Every runner chuckles just a little when discussing strength and mobility. Mostly because we all say exactly the same thing. “Strength and mobility? I should be doing that…”
We should. But we don’t. And we know it.
In truth, it really shouldn’t bother us too much. The list of things we should do to best optimize our potential success is unrealistically long. We don’t need to be stressing about whether we’re getting it perfectly right. Instead, we need to pick one strength and mobility thing we can do differently right now to (1) get stronger, (2) move better, and really just all around (3) feel better!
What should we pick, then? We’re glad you asked.
(And by the way, a great quantity of these ideas comes from one of the more momentous books on this topic in recent years: Jay Dicharry’s Running Rewired. I definitely recommend it! *We may earn a small commission from purchases made via links provided in this article.)
Why Bother with Strength and Mobility
Because it makes us better. But if that’s not enough, let’s reflect briefly on what effective routines and programs should be doing for us.
1. Reinforce or rewire motion paths
Better movement means better running. Simple effective strength and mobility work helps turn deliberate motion into autonomic motion and ultimately produces more consistently effective and efficient movement. Who doesn’t want to save energy with every step?
2. Increase stability, balance, and coordination
Sound movement is wonderful, but without the structural strength to keep everything stable and balanced, injury and fatigue are likely. Deliberate strength work around stability and coordination helps the body maintain neutral better and benefit from the work around better motion.
3. Enhance functional movement
Strength as it pertains to the movements specific to running is the key here, and strength as well as mobility work should always target these things for runners. When done properly, such strength and mobility allows the body to move more easily and increases both the power and endurance of those repeating funning movements.
How to Create a Complete Strength Program
Most importantly for any runner’s strength program is attention to each of the key areas:
- Trunk/core/postural aspects
- Hip and upper leg
- Lower leg and foot
Because time is limited and life is busy, the easiest way to approach a program that covers all the bases is simply to seek to address each of the above areas twice weekly so that nothing is neglected. The question then becomes what precisely to do for each of those weekly activities. Here’s a simple formula.
- First priority: stability and coordination – during the early stages of a training program, we need to focus most of our attention on structural strength. This is because the functional work is more effective when movements are deliberate and controlled, but that is more difficult for an unstable or unbalanced structure.
- Next priority: functional movement – after at least 2-4 weeks of regular stability and coordination work, begin adjusting the strength program to include more movement focus. This means less of things like isometric work and more of things like complex movements (example: a lunge jump vs. leg press – they work similar muscle groups, but the lunge jump is more functional for runners). In truth, things like plyometric routines tend to be some of the most straightforward functional movement programs, but that is not to suggest we should all start doing plyos all the time. Another example is while a plank routine is a great stability routine for the core, adding things like leg lifts and rotations into the plank routine helps address functional movement.
Consider this series as an example, then:
FIRST FOUR WEEKS:
2x/week Leg Strength: do a stationary leg strength routine focused on stability and coordination.
Example: AtoZrunning Stationary Leg Strength (click here if video below does not load)
2x/week Hip Strength: do a simple hip extension and rotation routine like the classic Myrtl Routine
Example: Myrtl Routine demonstrated by Coach Hodge (click here if video below does not load)
2x/week Core Strength: do a simple plank routine with multiple directions (no video example for this one, but see below for the technical example!)
AFTER THAT (REST OF THE SEASON)
2x/week Leg Strength: do a more deliberate movement and plyometric routine
Example: AtoZrunning Leg Circuit (click here if video below does not load)
2x/week Hip Strength: do a more technical and deliberate hip routine focused on functional hip movement
Example: Jay Dicharry’s Hip Strength Circuit (click here if video below does not load)
2x/week Core Strength: do a more technical core routine with movements throughout
Example: Coach Hodge’s Technical Planks Routine (click here if video below does not load)
How to Create a Complete Mobility Program
Remember Jay Dicharry’s reminder that not all immobility is the same. Pay attention to what’s amiss to understand what’s needed:
- Joint stiffness? → try manual manipulation to free up the joint’s natural motion path
- Tightness in movement? → consider myofascial release or other soft tissue interventions to address bonded or bound tissues
- Restrictive tissues? → may need to spend time elongating (and time here is key as this can take weeks if not months before real progress is accomplished)
Given that the nature of the immobility defines the potential effectiveness of the mobility routine, there is no one-size-fits-all suggestion here. However, there are certainly some universal considerations worth reflection.
