Mobility for Runners
Running is a great form of exercise for health and well-being, but any runner knows that after a while their hips and legs can tighten a bit. You can start to notice restrictions in hip mobility, and increasing muscle tightness in your quads, hamstrings and calves. Stretching can be a way to relieve this tightness – both in the short and long-term.
Stretching can be separated into three general categories – static, dynamic and pre-contraction.
1. Static stretching involves holding a joint in an end range position to a point of stretching sensation in the muscles involved for a set period of time (commonly 30-90 seconds)
2. Dynamic stretching involves moving a joint actively through its full range of motion multiple times
3. Finally pre-contraction stretching involves a contraction of the muscle being stretched or its antagonist before stretching (this will explored further below in the post-run mobility section) 1.
To assist the runner in mobility maintenance and recovery post run – I’ve organised and compiled a few pre and post run mobility exercises/stretches to implement into your training schedule:
Traditionally static stretching is used when attempting to increase range of motion in a joint 1. However static stretching has shown to decrease muscle strength and performance in running 1. Therefore to improve mobility prior to a running session – the following dynamic stretching/mobility exercises are recommended:
Hip Controlled Articular Rotations
Knee Controlled Articular Rotations
I’ve compiled a group of static and pre-contractive based stretching positions aimed to relieve muscular tension after a running session:
- Placing your rear foot onto a wall behind you with your knee resting on a towel (ensuring the knee is comfortable – stop this stretch at any point if you experience knee pain)
- The first picture on the left above shows the initial stretch position – focused more on the quadriceps – tuck the pelvis under and drawing your buttocks back to the wall
- The second picture above to the right shows the subsequent stretch position that focuses more on the psoas muscle
- hold for 30-60 seconds each side
90/90 position Gluteal Kinetic Stretch
- Finding a comfortable 90/90 position as pictured above – sitting underneath a pillow or folded towel if the pelvis rocks to one side and placing a cushion or towel underneath the front knee if it does not touch the ground
- Inhale to lift the belly high and tilt the pelvis forward – poking your tailbone out behind you (see top left picture)
- Exhale – bring your belly and chest over the right thigh – using your fingertips to support your weight as little as you can, so thast the gluteal muscle has to actively lengthen holding your body weight (hence the term kinetic stretching)
- Repeat 5-10x – holding for 5-10 seconds on the last repetition
90/90 Internal Rotation Kinetic Stretch
- In the 90/90 position (using pillows/towels under the buttocks as required) firmly press your hands of either knee or the knee of the rear leg – placing force comfortably down through the inside of the rear knee to the floor (use a pillow or blanket underneath if needed)
- With exhale turn through the belly and chest toward the rear leg – placing more force down through the rear knee and ankle until you can no longer turn and internally rotate the rear hip any more
- Repeat 5-10 x with a 5-10 sec hold on the last repetition
Hamstring Stretch + Isometrics
- Lying down with one leg against a wall or pole – place the leg in a position that allows for a comfortable stretch of the hamstring muscle. Hold for 30-90 seconds
- Slowly begin to press the heel of the lifted leg against the wall – building tension in the muscle slowly until you reach a safe and comfortable maximum. Hold this for 10 seconds
- Lift the leg away from the wall – closer towards you and hold for 10 seconds
- Edge closer to the wall if the hamstring feels less tight, or stay in the same position and repeat steps 1-3 once or twice
Half Fish Pose
With one knee bent facing forward and the opposite heel on the front or opposite side of the knee – ensure the buttocks are on the floor. Twist through the spine and reach your arm across the lifted knee. Hold for 10-15 breaths either side
Combat Stance Ankle Stretch + Isometrics
Named after the combat stance position in martial arts – this is a great way to stretch the ankle and soleus muscle.
- Leaning over the ankle – use your bodyweight (or weight as seen above-right) to find a stretch through the calf muscle bulk and achilles tendon
- Slowly build tension into the lengthened calf muscle by pushing the ball of your foot into the floor until you reach a safe, maximal tension – holding that for 10 seconds
- Staying deep within the stretch lift the toes up and away from the floor – contracting through the tibialis anterior muscle as much as you can – hold for 10 seconds
- Repeat steps 1-3 once or twice
Seated Toe Extension + isometrics
Sitting over flexed toes – if you can handle the stretch for >15 seconds – add in a contraction/stretch of the deeper foot musculature by pressing the toes into the floor for 10 seconds
Try completing this mobility routine 1-3x a week and let us know how you go!
If you have any questions or queries – email me at email@example.com
Oliver Crossley (APAM)
Featured in the Top 50 Physical Therapy Blog
- Page, Phil. “Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation.” International journal of sports physical therapy 7, no. 1 (2012): 109.