The swing drill

The purpose of the swing drill is to learn the sequence of actions executed by the swinging leg. The role of this sequence in efficient running action is described in the page entitled ‘The Mechanics of Efficient Running’. The drill entails practice of the three segments of the swing phase: ankle lift; leg swing; and foot fall, while the body is stationary, supported by the opposite leg. Note that this drill is still experimental.  Although explicitly designed to facilitate learning the integrated sequence of muscle contractions that occur during the swing phase without distraction provided by the eccentric contraction of the  extensor muscles  that occurs at footfall, the eccentric contraction is a major component of the gait cycle as it primes the extensor muscles for the elastic recoil that subsequently helps propel the body off stance. The sequence of muscle actions during the swing must be integrated of the into the full gait cycle.   I am inclined to think that the key to achieving this is via conscious focus on the arm swing, but this proposal is based on a speculative interpretation of actual scientific evidence.

This version was updated on 2nd Jan 2014 to place greater emphasis on the relationship of the swing to the preceding hip extension that occurs from mid to late stance.  The hip extension is produced largely by a sharp contraction of gluteus maximus.  Although this powerful contraction of gluteus maximus is not a part of the swing drill, it is worthwhile to discuss it here as it sets the scene for the swing.  The timing of this contraction is one of the most crucial features of running.  Electromyographic studies (eg Prilutsky and Gregor ) reveal a strong sharp contraction of gluteus maximus at mid-stance.  This contraction pushes the foot against the ground, helping create the peak vertical Ground Reaction Force required to lift the body off stance.  The contraction is sustained for a brief period beyond mid-stance, extending the hip, so that by toe-off the foot of the stance leg is trailing behind the torso.  The hip flexors are under tension, and reflexive contraction of these hip flexors, especially iliopsoas, helps initiate the swing.  Precise timing the gluteus maximus contraction is crucial but it is difficult to achieve this by conscious pushing.  However, precise timing of consciously controlled contraction of muscles of the upper limb is easier.  The contraction of gluteus maximus can be facilitated by a sharp downward swing of the opposite arm. The action is mediated by Latissimus dorsi, the wide back muscle that is anchored to the thoraco-lumbar fascia at the base of the spine.  The oblique pull of Latissimus dorsi tensions the thoraco-lumbar fascia stabilising the pelvis and facilitates the required sharp contraction of the Gluteus maximus on the opposite side (as described in detail in my post of June 3rd 2012   )

Because this drill is intended only to create the sensation associated with the swing while the other leg provides fixed support, it starts with the active leg extending behind the torso as it would be after completion of the contraction of gluteus maximus.  Furthermore, in the first version of the drill only the arm contralateral to the active leg is moved during the drill, to emphasize the relationship between the motion of contralateral arm and leg.  However, can is also helpful to create a mental image of the relationship between the movement of the ipsilateral arm and leg. In the second version, only the ipsilateral arm and leg are moved.   In 2018, I added a section (Linking arm and leg movement) to this post providing information about the rationale for linking arm and leg movements, and additional detail about the relative timing of arm and leg movement

After describing the swing drill we will consider how the swing can be integrated into a full gait cycle within a bounding drill that includes the powerful contraction of gluteus maximus at mid-stance.

Starting position
Stand with the foot that will become active about 12-15 inches behind the other foot, with the ankle in a neutral position and knees slightly flexed; with weight carried forward but with the heel the of the stationary foot remaining on the ground. The arm on the side which will become active is allowed to hand loosely at the side. The contralateral arm is held with elbow bent and the fingers loosely curled, thumb opposed to tip of index finger, a few inches behind the iliac crest.

Ankle lift (hip and knee flexion.)
Lift the ankle towards the hip by flexing hip and knee.    Think of the direction of lift rather than which muscles are engaged.  (A hand placed on the hamstring should detect the contraction of the muscle body as the knee flexes; there should be very little activity in the quads; the hip flexion is largely performed by iliopsoas which lies deep in the pelvis.)   At the end of the lift, the ankle is a little behind the knee of the supporting leg, and the raised knee is a little forward of mid-thigh of the supporting leg. As the ankle moves up, the contralateral arm on the same side moves forward, close to the body.

Leg swing
While the thigh rises towards horizontal, allow a passive swing of the lower leg forwards with the knee as pivot. The swing stops when the knee still retains about 10 degrees of flexion. (When first learning, allow the lower leg to swing back and forth several times to get the feel of a relaxed swing.)  In fact gluteus maximus contracts to arrest and reverse the forward swing of the thigh, but this does not need to be a conscious contraction. As the leg reaches the forward limit of the swing, the contralateral arm rises close to the body bringing the hand to a position just below the breast.

