Mobility – Strength – Skill
To maximize your potential, capacity and efficiency for Shuttle Runs you must master the movement’s specific mobility, strength and skill demands: the three-headed monster every athlete must conquer. Let’s take on the monster one “head” at a time.
Hip Disassociation: In order to achieve an adequate stride length you have the ability to create separation between your legs: hip dissociation. This will allow you to take fewer steps per length with less effort because you won’t be fighting against your own muscular tension.
Knee Flexion: As discussed here, the faster you run the more hip dissociation and knee flexion (bending) needs to occur. In a shuttle sprint (near max effort), the knees will have greater than 90 degrees of flexion.
Some athletes struggle to have active ROM to this degree, since this is unlike a squat where gravity assists the knee flexion. Working on the functional range, and decreasing quad stiffness will help claiming this range of motion.
Hip Flexion: Yes, a degree of hip flexion is needed to run effectively, but more important to the shuttle run is the fact that an athlete must touch the floor past the turnaround point of each length. This means deep hip flexion and core compression.
Athletes with poor hinging mechanics due to tight hamstrings and posterior chain will often experience low back fatigue as a result. Mobilizations like a Supine Hamstring Stretch and Forward Fold are a great starting place for developing hip flexion.
In order to quickly & efficiently move through shuttle runs, an athlete must have good change of direction ability. This comes down to power development.
Specifically to shuttle runs this means achilles tendon tension: the ability to store and redirect elastic energy.
An athlete must also have sufficient leg drive / strength for accelerating out of each turn.
This is a very different type of strength than is required for squats, deadlifts and the like. Rather, I would look into programming plyometrics.
While many athletes don’t view Shuttle Runs as a high-skill movement, the reps add up quickly if you don’t do everything possible to maximize your movement economy.
Here’s what I have our athletes focus on…
(1) No Choppy Steps
In an effort to minimize the amount of push off required in a single leg drive, athletes often resort to short, choppy steps. This is a recipe for simply moving slowly.
Force yourself to elongate your strides (within reason) to increase the speed of your shuttle cadence.
A simple way to hold yourself accountable is by counting your steps on each length. For a 25 foot length, seven or eight is often best.
Nine or more steps per length is often a sign of fatigue or laziness.
(2) Run in a Straight Line
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
Trust me, you want to run 25 feet each length and not 26 or 27.
Therefore, don’t let your turns become loppy; turn on a dime.
Turning both feet to point the direction you want to go at the turnaround (180 degree “jump”) ensures that you will have a tight turn and not add any additional distance to your run.
(3) Maximize Turning Speed
The key to shuttle run efficiency is less about getting to your highest speed and more about minimizing the time at which you are moving slowest: the turnarounds.
Remind yourself to “get out” of the turn quickly, accelerating back to your cruising speed within two steps.
(4) Use Body Lean at The Touch
As you get tired, it’s easy to resort to a flat-footed turn and sweeping finger touch.
However, this results in a flexed spine, where you can’t effectively breathe. Plus this often lights up your erectors and posterior chain.
If possible, stay on your forefoot, jump your feet to face the direction you want to go, and lean into the turn. This lean reduces how far you need to hinge at the hip, making the ground feel much closer.
Finally, in most workout scenarios, I would also encourage athletes to stand tall as quickly as they can to minimize the time which they are hinged over at the waist.
(5) Use Your Hand to Push Off
As you plant your feet to turn, push off the thigh of your front leg with your hand. This assists the leg drive when at high turnover, and minimizes leg fatigue in endurance settings.