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Kathryn Dane May 24, 2020 8:19:04 PM 16 min read

Mobility for Runners

The quarantine running boom is in full swing thanks to challenges like “run for heroes” and the “social distance digital relay” (SDDR) which raised over €70,000 for Pieta House. I am proud to say that I ran for Team FFS for the SDDR, covering a modest 10.5km in my 60 minutes of running. Like the many others who have taken to pavement pounding for charity and trying something new I noticed significant shock to the system with muscle tightness for up to two days following the run. This exercise induced soreness called D.O.M.S or delayed onset muscle soreness, is normal, its good, it’s to be expected, and it is most definitely not harmful.

After getting over the DOMS I decided to challenge myself to complete 30 minute runs 3 times a week.

I am learning about running all the time but recently I have discovered that Mobility might be one of the most important aspects of performance for runners outside of endurance and strength. If you’re mobile, you’re one hell of an athlete.

What is Mobility?

Mobility is simply the ability to move well. As runners, we need sufficient mobility to move through the range of motion required for running, sprinting, and changing directions.

Runners with good mobility can move powerfully through the mechanics of running, including:

  • strong upward knee drive
  • adequate hip extension (requiring flexibility in the hip flexors)
  • proper activation of the glute muscles

It’s very different from flexibility (this is achieved with static stretching), which is the ability to achieve large ranges of motion in the joints. An example is a hamstring stretch using your hands or a resistance band to pull it as far as possible. 

hamstring flexibility-3

Alternatively, mobility is if you were able to lift your leg smoothly into this position without any guidance from your hands. That requires more control, strength, and coordination.

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And unlike flexibility, mobility has components of strength and coordination. So it makes it a performance multiplier that helps you achieve several goals at once. 

It does sound counterintuitive to think of doing strengthening exercises to reduce your stiffness especially as most of us feel anything but flexible after a session in the gym, but the evidence is beginning to show that it does work.

 

Why is Mobility Training for Runners Important?

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Image source: RUNNER'S WORLD 

Mobility is critical for both running performance and injury prevention, that’s because mobility affects how you run. And if you have poor mechanics, that negatively impacts everything you do as a runner. 

For example, limited hip extension causes overstriding which is less energy efficient and increases impact loading on the hips and knees. Additionally, if you don't have sufficient hip mobility you steal it from somewhere else, most likely the lower back and many authors have speculated that this increases ones risk for low back pain and for hamstring strains. 

Mobility comes in many forms for runners but it most affects these areas:

  • Feet and ankles
  • Knees
  • Hips
  • Lower Back

Research has found that as much as 94% of all runners will experience an injury at some stage, with new and novice runners being the most at risk group. We cannot expect to totally eradicate or prevent injury however we can look to reduce the risk of sustaining an injury.

Adequate mobility in these major joints (not to mention strength), is the answer to most injury problems. If you find yourself getting hurt frequently, improving aspects of mobility might be the answer to escape from this chronic injury cycle. 

Runners with sound mobility are stronger, more coordinated, have more efficient running technique, and can make more training mistakes without succumbing to injury. 

In short, they’re more capable athletes.

Today I want to help you build this kind of mobility into your running schedule so you can reap the rewards!

Below I list my top 6 mobility exercises for runners. I do these three times a week. 

1) Spiderman to Windmill

        3x5 reps each side alternating

Tip: Try to keep your back leg off the ground

Purpose: coupling of deep hip and thoracic spine mobility

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2) Reverse nordics

        3x5 reps- 5 second lowering

Tip: Keep the glutes engaged throughout by tilting the pelvis forward. 

Purpose: Strengthen and Lengthen the hip flexor (rectus femoris in particular). Loading natural leg extension focuses on building control in the eccentric lowering phase. 

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3) OVERHEAD TRAVELLING LUNGES

        3x5 reps each leg

Tip: Keep the glutes and abs engaged throughout by tilting the pelvis forward. 

Purpose: build lower-body strength (glutes, quads, hamstrings, abdominals) and increase the mobility, power and propulsion of your legs. Resulting in better mobility, strength and coordination for stronger running performances.

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Overhead travelling lunge

 

giphy-34) RDL TO KNEE DRIVE

        3x10 reps each leg

Tip: Take a deep breath in before each rep and brace your abs. Squeeze the glutes of your standing leg. 

Purpose: The hip-hinge allows a runner to use their hip for maximal stability and propulsion. It also orients the body forward in such a way that results in the least amount of landing stress absorbed and the most energy used for forward motion. Improving your knee drive will improve your stride length and stride speed, making for a faster runner. 

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5) Wall assisted eccentric calf raises

        3x12 reps each leg (3-5 second lowering)

Tip: Use a wall or stair rail for support. Begin by raising both heels. Very slowly (count 3-5 seconds) lower your heel down to below the step at full stretch. Use the opposite leg to assist both heels back to the raised position and repeat. 

Purpose: The calf muscle group (soleus and gastrocnemius) helps initiate the push-off phase of the running stride and playing a key role in absorbing impact as your foot hits the ground. Eccentric calf strengthening increases the resilience and shock absorbing properties of your calf. The calf needs to be able to withstand up to 8 times your bodyweight on each stride. 

  • Weak calves are often the leading cause of running injuries, Achilles tendinopathy, shin splints, calf strains and plantar fasciitis and can be the reason your pace slows on longer distances.

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6) Shin pulses

        3x12 reps 

Tip: standing closer to the wall makes it easier. Start close to the wall and progress by moving further away. 

Purpose: Tibialis Anterior is found at the front portion of your lower leg and it dorsiflexes the ankle (draws your foot towards your shin). Adequate dorsiflexion (15 degrees) puts your foot in an ideal position to absorb the shock of the landing and generates tension to allow your muscles to spring forward into the next stride. This allows a reduced ground contact time per stride, allowing you to run faster and more efficiently. 

  • Those with poor dorsiflexion may experience a ‘loose’ or ‘floppy’ foot due to relaxation at the ankle joint which results in striking the ground through the toes, resulting in poor force distribution that contributes to injuries such as shin splints and runner’s knee. 

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The addition of these mobility exercises should have massive payoffs. After a few weeks adjusting to the exercises you’ll feel like a much more athletic (and mobile!) runner.

For those of you who are seriously interested in optimising your running performance I recommend reading Jamie Martin-Grace’s running mechanics series for an in depth systematic guide. 

Find out more

If you would like to know more about running specific mobility or physio led personal training you can contact Kathryn by emailing her at kathryn@ffs.ie

 

Check out FFS Physiotherapy and Online Consultations here.

 

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Kathryn Dane

Kathryn Dane is a Chartered Physiotherapist working with FFS Physiotherapy, a practice based on Leeson St Lower. Chartered Physiotherapists have specialist knowledge in the field of work-related injury management. She also plays for the Ulster Senior Women’s Rugby team and Irish Senior Women’s rugby team. If you need advice or a physiotherapy assessment, contact Kathryn at kathryn@ffs.ie or visit www.ffs.ie/physiotherapy.

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