Structural Stability and Flexibility Training for Runners

By Robert Forster P.T., PHASE IV CEO & Founder

FLEXIBILITY TRAINING

Flexibility is defined as the range of motion of bones around a joint. Bones must have the freedom of movement to be positioned just right in the sequence of sport motion we call “proper technique”.

Without adequate flexibility the muscles work overtime in an attempt to attain the best position of the bones. The muscles have to work harder as they fight the limiting effects of inflexibility. This exacts a cost on energy demands which accumulates during a race and as a result fatigue sets in and performance suffers.

A well-designed flexibility program addresses each of the major muscle groups in positions that promote relaxation of the muscles and associated structures and allows for ease of breathing. The target of your stretching program is the connective tissue elements of the muscular system not the fibers themselves.

Regular stretching will improve flexibility and promote efficiency while avoiding injury. (In addition, stretching promotes recovery).

The red-blood rich muscle fibers are elastic and will stretch without much resistance. Surrounding each muscle fiber and wrapping the muscles into bundles is the white connective tissue, which inhibits range of motion. Additionally, connective tissue is the material of tendons, (which attach muscles to bones), and comprises ligaments, (which attach bones to bones at the joint). Connective tissue is not immediately elastic and requires the application of slow sustained stretching to lengthen. Permanent lengthening of these structures equates to good flexibility and you are therefore one step closer to good technique.

JOINT STABILITY

Joint stability describes the blend of proper flexibility and adequate strength necessary to maintain optimal joint alignment throughout a movement. When aligned properly at the joint, bones work as levers to multiply the force of muscle contraction. In running the proper alignment of joints will optimize performance by improving the forces you can generate on the ground, whereas misalignment of joints wastes tremendous amounts of energy and causes trauma and injury.

MUSCULOSKELETAL RESILIENCY

The tendons respond to the stress of the weight training by increasing in size and strength. This adaptation is not obvious on the outside but is part of what’s happening below the surface that is so important.

Likewise, the bones will become stronger through weight training as the muscle tug and stress the bones at the attachment of the tendon. Again this adaptation is critical to avoid injury later.

The Base Training weight program called the “Anatomical Adaptation Phase” must strengthen all of the often-neglected little muscles that surround joints. Typical unscientific training creates imbalances in these small stabilizing muscles throughout the training year. Base Training is where these imbalances must be corrected to avoid injury and optimize mechanics.

Since these are small muscles, the weights must be kept light. For example ankle, shoulder and hip exercises requires no more than 2-3 pounds weights to start. Using heavier weights will only cause the larger stronger muscles to substitute and “protect” the imbalance. Furthermore, light weights and high repetitions will stimulate strengthening of the tendons, fascia and bones while avoiding over training these structures. The result is a musculoskeletal system that is resilient to injury.

Weight training further enhances performance by training the nervous system to stimulate more efficient muscle contractions. Muscle fibers are called into action in recruitment patterns dictated by the nervous system. Weight training fast tracks improvements in this important aspect of sports performance by burning in these nerve-muscle connection patterns quicker than sport training does. In addition, efficient movement requires one muscle to relax while the opposing muscle contracts. Energy is wasted if this contraction-relaxation sequence is not seamless and smooth.

Weight training facilitates this coordination by creating strong nerve impulses to the muscle which creates more coordinated muscle function and thus facilitates good form. The caveats to early season weight training includes using weights that are too heavy, working muscles to fatigue, and not stretching before, during and after weight training sessions.

By exaggerating certain aspects of your running, specific drills will strengthen muscles, improve nerve recruitment patterns, and condition the mechanical components of your body. These drills should be done at low-intensity levels to start and only once per week until you are sure they are being tolerated. Drills require good flexibility and therefore stretching before and after is important to avoid injury. Basically, drills convert fitness you gain in the gym into functional gains in running.

Base Training: Flexibility and Stretching 

Benefits:

  • Stretching improves flexibility and therefore allows for correct mechanics or technique
  • Stretching is crucial as part of your warm up to perform better and avoid injury
  • Stretching after workouts improves recovery by “wringing” waste products out of the muscles and returning them to their normal resting length

When:

  • Before and after every workout and competition

How:

  • Long sustained stretches 10-30 seconds in positions that relax the target muscle and allow for easy breathing How Hard (intensity)
  • Follow the subsiding tension principle by moving slow into the stretch position and tuning into the tension you feel in the muscle. If tic increases as you hold the same position you have over stretched and you need to back off. If it decreases you may advance the stretch slightly

How Many:

  • Stretch all muscle groups 3 repetitions

How Long:

  • Before and after workouts a 10-20 second hold is good, on the evening stretch problem areas lightly for 60 seconds each

Base Training: Strength Work

Benefits:

  • Increase Musculoskeletal resiliency (injury prevention)
  • Improve muscle fiber recruitment patterns to improve efficiency of muscle contractions
  • mprove relaxation of opposing muscle groups (antagonists) to improve coordination (better form)
  • Balance muscle strength around a joint to improve joint stability

When:

  • Two to three workouts per week per body part

How:

  • Moderate controlled movements of body part while exhaling on the lifting portion of the exercise and inhaling on the lowering portion of the exercise
  • Stop briefly at the end of each movement up and down

How Hard (intensity)

  • Use only light weights that you can perform twenty repetitions each set while avoiding lifting to exhaustion

Need further guidance on how to incorporate flexibility and strength training into your current regimen, or not sure where to begin? Come see us at Malibu Xterra on May 19th, 2018 or schedule your complimentary consultation at our Santa Monica office by calling (310) 582-8212.

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