For runners: Strength, stretching and mobility – Interview with Australian Olympic physio Myles Burfield
Recent studies have questioned the effectiveness of static stretching for performance and flexibility – do you believe this to be accurate and does static stretching still have a place in a runner’s program?
For years there has been an ongoing debate about the effectiveness of static stretching as preparation for physical activity. The reason for this debate is that some studies have found benefit from static stretching, while some research suggests it may inhibit performance and increase the risk of injury. From my experience it is very dependant on the athlete, and the type of exercise they are planning to engage in. For runners there are key areas where flexibility is imperative, and if you do not have the range of motion in these areas then stretching can be very beneficial in both improving performance and reducing the risk of injury. A good place to start is by ensuring that you have enough ankle dorsiflexion, and hip extension. The images below show the basic tests for these movements. To maintain good running form it is recommended you maintain 10 degrees of hip extension availability, and you are able to achieve 13cm on your ankle dorsiflexion knee to wall test.
How important is strength training for a long distance runner?
Strength is arguably more important than stretching when it comes to running. The forces going through your joints are 250% of your body weight when you jog, and even higher (>400%) when sprinting. To be able to withstand these forces you need a combination of foot, ankle, knee, hip, and core strength. The research suggests that “30-50% of runners will suffer an injury over the course of 12 months”, this is a scary statistic, and the main cause is a lack of running related strength. The 2 best ways to work on your running related strength is:
- Do specific gym exercises that focus on your running propulsion muscles (especially the claves)
- Build your running up slowly so that your body has time to adapt. Stick to the 10% rule and don’t increase you total weekly kilometres by >10% each week
How do you know when to prioritise strength or mobility/stretching?
“A tight muscle is a weak muscle” and for runners the need to stretch often implies as need to strengthen. The easiest way to know if an area needs strengthening is to do some strength tests with a trainer or physiotherapist, but for an easy test at home you should be able to do 30x single leg calf raises on each leg, with no rest. This is the minimum strength to be safe to run 5km regularly (>3 times a week). If your hip extension or ankle mobility are poor then the priority is to stretch these, and restore mobility, before you run. If these areas continually get tight then it’s a strong suggestion that they may need strengthening.
Myles can be found at Activate Health and Fitness as well as at our home at The Fitness Specialists in Milton. Get in contact via email@example.com.