Whether you are an elite runner, training for a marathon, trying to hit your first 5K or coaching a runner, this post is for you.
First, what does running actually require from the human body? In theory, running and walking are similar in activity but there are some key differences. Running requires
- more balance
- more strength
- more range of motion in joints
Now, you can guess that sufficient mobility is the foundation for running. It is also the thing that can take your performance to the next level.
This is what happened to Desiree Lilliehöök, a long-distance runner in Örgryte Friidrotts elite group. Read below, how improving her mobility helped her make two new personal bests in one month.
Mobility training in the alps
Desiree had been attending a training camp in the Alps and after several days of 5-6h mountain running at a high altitude, she could notice her body started to feel worn and stiff.
“One night we got to try a few mobility exercises and in the morning, the effect was conspicuous. I felt recovered and resilient.” Desiree tells.
After making that discovery, Desiree incorporated mobility training into her daily routine and after returning home to Sweden, she wanted to improve her mobility even more. She wanted to get numeric facts about her mobility, so we analyzed her with the TE3 Mobility Analysis and started daily result-based training. In one month, the results were in – and there was huge improvement. Her upper body mobility had improved 60%.
The results of TE3 Mobility Analysis showed that in 7 weeks, Desiree had managed to balance her body and improve her mobility significantly.
Improved performance with better posture and faster recovery
It was time to hit a competition and to Desiree’s surprise, she managed to make a new personal best on 10km country road with a 30-second improvement (39:15). Three weeks went by and it was time for an another competition. Again, a new personal best with 45 seconds improvement (38:33). What had changed?
“My posture had gotten better by removing the muscle lock that I had in my chest. My recovery between runs was faster, which meant that I could now run more and harder routes. Which of course is crucial for both endurance and speed.”
Desiree’s body had changed from feeling fragile and rigid to flexible and resilient. But the biggest change she noticed was the one in her shoulder rotation.
“My arm pendulum had become effective and ‘lower’ which had angled my pelvic position. This means my steps were more powerful – something my coach was quick to comment on. The feeling of running fast and controlled had given me a new meaning.“
Nowadays Desiree exercises her mobility every day, morning or evening. As she is an elite runner, she needs to take good care of the whole package: good nutrition, recovery, strength, balance and mobility.
“Mobility training has had a huge impact on my running technique and my times. I feel that many runners would have a lot to gain from working with their mobility. For me, it is also important to measure my results. Seeing measurable improvements stimulates me to work with a goal.”
Why should runners care about body mobility?
Especially if you have a desk job, like to sit on the sofa watching Netflix or travel seated long time periods, you could be slowly damaging your running form by shortening the muscles in your hip flexors. Of course it’s not just a couch potato problem, the activity itself can create stiffness especially if you are training hard. Many top athletes suffer mobility problems and muscle imbalance.
So, what problems can runners face with restricted mobility?
- reduced speed due to limited range of motion
- injuries or pain due to a poor or changed running form
- strains in joints or muscles
Especially, when we get older, our muscles tend to lose their elasticity. This is why taking care of your body mobility becomes even more important as you get older.
But not to get too caught on the risks, let’s talk about the benefits as well. A better range of motion allows you push off the ground with more power, run without feeling tight in your muscles and keep up your progress.
Mobility areas that are important for a runner
Hips are the foundation of a runner’s body. They stabilize the movement, keep the knees pointed to the right direction and enable a free, flowy movement.
As you might have already guessed, hips are also the part where most runners deal with their problems. Imbalances are very common, especially in the hip abductors. If your exercise routine mostly includes running, you are constantly training your hip flexors and extensors with a small range of motion. Then again, if your hips are too tight, you start twisting them which can lead to knee pain.
This is why runners should always remember versatile training in addition to running.
When moving beyond the hips, runners should also pay attention to mobility (and strength) especially in these areas:
- Ankles – The ankles are the base for the human body and affect everything that happen above them. In running, good ankle mobility helps in force production and correct alignment of the leg.
- Spine – Keeping your spine healthy helps maintaining a good posture for more efficient breathing and less rotation.
- Shoulders – As Desiree’s story showed us, running is not just about footwork.
How can I tell if I have sufficient mobility?
Odds are, if you are able to run fast, your mobility is OK. However, you might compensate movements with other parts of your body, which leads to muscle imbalance and increases the risk of injury. We always advice people to get their mobility checked by a trusted professional.
Are you a trainer wishing to improve your clients’ mobility? Check out our mobility education for professionals.