I would say most of you are familiar with mobility and flexibility training to some extent and hopefully at least a little bit is part of your running routine. The most common reason runners give me for not working on their mobility is that they don’t have time. This is usually after they went on a 20 mile run…don’t have time you say? Even doing five minutes of some sort of mobility work is better than nothing and will help keep your muscles and connective tissue at the proper length so they can optimally function. Today’s post rounds out the last piece of the running pie so you will have a complete plan for what you need to work on besides running.
Why Do Runners Need Mobility Work?
Why do we need adequate mobility of joints, muscles, tendons, etc when we run? It’s similar to the reason why we need adequate stability: if your body cannot move through the appropriate range of motion (or vice versa-you move through too much range of motion), it changes the underlying mechanics of movement and the resulting demands on tissues such as muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones. This can lead to pain or injury as well as decrease your performance because you’re not moving as efficiently as you could. The great thing about mobility training? IT’S EASY! The limiting factor for most people is time because you don’t need much equipment, if any at all. Most stretches and mobility techniques can be done without anything or just using your own hands. This is not an exhaustive list of exercises, but it’s a good start especially if you’re currently doing nothing in the mobility department. So let’s get to the good stuff, the techniques themselves:
- Soft tissue mobilization (STM): freeing up muscles, fascia and tendons so they aren’t tight and bound down to everything around them. You can use your fingers, tennis ball, lacrosse ball, foam roller, etc for this technique. The key is to find what you can tolerate and what gives your body the best results. Everyone is different, so I recommend experimenting with a couple different techniques until you find the technique/s you like best. Do this for 5-10 minutes a day focusing on different parts of muscles each time.
- Joint mobilization: this one tends to be a little trickier on your own so if you feel you have a true joint restriction, especially one that’s causing pain or changing the way you run, I recommend seeing a physical therapist first. However, there is one joint mobilization for the ankle that is easy to perform and most runners can benefit from to improve dorsiflexion, which is key to optimal running mechanics. Try this:
- Kneel on one knee with toes 2-3 inches from the wall. Place towel/pillow under knee on ground for cushion. Lean forward attempting to touch your knee to the wall without letting your heel come off ground. If you can easily touch, move your toes back 1-2 inches. The goal is to barely touch the wall with your knee while keeping your heel on ground. Repeart 20 times.
- Stretching: Now this is one most runners are familiar with and is fairly easy to perform. The most important muscle groups to stretch for runners are feet/toes, calves, hamstrings, quads and hips. I also recommend low back and chest stretches for runners that either have pain or if those areas are affecting their running form. These are best done after running and holding for 1-2 minutes to truly lengthen tight muscles. Perform 3-5 times on each muscle.
- Dynamic warm-up: These include exercises such as skips, leg swings, lunges, butt kicks, etc., that increase blood flow and temperature as well as prepare muscles for the running that’s to follow. Best done before running or activity for 25-50 feet for each exercise.
Stick With it to Reap the Rewards
One of the main reasons runners don’t feel mobility training is effective is because they don’t stick with it long enough or perform it consistently for their body to reap the benefits. Mobility training should be done every day for at least 5-10 minutes (more if you have time) and give yourself a minimum of 6-8 weeks before you can expect true changes. However, that doesn’t mean after 1-2 weeks you won’t start to feel and move better. It’s the accumulation of work which provides the positive results, so you need to stick with your routine and perform it consistently. Think of mobility work just like training for running. You don’t get a PR after one week or even one month of training, but you do start to feel better during your runs. A few months down the road, then you start to hit better times and certain runs start to feel easy because your body is adapting to the workload you’re placing on it. The same goes for mobility training, and it’s a great compliment to running because one without the other results in sub-optimal performance. And if we’re going to put all that work into running, we want to set ourselves up for success, right?
“Nobody’s a natural. You work hard to get good and then work hard to get better.”
~ Paul Coffey
Stay tuned for the next topic: Marathon and Half Marathon training!