STRETCHING AND MOBILISATION FOR RUNNERS:
Will it make you faster? Unlikely... Will it make you bullet proof as far as injuries go? Also unlikely - more research needs to be done.
BUT, is it great for joint, tendon and muscle recovery and a nice reset for the mind? Do I recommend stretching and mobility as a part of a well balanced training program? YES. Absolutely. From the elites to the recreational runners, stretching is for everyone and can be a game changer when trying to back up runs and bounce back between sessions.
The thing is, it is so very common for runners to not be able to touch their toes, extend their lumbar spine more than 30degrees or even sit comfortably cross legged on the floor for more than 30seconds.
Does this mean you can't run well? No, but could you run more freely and also tap into a new range of movement mechanics and even recover better if you had slightly better hip and spinal mobility? It's not proven, but anecdotally and observationally in my practice, I DEFINITELY think so.
If we break down and define stretching: it is holding tissue at end range length either statically or dynamically for a period of time to release tension within the tissue in the hope of gaining more movement around the associated joint(s). This may include dynamic exercises, static holds, or 'through range' mobility flows (where you move a joint through range in a specific manner to help stretch and lengthen eg: yoga.)
Mobilisation is when we manipulate a joint or tissue to help make the joint/limb move more freely through range of motion. This can be done through use of manual therapy from a physiotherapist, foam rolling, specific exercise techniques to mobilise a joint, or through the use of other aids such as balls/resistance bands/back balls. This is all with the goal to try and coax a joint into submission per se and gain better movement quality and range through a targeted joint.
We can easily check length/ joint mobility of a particular body part by measuring the joint range of motion PRE stretch/mobilisation, and then again POST. Here is what I mean in practice:
EG: as runners we can get stiff through the foot and ankle complex.
1) Stretch/ mobility assessment: we can measure the front of the ankle joint via a "knee to wall stretch." Stand close to the wall with your big toe 5-12cm away from the wall. bend your knee to touch the wall. If your knee touches the wall easily, move your foot back until you cannot easily touch the wall but can gently make contact (your maximum distance from the wall without twisting at the knee or ankle to try and cheat). This gives you a decent measure of how the ankle joint is in terms of range. Ideally runners should have 7-12cm from the wall for optimal mechanics but there is some individual variation around this too.
2) Treatment/intervention: After this measure we can do a battery of stretches and mobility exercises. EG: some dynamic pogo jumps up and down on the spot, some foam rolling of the calf and soft tissue around the lower limb, some eccentric heels drops/calf lowers off the side of the step, some resisted ankle flexion exercises using a resistance band and some static calf and ankle stretches.
3) Re-assessment findings: We then re-measure the knee-to-wall stretch and we may have a few extra cm's of movement! The joint glides better, the tissue around the area feels less restrictive and the foot mechanics feel more smooth. It's so satisfying and I am yet to have a runners who don't report feeling better after some ankle mobility work.
But what does this mean?
Will you run faster/further/longer/better? I absolutely cannot guarantee this. But, will you have improved foot and ankle mechanics, absorb ground reaction forces better and be less likely to compensate for lack of movement in the ankle with overloading other tissue and joints? I strongly believe so.
Having said that, do we need to do this with every joint in our body to get the benefits? Do we need to do this daily? When do we use dynamic stretches? Static holds? Foam rolling? Everyday? WHAT IS THE BEST WAY?
Honestly, like everything in life it is dependent on the individual, what kind of running you are doing, what your injury history is, what your running goals are, how much time you have and if you personally feel it helps in practice.
Want some definitive ideas and moves to cover to start to implement on a practical level? Lifestyle friendly and effective stretch/mobility techniques to have in your weekly program?!
For some great stretch and mobility routines jump on a free week trial at forRunners.app
About Alice Baquie
Alice has been a physio for fourteen years and specialises in injury prevention and management for runners. Alice has represented Australia in distance running and gymnastics so has sound knowledge of athletic performance and understands the importance of strength conditioning and mobility to help keep the body moving effectively to mitigate injuries.
Alice, otherwise known to her wonderful pilates community as AB is a fun loving inclusive person always ready to chat and have a laugh and has hosted 1000’s of online classes which attract people from all around the world, including 25 Aussie Olympians.