Foot fall
Allow the entire leg to swing back passively from the hip.   The knee remains slightly flexed and the ankle is neutral. (When first learning, allow the leg to swing back and forth several times to get the feel of passive fall). The foot should strike the ground lightly beside the foot of the supporting leg. The contralateral arm swings sharply down and back, close to the body, easily but not loosely, as the leg falls.

After foot fall, the foot slides lightly back to the starting a position about 12-15 inches behind the other foot. If you create a feeling of stroking the ground with the foot as it returns to the starting position, this will facilitate the required backwards motion of the foot relative to the COG at foot-strike.  The contralateral arm continues its backward motion to the point where the hand is a few inches behind the iliac crest.  The down and backwards sweep of the arm is firm and precise, but not as forceful as it would be when running.

At the beginning of each session, perform these three actions as separate, distinct movements, and once you have the correct feel for each action, perform them as a continuous smooth loop.

This drill has some similarities to the tapping drill in Pose, but it is designed to encourage a somewhat longer stride than is typical in Pose, while avoiding over-reaching. However, unlike the Pose tapping drill, the swing drill does not promote short, sharp ground contact.  Efficient running requires a precisely timed stance phase that is short, to minimize braking costs, but not too short, as decreased time on stance necessarily entail increased airborne time and hence increased costs of elevating the body.  The optimum proportion of time on stance decreases as speed increases.  Achieving the optimum time on stance is a cardinal requirement, but we must let our non-conscious brain perform this computation. However we do need to train our brain to performing this computation effectively.  I believe that conscious integration of arm and leg movement helps achieve this.

Linking arm and leg movements

In the late 1930’s, the neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield demonstrated that a electrical stimulation of a strip of brain adjacent to the central sulcus, a deep cleft lying between the frontal lobe and the  parietal lobe, produced muscle contractions.  The location of the stimulation along the strip determines which muscles contrast.  A map of this strip of brain tissue depicting the correspondence between each brain site and associated muscle resembles a map of the body (the ‘homunculus’) with a disproportionately large area devoted to the hand, apparently reflecting the great importance of control of hand position and movement in our daily life.    Due to the disproportionate size of the hand area within the homunculus,  proprioceptive signals from the upper limb are more strongly represented in the brain than signals from the leg.   This suggests that creating a strong link between leg and arm movement should facilitate monitoring of the swing action while running.   Establishing a link in the brain between a compact precisely timed arm movement and an associated compact leg movement would be expected to  facilitate a precisely timed lift off from stance and subsequent swing phase.

In the forgoing description of the primary version of the swing drill, in which the movements of contralateral arm and leg are described, descent of the swinging leg is accompanied by a a firm down and backwards sweep of the arm.   As the foot slides backward along the ground after footfall, the arm continues to swing backwards from a position beside the iliac crest to a stopping point several inches behind the iliac crest.  In the brain, this final firmly executed movement will become linked to the extension of the contralateral hip, powered largely by gluteus maximus. The concentric contraction of gluteus maximus will be accompanied by a eccentric contraction the hip flexors, priming them for elastic recoil as the next swing phase begins.  As the arm begins to swing forward, the contralateral leg begins the swing, with flexion at hip and knee.

In the second version of the swing drill, in which ipsilateral arm and leg movements executed together,  the upward swing of the leg accompanies the first part of the downward swing of the arm on the same side. The down-swinging forearm approaches  up-swinging thigh.   Mental focus on this coordinated but oppositely directed movement of the arm and leg on the same side helps promote an effective upswing of the knee.  The action should be firm but not unduly tense.

Integration of the swing into the gait cycle

To integrate this relaxed swing with the more dynamic action that occurs during the stance phase of running, it can be helpful to follow the swing drill with several short bursts of bounding for about 20 metres.  During bounding, employ a sharp downward movement of arm opposite the stance leg.  This facilitates a forceful contraction of gluteus maximus at mid-stance, delivering a push which is augmented by elastic recoil of the quads and propels the torso upwards and forwards  while pre-loading iliopsoas.  However, focus more on the timing than the forcefulness of this action, and visualise the relaxed swing that will follow.  During early swing the major work load is borne by the iliopsoas which contracts without requiring conscious attention.  Later, Gluteus maximus will again become active to arrest the swing, but this activation is also automatic provided the visual image is of the foot dropping under the body (but actually a little in front) .

In summary, during bounding, direct attention to the timing of the sharp down swing of the arm opposite the stance leg and visualise the relaxed trajectory of the swinging leg.  If you allow the major forceful actions of the large muscles (Gluteus maximus, the quads and iliopsoas) to occur automatically, the timing of these contractions is likely to be more precise.

