The Pawback Drill For Distance Runners

FOREWARNING: This is a somewhat boring but informative post, to say the least!

Suppose you want to improve your ability to run further and run faster without getting injured. In that case, you need to work on fine-tuning your running technique and strengthen your physical skills related to running. Once you can mimic the same running pattern for every stride while running at faster paces and distances, you will achieve your true running potential!

Running Technique Basics

Every runner has a different style of running, and every runner has their own unique, effective running technique. It’s important not to just replicate what the pros are doing per se but to fine-tune your running technique based on what’s most optimal for you and your running style.

Short and sweet: you must teach yourself how to run correctly by working on fine-tuning your running technique.

What feels the best might not always be what’s best for you, primarily if you aim to run farther and faster while training for your next marathon. Fine-tuning your running technique takes time!

All runners have a unique style of running. This doesn’t dictate much aside from what you look like while you run. How well you run is determined by your running mechanics and running technique.

So What?

Adjusting your running technique through flexibility and special strength exercises will allow you to develop proper strength in your muscles that support your running actions. It is essential to nail basic running techniques properly to get the most satisfaction from running!

For example, think about a swimmer. If you watch some swimmers, you will see the way they pierce the water with their fingers during freestyle begins with their thumb, making the best use of pulling themselves forward through the water as they glide, while other swimmers just flop their hand on top of the water, getting less use out of the forward pulling motion while swimming. The first example is a swimmer with the better technique since they’re able to move through the water faster and more efficiently with every stroke.

You need good technique in any sport you do to do it in the way that works best for you!

For runners, one runner’s footstrike might appear different than another runner’s. Still, the mechanics of each runner wholistically should have the same essential elements of proper running technique, like landing under the body’s center of mass, properly pushing off of the ground, keeping an upright torso, a strong knee drive, and a share pawback before making contact again with the ground. All of these more minor things add up!

The same concept applies to running. There are some things you must do, while others can be done in the many ways that determine your style.

The footstrike is a critical element of running that shows many differences between runners. This is when your foot makes contact with the ground. One runner might land on the midfoot of their foot, and others might land closer to the heel, which is common amongst distance runners.

The Pawback Drill

The pawback drill allows you to strike the ground safely and effectively. In this movement, you bring your foot in front of your body in the swing phase of the gait cycle and bring it back under you for landing to reduce the impact of contact with the ground while landing and to ensure you don’t cause yourself to break and use extra energy while doing so as opposed to adequately propelling yourself forward with the proper use of this movement. Overstriding occurs when you land too much in front of your body while running, which can lead to injuries such as plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and other problems when absorbing this kind of shock every time you hit the road.

To initially work on this, you can try to a) increase your steps per minute or cadence to ensure you’re landing under your body instead of too far ahead. Shoes like Nike’s Alphafly’s have a gigantic cushion under the heel for this reason for marathon runners. In the last 10K of a marathon, anyone’s form can get a fault, which is why the shoe absorbs so much shock in the heal and other areas of the foot. I am using this shoe example from firsthand experience. Just to caveat!

Landing on your midfoot creates a contraction in your calf muscles, absorbing the landing forces and enabling a better push-off while running. For example, this MIGHT BE why sprinters enjoy spikes for shoes. They aren’t shock-absorbing shoes, which would slow them down. For long-distance runners, the same concept applies!

With the proper pawback movement, your body touches the ground and loads your muscles with less braking force to push off again in your next stride. Case in point: your shoes shouldn’t absorb all the forces while touching the ground. Fine-tuning your pawback motion will allow you to properly touch the ground with less breaking forces and proper efficiency while running.

Let’s Break it Down

Let’s look at the three phases of the running technique: push-off, flight, and support.

The more force generated in the muscle contraction and the knee drive with the push-off phase, the higher the thigh will rise with a faster pace, where the pawback comes to play, whipping the shin forwarding, extending the leg before the midfoot hits the ground under the body. The leg should rise around 45 degrees for the long-distance runner, and the angle is great for sprinters.

The knee drive is a vital force producing action and helps contribute to running at faster paces. The forward swing action of the knee and thigh produces a longer stride length and, as a result, a faster running speed. For this to be effective for your running, the knee drive must begin when the leg is behind the body. The essential hip joint action ensures the knee is driving forward, not upward.

When the leg is behind the body and the hip muscles are pre-tensed, they can contract explosively to force the knee to force and relax as the knee continues to move forward into the pawback motion, where the hamstring muscles are lengthened as the leg moves forward.

As the knee is driven forward, the shin folds, making a 90-degree-ish angle with the ground. You want to get each foot off of the ground as quickly as possible in the running to maintain a higher cadence and proper running form. Folding the shin under the thigh as you should, you drive the knee forward instead of the entire leg, which takes longer to get each foot off the ground.

The Pawback motion occurs in the flight phase. This is after the shin is whipped forward and the leg is straightened out, landing the leg under the body as it pulls backward while making contact with the ground.

For us distance runners, the leg is slightly in front of the body on the mid-foot. The closer the foot lands to the body’s center of mass, the less braking force is generated. This is why the heel strike might be inefficient for some runners.


You must nail proper running mechanics to run farther and faster while staying injury free. Running gait analysis is a great way to help you pinpoint your problem areas and fine-tune them by putting in the work and teaching yourself how to run correctly in the best way! If you keep struggling with hurting your knees, heels, ankles, or anything while you run, a running technique session might be worth checking out to keep you injury-free as you continue to run!

If you need guidance, let’s connect! I’d love to help you get to your next 26.2 starting line injury-free with proper running technique!

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