Last weekend I forgot all about Usain Bolt as the top female sprinters sizzled the 100 meter semi-finals and finals at Olympics 2020 ( yes they are not calling in Olympics 2021). The slo-mo vidoes of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s huge stride length, arm movement, the hip drive – were a thing of marvel! My only thought after seeing her slo-mo videos till the family hid the remote from me was – What an amazing RANGE OF MOTION she has!!!!
A sprinter and endurance runner cannot be compared. They have different acceleration, power and speed abilities. But the lack of a good range of motion will bring injuries and could be a possible culprit for not being able to give a stride of gold for both the sprinter and the long distance runner.
And who am I? A recreational half to full marathon runner. Running is not my profession and yet I have goals tied to it which have brought me to experience the lows and highs of my running life.
In 2019 December, in the thick of my second marathon training, I injured my right calf severe enough to pull out of the only event that I was training for after a whole year. With rest and machine based physiotherapy, I got myself back on the road. A year later, a new variant of that injury came back which is when I realized that we had not nipped the issue in the bud. Recently, I started working on my rehab with another physiotherapist who put me on a run plan and exercises which are supposed to help me get rid of my calf and toe issues without laser, dry needling and machine work.
The run plan is interesting, but the uniqueness of my rehab is coming from the exercises I have been put on. There is 7 day mobility training for 4 weeks.
Mobility training all 7 days a week?
I asked myself – Why? Is there a cue for me here? Is that what was missing in my training so far? Is lack of mobility training the reason behind my recurring injury….Not focusing enough on bettering my range of motion?
With a background of more than 10 years of Yoga practice, I have developed flexibility. After a good warm up, I can lengthen my muscles which enables me to bend and twist into shapes. …..and yet my more-than-normal flexibility abilities didn’t keep me safe from recurring injuries.
It’s now been 15 days of 20 minutes of everyday mobility drills. There are visible learnings that I cannot ignore:
Learning 1. Flexibility is not mobility. It is a part of mobility.
To build mobility, I had to understand how it’s different from flexibility. For the first time in my almost 7 years of running, I am taking mobility drills seriously.
Learning 2. Mobility has to do with joints, and flexibility has to do with muscles.
How freely enough I am able to move my joints through a full range of motion describes my mobility levels – More the range of motion, better the health of my joints leading to injury free knees, strong holding – up shoulders, better knee drive, stronger ankles that effect my running gait, and all this without pain and any discomfort.
My flexibility is my ability to lengthen my muscles, ….. free movement in my hip flexors, strong hamstrings and quad muscles – all of this is what powers my hip extension. Yes, I need the flexibility, BUT….
Learning 3: It’s Ok if my fingers don’t touch my toes, I don’t need extreme flexibility to be injury free. But I need to keep the major muscles of my lower body – calves, hamstrings, quads and hip flexors flexible enough to stay injury free.
A chunk of my mobility drills include doing seated forward folds and pulling the ankle towards myself – it is to develop flexibility in my calf muscles and hamstrings. Why? Because A well-stretched muscle more easily achieves its full range of motion.
Learning 5: Mobility exercises CANNOT be overlooked by a runner who is in for the long term
“Mobility incorporates a variety of exercises that strengthen the smaller and weaker assistance muscles around the joints that traditional strength training misses. We are doing the big work of strength training, but are we going blind to the smaller assistant muscles around the joints? – www.runtothefinish.com
Imagine having ankles, knees, spine and hips that can go through a complete movement pattern, a full range of motion without any pain and discomfort …now imagine, running effortlessly like a gazelle…A invincible combination of strength, balance, co-ordination and stability.
In my case, I have learnt that my lack of strength training led to weak glutes which effected my hip drive. I compensated the lack of good hip extension by overworking my calves and ankles, whereas the propulsion should have come through the glutes and hamstrings. I ended up overworking the more delicate part of my kinetic chain. The combination of mobility drills and strength training cannot be overlooked by a runner.
The tightness in the body we suffer as runners cannot be taken care of by stretching alone, as I now understand. What could be lacking here is …..stability and strength rather than flexibility. However if you are constantly getting injured every training season, there’s a huge reason to look into your range of motion, just like I had to!
As I travel through an injury rehab program, I understand that a good stretching routine includes lots of mobility drills which include flexibility drills too. No program comes without another because to make a difference both our muscles and joints need to be worked on continuously to come out of injury and stay injury free.
Running is simple. It’s the things around it that are complicated – Heard this from a runner before?
What’s the complicated part around running?… OUR BODIES! Our body is way more complicated than just blood, flesh and bones! I promise you will learn a lot more about your anatomy as a runner going through your various recurring injuries, comebacks and training. As you engage with the sport, year after year, you can’t help but learn (also turn into a runner-thinker and sometimes become a ‘runner-thinker-blogger’)!