Mobility Tip #1: Do it every day.
The running community is notorious for atrocious flexibility and mobility. That’s not a good thing. In fact, it’s very likely one of the leading causes of the incredibly high injury rate amongst runners. We need to be mobile because we’re doing this movement on repeat for hours on end. If the movement is especially smooth or fluid, it’s no surprise things break.
The fix is to change the personal paradigm: the run is not the start and end of the workout, the 5-10 minutes of dynamic mobility before and after is. Once that becomes reality in truth, it’s no longer difficult to make it happen.
Mobility Tip #2: Keep it dynamic (these examples are perfect).
Static mobility work has a place (contrary to the constant barrage of absolutists saying static stretching belongs in the sixth circle of Dante’s Inferno). However, that place is not in most runners’ regular mobility routines. Instead, regular mobility routines should be dynamic.
And let’s together reflect a moment on another misleading paradigm: runners who do pre- and post-run drill routines are not “those serious runners.” They are those runners who understand how to feel better and stay healthier while running. Since we can all agree we all want that, we should also all agree that all runners should be doing that.
Consider two simple examples:
(1) The Whartons’ famous Active Isolated Flexibility work is king, but
(2) this Dynamic Flexibility routine from Coach Hodge might be just what you need instead. Try either!
(If the videos above don’t load, click the links above.)
Mobility Tip #3: Don’t wait until something goes wrong.
Some aspects of mobility do not need to be daily endeavors. A good example of this is myofascial release work. Foam rolling is great, and things like the Graston Technique are even better, but like deep tissue massages, these treatments are also mildly traumatic to the body. As a result, too much of them tends to produce increased fatigue or soreness.
So instead of spending 20 minutes/day on the foam roller, it may be more effective to pick a couple days/week to do a little extra TLC and include that rolling or massaging or scraping (see the Graston thing above). Whatever the exactness, regular periodic attention to these things before the acute pain comes is always going to help minimize injuries.
A Note about Precision and Wiring
With all these great ideas around strength and mobility, we can’t forget about our first principle: wiring proper motion paths. This is both the most difficult and the most important long term facet of strength and mobility. How we move is ultimately an autonomic function. As such, the difference between a trudging jogger and a graceful gazelle runner is in how the gazelle has trained the autonomic running movements.
As Dicharry reminds us, though, this is a multi-step and extensive process. Read more about it in his book, but in brief, it takes serious frequency of repetition of correct motion over long periods of time. This is why most runners who try to improve things like running cadence by adjusting cadence on an occasional run never see any real progress. It’s also why just thinking about running tall often changes nothing about our posture.
The solution is the integration of deliberate precision drills with objective feedback (if possible) to ensure better motion. Mirrors help here. Watching someone who does it flawlessly and trying to emulate also helps. Therefore, take a look at Coach Hodge again for both an example of a great precision routine as well as a demonstration of effective motion (this is the kind of thing we should do before EVERY run). Watch the routine, emulate how it looks, incorporate it every day before running, and occasionally go back and watch again in order to make sure nothing has slipped.
Is the Picture Clear?
Perhaps this all feels like a muddy mess, but it’s largely a very straightforward process captured in one question: What am I doing for mobility and precision before my run, and what am I doing for strength and mobility after my run?
Some possible effective ways to answer that question are outlined above, but the list is endless of good things to fill that void. Spend some time finding good sources for strength and mobility (we recommend the likes of Jay Dicharry, the Whartons, and Coach Hodge!), and the results will pay dividends for years to come!
by Zach Ripley, co-founder of AtoZrunning and Running Coach
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