Strength, Stability, Mobility, and Power
The first question to ask yourself here is, “Am I fit to run or running to be fit?”
Many runners focus solely on running as a means of getting fit and staying that way. As such, they often neglect important aspects of a balanced program.
Let’s first take a look at a single leg squat. Why? Because running is essentially a single leg squat performed over and over. Or perhaps we should call it a single leg hop over and over.
Therefore, it requires an adequate balance of mobility and stability, neuromuscular control, strength and power.
- Stability, otherwise known as motor control, is the ability to control your posture or movement either statically
or dynamically. This requires the proper sequencing and timing of activation, or muscle firing, and must occur automatically upon mental command or determination.
- Mobility is the ability to move a body segment with full range of motion, pain-free and without compensation.
For runners especially, common mobility restrictions include the ankle, hip and thoracic spine (mid-back), which we can too easily sprain, strain or otherwise stress during our routines. And since our bodies will always follow the path of least resistance, they will figure out somewhere else to get that extra mobility we’re demanding when we keep on running anyway.
Any guesses where that “somewhere else” might be?
If you said the knee, you’re right! If you said your foot, you’re right, too! And if you said your lower back, you also get a point!
Just one ankle sprain, even after it’s healed, can contribute to long-term future stiffness that, over more time, will lead to unfortunate compensations. For example, your hips might not stabilize as fast as they once did after an ankle injury. Or, due to lower back pain, your core might not activate as quickly as it otherwise would.
Either way, that’s problematic.
Oftentimes, we think about running as only involving the lower extremities. However, this amazing activity of ours involves a rotational movement, and we need to access that motion with our pelvis and mid-back as well.
And that’s hardly all. Due to sedentary lifestyles, increased sitting, emotional and postural issues, many people experience rigidity in their rib cage and thoracic spine as well, which then negatively impacts their breathing, their stability and, of course, their natural rotation.
Proper arm drive is critical to helping increase leg speed during running. Therefore, it is essential to have proper thoracic and rib cage mobility.
Sit on a chair with your feet firmly planted on the floor and a dowel or broom laid across your shoulders. Then rotate to each side at the waist without moving from the pelvis.
What does it feel like?
Are you able to breathe freely? Does it feel stiff or different side to side?
If you did feel stiff or have difficulty breathing, you may be missing out on some key efficiency factors in your running: specifically, power- related plyometrics.
Plyometrics are “drills aimed at linking optimal strength and speed during fundamental movement patterns.”15 They’re defined as
any movement using the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC), which is rapid muscle lengthening followed by immediate muscle shortening, thereby producing greater power and efficiency during movement.
Many injuries are associated with over- lengthening muscles and ligaments during the loading and deceleration processes. Think no further than hamstring pulls during running and sprinting exercises or events.
Plyometric exercises can help protect against such injuries. By training your muscles to handle short bursts of maximum pressure
through jumps, bounds and hops, they become more resilient to sudden stressors.
Now let’s try a self-assessment. You can perform this in a mirror or set up a camera to record yourself. In this order, do a:
1. Single leg stance
2. Single leg squat
3. Single leg drop squat
4. Double to single leg jump 5. Single leg bound
6. Single leg hop
After you’ve completed the list, you may notice how each one requires a combination of stability, mobility, strength and power. So, the more you refine these movements with control and ease, the more you can maximize your efficiency.
Just remember to execute them with high movement quality and low volume for best results.
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