Learn the difference between flexibility and mobility, and focus on the latter.
As a runner you don’t need to be especially flexible. A normal range of motion in all of the major joints is sufficient to support efficient running movements. What you need more than flexibility is mobility.
Flexibility is the capacity of a joint to be moved passively through a wide range of motion. If you can touch your fingertips to the floor from a standing position without bending your knees, you’re flexible. Mobility is the capacity to actively move a joint through a normal range of motion with efficiency and strength. If you can run 100 meters in 13 seconds, which requires that you cover a lot of ground with each stride, then your hips have good mobility.
Whereas passive muscle stretching may be the best way to increase flexibility, dynamic muscle movements are the most effective means to increase joint mobility. Following is a 10-minute routine to develop greater mobility in all of your major joints from the ankles to the shoulders. Do it three times a week to improve the efficiency and power of your running.
Wall Ankle Mobilization
This movement improves ankle mobility. Stand facing a wall, with the toes of one foot against the wall, and break the knee forward to tap the wall with your kneecap. Straighten your knee and then slide the foot back a bit so that your toes are about an inch away from the wall, and repeat. Keeping moving back little by little until you get to the exact point where the kneecap is barely touching the wall. Make sure that your knee goes straight forward and not inward, and that the heel remains on the floor the entire time. Perform eight repetitions on each side. Watch demonstration
Walking Butt Kick
This exercise lengthens the quadriceps and hip flexor muscles. From a standing position, take a step forward and kick the heel of one leg backward toward your glutes. Using the hand on the same side, actively pull the heel into your glutes and come up on the toes of the opposite foot simultaneously. Maintain good posture (avoid forward leaning) and do not allow the leg to move to the side. Hold this position for one second and then place your foot back on the floor and repeat this movement with the opposite leg. Perform five repetitions with each leg.
Squat to Stand
This is an excellent drill for mobilizing the hamstrings and inner thighs. Stand with your feet positioned slightly farther than shoulder-width apart. Bend over and grab the bottoms of your toes with your hands, bending your knees as much as necessary to do so. From here, use your arms to pull yourself into a deep squat position. Try to keep the chest up, the knees out and a slight arch in the lower back. Hold for two seconds before standing up (without removing your hands from underneath your toes) and repeating the movement. Complete 10 repetitions.
Lunge Walk with Overhead Reach
This movement mobilizes the hip flexors and improves single-leg stability. Stand normally and raise both arms straight overhead. Take a long step forward with one leg and bend both knees until the knee of the trailing leg grazes the floor. Thrust forward off the front foot and lunge with the opposite leg, keeping your arms raised. Perform five repetitions on each side.
This movement provides a great dynamic stretch for the inner thighs and hip flexors. From a standing position, take a long stride forward into a deep lunge position and lower the same-side elbow down next to the heel of the forward leg. Keep your chest up and try not to let the lower back round as you lunge. From this position, drive off the forward foot, return to the upright position, and pull your trailing leg even with your forward leg. Repeat the movement with the opposite arm and leg. Continue until you have lunged five times with each leg.
Supine Hip Rotation
This exercise mobilizes the lower spine in rotation and strengthens the muscles that control this movement. Lie face up on a comfortable surface. Bend your legs 90 degrees and elevate them so your knees are pointing toward the ceiling. Spread your arms out away from your body along the floor, palms down. Twist your hips to the right so your legs swing down toward the floor on that side. Go as far as you can without allowing your left shoulder blade to lose contact with the floor. Return to the starting position and then twist to the left. Complete eight repetitions on each side.
Thoracic Spine Rotation
This movement increases the mobility of the mid-spine. Kneel on all fours. Lift and bend your right arm and place your right hand on the back of your head. Now twist your torso to the left so that your right elbow swivels toward your left arm, which should be kept straight. Now rotate back toward the starting position, but go a bit farther, so that your eyes are directed toward the wall to your right. Complete 12 rotations and then reverse your arm positions and rotate the opposite way.
Chest Stretch With Broomstick
This movement mobilizes the shoulders and upper back. Stand with your feet in a split stance with the right foot 18 to 24 inches behind the left. Make sure that your toes on both feet are pointed straight ahead, and that the heels of both feet are on the ground. Hold the end of a broomstick out in front of you with the left end in the palm of your left hand and the mid-point of the broomstick in your right hand with an overhand grip. Imagine your body is a clock face with the head at the 12 o’clock position. Use your right hand to push the broomstick (and with it your left arm) back to 10 o’clock. When you feel a good stretch in your left chest muscles, return to the starting position and repeat. Make sure that you don’t rotate your torso or allow the feet to pivot. Perform eight repetitions and then reverse your arm positions and mobilize the opposite side.
Scapular Wall Slide
Stand six inches in front of a wall, facing away from it, and lean back and press your butt, back and head against the wall. Bend your elbows sharply and press both arms into the wall with the palms of your hands facing forward. Begin with your elbows tucked close to your sides and your hands at approximately shoulder level. Now slide your arms slowly upward against the wall until you look like a football referee signaling a touchdown. Keep your butt, back, shoulder blades, head, elbows and the backs of your hands pressed against the wall the entire way. Now slowly return to the start position. Repeat this sliding movement six times. Watch demonstration
RELATED: Flexibility Tests For Runners
Hang & Twist
This movement increases the ability of the hips and lower spine to move independently of the upper spine and shoulders. Place your hands shoulder-width apart on a chin-up bar using an overhand grip and hang with your arms fully extended. Begin twisting gently from side to side from your hips. Try to gradually increase the degree of rotation but don’t strain to do so. Twist 10-12 times to either side.
Opposable Thumbs Stretch
This movement improves shoulder mobility. Stand with your left arm extended to the side and upward at a 45-degree angle and your right arm extended to the opposite side and downward at a 45-degree angle. Start with your left hand in a thumb’s-up position and your right hand in a thumb’s-down position. Keeping your elbows extended, draw both arms across your chest in opposite directions and rotate both forearms so that the left hand ends up in a thumb’s-down position and your right hand ends up in a thumb’s-up position. Without pausing, return to the starting position. Continue crossing and uncrossing your arms until you have completed 10 repetitions. Now perform another complete set, beginning with your left arm angled down (thumb down) and your right arm angled up (thumb up).
About The Author:
Matt Fitzgerald is the author of numerous books, including Racing Weight: How To Get Lean For Peak Performance (VeloPress, 2012). He is also a Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. To learn more about Matt visit www.mattfitzgerald.org.