Mobility Drills for Runners
You warm up, you run, you cool down. A few stretches here and there (if you remember). But are you including mobility work into your training routine?
Mobility is a combination of flexibility and strength. Doing dynamic and static stretches is half the battle and should definitely be included in your warm up and cool down. But incorporating regular functional and mobility work into your routine will help you run with more efficiency and strength, and help those joints feel more supple during and after your run, promoting longevity in your running training. And for runners who commonly tend to experience lower back pain or have tight hips, hamstrings or vulnerable ankles; these simple mobility drills can help reduce tightness and tension which may cause you pain or injury whilst running.
Good for: the spine, lower back and hamstrings.
Stand up tall with your feet hip width apart. Starting with either straight legs or a small bend in the knees, drop your head down and slowly roll down through the spine. Focus on each vertebra moving sequentially one at a time, lowering the top of your skull down towards the floor. Notice if there are any areas of the spine that feel slightly more ‘stuck’ than others. How low you go will depend on your hamstring flexibility, feel free to do this with bent knees if the stretch is too intense in the back of the legs. Let the weight of your head drop so you are looking through the gap between your legs, not at the floor or in front of you. Stay in this position for a few breaths, imagining the vertebra in the lower spine gently releasing as you exhale. To come up, bend the knees and tuck the pelvis underneath you so you make a small ‘C’ shape with your spine as you roll back up. Again, keep thinking about the vertebra stacking up one at a time and roll the shoulders down the back as you reach an upright position. Repeat slowly 4-5 times. When you reach those ‘stuck’ areas, pause, take a deep breath in and out, and continue rolling down.
Single Leg Swings
Good for: hip flexors, hamstrings and ankle stability.
Standing on one straight leg, gently swing your leg forwards and backwards, holding onto a wall/chair for balance if you need it. Start low and with a small bend in the knee of the moving leg, thinking of the weight of the leg dropping down before swinging up like a pendulum. Keep the spine in a neutral, upright position and the hips fairly stable. Yes, the swing involves the hip joint, however the pelvis itself should only move slightly with the working leg doing most of the moving. Depending on how your body feels, begin to the increase the height of the swinging leg, still in a fairly relaxed motion, so trying not to grip the hip flexor as it goes up. Also, you may be able to get your leg higher at the front than behind, this is normal! Therefore, don’t be tempted to arch the back to get extra height when swinging backwards. Repeat for at least 30 seconds on each leg. This can be done with the legs parallel, or with a slight turn out (external rotation) in the hips where the knee will face outwards slightly. You can also perform the swing laterally, so swinging one leg across the midline of the body and then out to the side.
Lunge with overhead twist
Good for: hip flexors and spine.
For this one you will need either a resistance band, towel or thin pole (no longer than 1m). Hold the resistance band in both hands overhead, so your arms are straight and there is a slight tension in the band throughout the exercise. Step into a lunge making sure the front knee is aligned with the ankle, and the back leg is turned in (not twisted out) with the heel up and back knee close to, but not touching, the floor. Keeping the arms up and the spine long, rotate the torso in towards the bent knee whilst keeping the hips and front knee facing forward. To help stabilise the hips, squeeze the glutes and push down on the front heel to keep the front knee strong. Be careful to keep the ribs closed in, shoulders down the back away from the ears, and imagine your spine having a corkscrew effect while rotating around a fixed position (your lower body). This means you should not shift laterally and the spine remains lengthened. Rotate back to neutral and return the foot to standing. Repeat 10-15 times on each leg. You can choose to work with reverse, forward or walking lunges as variations.
One handed bridge extension
Good for: hip flexors, shoulders and spine.
Sitting on the floor have both knees bent and feet hip width apart, and one hand behind you with the fingers facing away from you. Aim to have both the feet and hands roughly a foots distance from your hips, but this will depend on your own body and level of flexibility. Push off the heels and hand to lift the hips up into a high bridge/wheel. With the free arm reach up and back extending the arm towards the floor. Make sure you engage the glutes to help keep the hips stable. Lower down gently and repeat on the opposite side 12-15 repetitions each. If you have lower back problems or limited mobility in this plane of motion, you can regress this having both hands on the floor with fingers facing in this time. Then continue the same method of pushing hips up to open the front of the hips and the shoulders.
Standing alternating heel raises
Good for: ankles and feet
Start with your feet hip width apart with the weight in the middle of your feet. Softly bend both knees maintaining a long neutral spine and same weight placement in the middle of the feet. Keeping both knees bent, lift one heel up applying a small amount of pressure through the ball of the foot. Key points here are to make sure the heel remains in line with rest of the foot and the above knee. Alternate lifting one heel up while the other presses into the floor by adding a small bouncing motion to add fluidity to the exercise. Repeat 10-12 changes between each foot. When you feel comfortable you can play around with raising both heels up at the same time on either bent or straight legs, switching up the tempo by slowing down the lowering of the heel, or holding a balance on either two or one leg. If holding a balance make sure the supporting leg(s) is straight by drawing the quadricep muscles up to help keep the knee in a stable position. If you are concerned about your balance, be close to a wall/chair for extra support.
Kneeling ankle mobilisation
Good for: ankles.
In a kneeling position, start by sitting on the heel of the back leg with the other knee bent and foot flat on the floor. Aim to have approximately a distance of a few inches between the front heel and back knee. Slowly shift your weight forward onto the planted foot as smoothly as possible, keeping the front heel on the floor. To help this you may hold the foot down with your hand, but make sure your hand placement does not restrict the movement. Gently shift the weight backwards and repeat 10-12 times each side.
Alongside these exercises, I would always recommend runners, and non-runners, to invest in a foam roller and massage/lacrosse/tennis ball for self-myofascial release. Having a good roll around and getting into those tight areas such as calves, glutes or base of the foot, will also begin to help loosen up those tight muscle groups and allow for greater mobility.
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