The Importance of Mobility and Flexibility Exercises for Runners
First, before separating flexibility from mobility, here is the definition of each of these terms. Flexibility is defined by the range of motion around a joint. It improves the suppleness of the muscles and also regulates the nervous system. In comparison, “Mobility refers to movements in the joints of the body (between the vertebrae, knees, ankles, hips, shoulders, in the jaw, etc.).”
On the side of science, no study has shown that flexibility improves athletic performance or reduces the risk of injury. However, several benefits have been observed on the biomechanics of runners who practice stretching exercises, such as a smoother and more efficient run.
What is the best time to stretch?
It is important to know that there are better times than others for stretching. Often, after intense interval training or long-distance running, the muscle fibers may have micro-tears. It is, therefore, recommended to wait at least four hours after an intense effort and 24 hours after a very intense effort. The best time to stretch the muscles is during recovery days or after a short-duration, low-intensity workout. In addition, it is not recommended to stretch a muscle cold. As for frequency, it is recommended to stretch at least twice a week.
In case of injury, it is not advisable to stretch a severely stiff, painful or injured muscle.
Types of stretching
There are several types of stretching. Here are the three most common: static, ballistic and contract-resist mode. These three types of stretching all have the same goal: to improve muscle flexibility. Let’s start with static stretching. It must be maintained for 30 to 60 seconds without bouncing. The stretch should create a slight discomfort in the stretched muscle, while at the same time staying under the threshold of pain (3 out of 10 according to the pain perception scale). In addition, for maximum results, it is recommended to repeat two to three sets for each stretching exercise.
As for the second type of stretch, it is composed of dynamic movements with a large range. Ballistic stretching can be effective during warm-ups to better prepare the body for exercise. In addition, the stretches should have about 15 repetitions on each side. For example: side to side or front to back leg swinging.
Finally, the contract-resist mode involves contracting the stretched muscle for four seconds and releasing it for four seconds. The sequence must be repeated four times. The muscle stretching is done throughout the whole sequence.
Relevant muscles to stretch for runners: toe flexors, soleus, gastrocnemius (calf muscles), hamstrings, quadriceps, iliopsoas, adductors, abductors, gluteus maximus, latissimus dorsi (lats), large pectoral, small pectoral (pecs), lower back, scapula lift and upper trapezius.
The mobility of the joints influences the fluidity and the efficiency of the movements. As a result, a runner with loose joints may have a higher risk of injury. In addition, improved joint mobility improves the take-off sprint process and helps to better absorb the impact on the joints.
When should mobility exercises be performed?
Mobility exercises can be integrated into the warm-up procedure before going for a run. This is a very good way to prepare the body before training. The duration of each exercise is 30 to 60 seconds. These must be done in a fluid way, without forcing and without going to the maximum width of the range. The Cat-Cow back exercise while standing is a very good example of a mobility exercise to do during your warm-up.
- HARVEY, Jean-François. Courir mieux. Les Éditions de l’Homme. 2013, p. 193-213.
- HARVEY, Jean-François. L’entraînement spinal. Les Éditions de l’Homme. 2011, p. 77-79.