Running Warmups Mobility VS Flexibility
Your checklist for a jog might include your running shoes, your Fitbit, and your dog’s leash as he waits for you by the door. But do you ever take into consideration what you do before and after a run? What about on the days that you rest?
This is where mobility and flexibility come into play to complement each other and you! Your muscles, tendons, and joints will thank you for being mobile and flexible.
Mobility and flexibility are often used interchangeably, which is confusing”, says Lauren Schnidman, D.P.T., a certified trainer, owner of In Motion Physical Therapy in Chicago, and physical therapist who works with runners regularly.
For most people, that’s no big deal, but when talking about the mechanics and performance of running, differentiating the two makes a difference.
Here’s what you need to know to run happy and strong:
Let’s break it down: Mobility is a joint’s range of motion. Two bones come together at a joint, and, as you move, the bones do, too. The more mobility you have, the more range of motion you’ll find in that joint.
Take the hip joint, for example, which is a ball-and-socket joint where the ball rolls and glides as you move in different ways. If the muscles surrounding that joint are tight, that can also limit your mobility.
On the other hand, flexibility is all about soft tissue. Flexibility is the ability for muscles, tendons, and ligaments to lengthen in response to the stress placed on them.
Flexibility is often achieved through traditional stretching (think: touching your toes), while mobility is worked on through dynamic, functional movements (think: leg swings or squats).
Even though mobility and flexibility are similar concepts, it’s entirely possible to have one without the other.
For example, the ability to touch your toes is a function of hamstring flexibility, but it demonstrates very little about your ankle or hip mobility. As you take each step, you need a certain amount of hip extension to make it happen.
Taking a simple step requires length (or flexibility) in your hip flexors, as well as range of motion (or hip mobility) that allows the ball to glide forward in the socket so your leg can move as it should.
When there’s a breakdown in this process or it’s impeded in some way, that’s when you can run into problems.” Having both mobility and flexibility means you will perform your best, while also avoiding unnecessary injuries.
The risks of skipping stretching and mobility:
You might be thinking to yourself that you’ve jogged before without stretching and you turned out just fine. The problem that arises when you do that regularly is your body starts adopting compensatory movement patterns to make up for flexibility deficits.
This compensation then burdens other tissues with the task of operating in ways they’re not built for or overloading them in ways they can’t support. And the scary thing? You might not even realize it.
Some sure-fire ways to identify that your body is compensating are bad aches, feelings of tightness, mild strains, and even injury.
Strength work along with stretching are two key ways to avoid pulled muscles and joint pain so that your body doesn’t have to compensate. The muscles need to be strengthened when the range of motion in the joints is increased.
Strengthening the muscles means they become more stable and, therefore, will be able to handle the change in range of motion and will not result in injuries (like hamstring or hip flexor strains).
As you focus on increasing mobility and flexibility, add resistance and strengthening work to round out your training program. This applies whether you’re a marathon runner or just logging miles for fun.
Fit mobility and stretching into your routine with these four steps:
As enticing as it might seem, do not start by running out the door!
1. Start with a brisk walk
You don’t want to use that first mile of every run as your warmup. If your first mile still does not feel great, you really need to get those legs moving a bit better. Instead, walk briskly for at least five minutes. Depending on the length and pace of your actual run, you may even need a light jog.
2. Transition to dynamic movements
Dynamic stretching is analogous to mobility training. Do it right before a run for at least another five minutes. You can go to a nearby park, where you can perform stretching, mobility, and strengthening exercises.
A dynamic warmup features functional movements that focus on moving multiple joints through their full range of motion and can even include plyometrics (quick, powerful movements) like skipping and hopping.
The type of stretching you’ll want to avoid doing before a run is static stretching (“sit and hold” stretches), which can dampen the effectiveness of the fast-twitch muscle fibers essential to running. We’ll talk more about static stretching in a few moments!
So what are the dynamic movements you should be doing?
Good dynamic mobility movements include leg swings, high knees, butt kicks, walking lunges, and bodyweight squats. Doing these opens up and lubricates the joints, which tells your body that this is the range of motion you’ll demand, i.e. your joints need to be ready for the pounding of a run.
At the end of a dynamic exercise, you should be breathless, but your muscles should not be tired. You should feel mobile and loose like the blood is flowing.
If you have time, add foam-rolling, I suggest going for a five-minute walk around the neighborhood, then going back home for the dynamic warmup. Use a foam roller on your hips, hamstrings, glutes, and quads.
Foam rolling increases circulation and helps prepare the body for movement by stretching and loosening the muscles. Spend more time on areas that feel especially tight that day.
3. Cool down with static stretching and focus on flexibility.
After a run, your muscles are actually longer than they were before a run. Static stretching —e.g. runner’s lunge, calf stretch, hamstring stretch, figure-four stretch—will exert pressure on muscle tissues, which changes their shape and helps them lengthen further.
Your muscles are fully “warmed up” and at their loosest stage, which is the best time to train them to hold that flexibility rather than shrinking back to being tight. Static stretches should be held for 30 to 60 seconds.
4. Add in strength
Strength exercises solidify all the hard work you put towards ensuring your body has mobility and flexibility. Some popular strength exercises for runners are the plank, glute bridge, single leg squats, single-leg deadlifts, and resistant-band exercises in multiple directions.
The amount of strength work you do should match your training level. For instance, if you’re training for a race and running three to five days per week, then plan for strength two or three times per week.
This can be on nonrunning days or part of your warmup. Just make sure you include one good recovery day per week that’s focused on rest or foam-rolling, mobility, and static stretching.
Now that you know how important mobility and flexibility are, you can start implementing both in your workout routine. Remember to add in strengthening exercises and static stretches in between your warm-ups and cools downs!
This article was written by Dr. Lauren Schnidman and was the basis for her featured expert author post in the runner’s world magazine.