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As many of us have may have realised by now, running is just a runner's part-time job. We spend the other half of our time – basically whatever is left of our time after working, studying, and having a cheat day (or days, no judgment here) – sweating away on a yoga mat or trying to keep our internal organs in place as we weight-lift.
Runners have to keep up with so many different exercises. Surely, that covers everything from muscle strength to flexibility, right? Well, as it turns out, the answer to that is: not really.
What is Mobility?
No, it's not the same as flexibility and no, being able to touch our toes without bending the knees isn't an indicator of good mobility. Mobility is the ability to move your joints with efficiency, strength and minimal stress within a normal range of motion, whereas flexibility is the joints’ ability to move in a wide range motion. A runner who can run 10k in under 30 mins (#goals) has a good mobility - on top of a good stamina, of course - since she or he can cover a lot of ground in one single stride, hence the speed. Apart from speed, good mobility also decreases chances of running injuries and improves our running form.
This is not to say that flexibility isn't important. Good flexibility can aid mobility and vice versa. It's just that while much attention is given to flexibility, our mobility might be neglected.
Start Mobilizing Your Body
Many exercises that can improve your mobility aren't even new. You've probably done them during your PE classes or stretching sessions. Now, you've just got to adjust the frequency and intensity. You can do it in between your lunges when you're doing a leg day or on your rest day. We've included three exercises here, but there are a lot more exercises that you can try out and share with fellow runners. So, here goes nothing.
Dynamic Sumo Squat
This one unwinds tight hips and rusty ankles from long hours of sitting (shout out to all of the binge-watchers and workaholics).
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. While holding on to your toes, squat as low as you can. Make sure that your knees don't go past your toes and your chest don't touch your knees. Keep your hands on your toes and slowly raise until your legs are extended fully. Walk your hands out to a push-up position. Keeping your core, glutes and hamstrings tight, raise one leg slightly above the ground and do one push-up. Lower your leg to the ground and repeat with the other leg. Walk your legs to meet your hands and slowly stand up. You can repeat this exercise for 6-8 reps.
Quadruped Thoracic Rotations
A fancy name for shoulder rotations. This exercise focuses on the back and shoulders.
Start with a table-top position. Put one hand behind the head and rotate the upper back downwards bringing the elbow of the elevated hand towards the elbow of your supporting hand. Rotate the upper back upwards until the elbow of the elevated hand points towards the ceiling or as far as you can without hunching or making a dip in your lower back.
Ankle Mobility Exercise
Anyone who has sprained an ankle will tell you how important ankle mobility is to spare you from weeks of moving at a snail pace (e.g. taking forever to go to a toilet that's only a few meters away and back) with only one functional foot.
Assume an all fours position, keeping your palms flat on the ground and your feet tip-toed. Put one leg over the other and distribute your weight to your flat bottom foot. Rock backwards and forwards from your toes to your heel. Repeat with the other leg. Do 10 reps for each leg.
Some of us are so busy that we spend more time chasing after the bus or train, or racing deadlines than actually running on the track, let alone do all the above exercises.
But, all is not lost. We can still exercise our joints and muscles to improve mobility by performing dynamic stretches (instead of the more common passive stretches) before we run. In this case, these exercises perform dual functions: to warm up our muscles and to increase our mobility.
High Knee Toe-Up
Here's one to improve your hip mobility so as to achieve more efficient strides (which means increased speed) and stability (which means a lower chance of injury).
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Make sure that you keep your back straight and chest up. Bring your knee to your chest while simultaneously raising the toes of the planted foot. Release the knee and step forward. Repeat the same exercise with the other leg.
Waking Butt Kick
No, it's not what you do when someone annoys you. This is a common exercise with a slight twist to target the quadriceps and hip flexor muscles.
Start with a standing position. Take a step forward and kick the heel of one leg to your buttocks. Use your hands to press your leg on the buttock and at the same time, stand on the toes of the planted foot. Hold this position for one second. Make sure that you don't lean forward and that the leg doesn't move to the side. Release the leg and repeat the exercise with the other leg.
Squat to Stand
A great warm up for your inner thighs and hamstrings with the added benefits of increased mobilisation.
Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Bend over and grab the bottom of your toes, bending your knees as much as you need to. From this position, slowly go into a deep squat. Keep a look out for your form: chest up and knees out. Maintain this position for two seconds before standing up, without removing your hands from your toes.
“Apart from speed, good mobility also decreases chances of running injuries and improves your running form.”
As we grow older, we lose more and more of our flexibility and mobility. The best way to combat this is to keep up with the maintenance of our joints and muscles so that they don't "dry out" sooner than they should. We know, we know, it's not like runners don't already do enough exercise. But, having many exercises that target only a few muscles aren't sufficient. We have to make sure that we pay attention to strength, mobility, and flexibility equally to keep us mobile in the long run.
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