19 Responses to “The swing drill”

  1. Bill McGuire Says:

    Very nice. I know for me the tapping drill has been the bane of my Posing for a long time. I believe practicing the verticle pull of the Tapping Drill with the feet next to each other has made it hard for me to avoid pulling too soon when I’m running. In other words, I never quite “finish the fall”, which slows me down terribly, among other things.
    It’s only lately that I’ve allowed myself to let my hips extend back a little and allow my COG to fall “over my toes”, so to speak. This forces me to pull my foot toward my hip from somewhere behind my cog, rather than directly up from below. It also increases my speed tremendously. Hard to describe without getting a little poetic and resorting to quotation mark abuse.

  2. Simon Says:

    I’ve been trying this today and noticed a couple of things:

    1. I like it – it’s a good exercise in co-ordination, relaxation and balance
    2. As a drill it is a little advanced – it combines several movements; pull, swing/drop, paw back
    3. The drill does not seem to allow for the elastic recovery of the leg. The Pose ‘hop in place’ drill is better for that

    Canute, hope you will find time to return to your blog again.

  3. canute1 Says:


    Thanks for you comments. You are right in implying that the swing drill is a complex drill. It should be acquired in a series of stages. Maybe I should describe those stages in more detail.

    I also agree that the drill does not involve elastic recovery. It was intended to help develop a sense of the direction of movement at each stage of the gait cycle, but makes no attempt to recreate all of the sensations associated with running. In particular, it entirely omits the experience of eccentric contraction of muscles at foot fall. This eccentric contraction is required both to cushion the landing and to store energy for re-use during the subsequent lift-off from stance. A ‘hopping’ drill would in principle be better for developing efficient elastic recovery, though my present opinion is that hopping in place does not encourage correct direction of movement. At present I am inclined to think that hopping forwards, but with discrete steps separated by a short pause, is better than hopping in place. I am working on a drill for this.

    With regard to the absence of recent posts, I have been very busy at work for the past two to three weeks. Today I logged onto the Fetch efficient running thread for the first time for several weeks and was intrigued by the continuing discussion on that thread. There are several ideas that I want to explore, but unfortunately, I will still be very busy at work for the next week or so, so I doubt that I will be posting much either on Fetch or here until next weekend. However I will certainly get back to it as soon as the demands of work allow it.


  4. Jeremy Huffman Says:

    Any chance of a video demonstration? thanks 🙂

  5. canute1 Says:

    Jeremy, Thanks for your request. I am afraid I do not have a video at present. I will let you know when I have made one.

  6. Jeremy Huffman Says:

    Thanks, I look forward to the vid 🙂

  7. Jeremy Huffman Says:


    What is the statis of a swing drill video?

  8. Cordless Autofeed Screwdriver Says:

    Hello to all 🙂 I can’t understand how to add your site in my rss reader. Help me, please.

  9. Jeremy Huffman Says:


    It has been 2months, surely you have had some time to get the video up for the swing drill. I am trying to remain patient 🙂

  10. canute1 Says:

    Jeremy, Thanks for your continued interest and your patience. I do not have any video recording device at the momet but hope to get something soon.

  11. Jeremy Huffman Says:

    Any word on the video yet??

  12. Jeremy Huffman Says:


    I am getting abit impatient…I hope you will be getting that video in this lifetime…LOL 🙂

    • canute1 Says:

      I am afraid life is a bit too busy at present to allow time for getting a video camera, and working out how to use it and upload to the site etc – I am sure that once I am familar with the technology it will be trivial and hopefully in the summer I will get started.
      Best wishes, Canute

  13. jeremy Says:

    Is the video almost ready?

  14. Mark Cucuzzella MD Says:


    I really like this drill and your principles. I shot a video on similar principles a couple years ago ….would love your take

    Mark Cucuzzella MD

    • canute1 Says:

      Thank you for your comment and for posting that link. It is a wonderful video. I agree with virtually everything you say. I am delighted by the clarity with which you say it and by the beauty of the filming. The emphasis on power of the hip drive and then just letting the recoil happen is nicely balanced.

      The only feature that I would question is the emphasis on 180 steps/minute as the magic cadence. Both theoretical speculation and observation suggest that cadence should increase with pace, though the fact that energy cost of repositioning the swinging leg increases with both cadence and speed limits the amount by which cadence should increase. And there is also the question of what is the natural recoil frequency of the leg. I am prepared to believe that this natural frequency does favour a cadence around 180 steps/min but have struggled to find evidence to support this.

  15. The dream of capturing the force of gravity for forward propulsion: re-incarnations of Pose | Canute's Efficient Running Site Says:

    […] required mental image of the swing is cultivated by the swing drill. However the swing drill does not involve getting airborne and hence does not help develop the […]

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