Light/Green Light
Playing running games with your child can help make running fun! Red Light/Green Light is a great way to work on agility and practice running with sudden starts and stops. Make sure you have plenty of space for your child to run. When you say “Green Light,” your child should start running forward. When you say “Red Light,” they should stop as fast as they can. You can also add “Yellow Light” which indicates they should walk slowly. Mix up the order and timing of when you say Red Light, Green Light or Yellow Light to keep your child guessing. Games such as tag and relay races are also helpful to work on sprinting.
5. Running in Place
One way to help improve your child’s running form is to check their form while they are running in place. Ask your child to run in place for 5 seconds as hard as they can. Watch their form and check for any weaknesses. You can also run in place together with them to model proper technique.
Good running form includes the following:
- Lean slightly forward so that the feet are behind the hips.
- Keep the torso vertical
- Hold the head still with gaze directly in front of you and ears in line with shoulders
- Bend the elbows at right angles
- Keep the arms close to the sides as they pump up and down (fists move from chin to hip)
- Lift the front knee while straightening the back leg
-Julie Butt, PT, DPT