What will get you the best result in the TNF – stretching or strengthening?

The answer to this question depends very much on the individual – but if I was forced to give a one-word answer I’d say “neither”!!!

You would be more likely to get better results by focusing on stability work. Most runner’s race results are hindered more by having to reduce their training load due to injuries and niggles, than by a lack of either flexibility or strength.

Over the years I have treated some very stiff, inflexible people, who are exceptionally good runners and don’t suffer many injuries. I have also treated yoga instructors who can touch their toes putting their head on their knees, but can’t run more than 2km without breaking down.

Let’s define stability as: “the ability to balance easily on one leg without having to concentrate” (i.e. your subconscious balance). Test yourself now. Stand on one foot, close your eyes and bob up and down – how long did you last?

<10 seconds and your stability needs to improve dramatically

 >60 seconds and your stability is good.

 

Here is another question for you:

How many injuries/niggles have you had in the last 6 months?

If the answer is:

  • Zero – then keep doing what you are doing. If that doesn’t involve any specific stretching or strength work, then you probably don’t need to do any.
  • 1 or 2 – then test your stability using the one-foot test above. If you can’t last 60 seconds, then you should work on improving your stability.
  • More than 2 – then you need to find out why. It could be a training error (too much too soon), it could be a muscle imbalance issue (flexibility or strength), or it could be a biomechanical issue (the way you run).

 

Although I have said that stability is more important than flexibility or strength, there could still be a lot of benefit from working on your flexibility and/or strength. If you already have a “self-management” regime in place, which includes stretching, and strengthening then you should keep it up. Add some stability exercises as well to get maximum benefit.

The best form of strengthening for a runner is running! The safest form of running strength work is running up hills or up stairs. When you run up hills/stairs, your strides will naturally be short, your pace will be slower and your landing will be softer, all of which will reduce the likelihood of suffering overuse injuries. So, if you want to include some running specific strength work into your weekly program, then add in more hill/stair sessions.

The best approach to stretching is “little and often” – think of it like fitness. Would you try and get fit by doing all of your running in one day each week? Hopefully not! The best way to become more flexible is to do a little bit of stretching every day – not to try and achieve all of your flexibility requirements in one yoga class a week. Yoga can be great for runners, but not in isolation. To get the most benefit you will still need to do a few stretches at home most days.

The following videos show examples of running specific stretches and exercises you can work on which will help improve your running performance.

 

 

Stability Exercise:

 

Stretching Exercise: Great for repetitive calf strains

 

Glute Strengthening Exercise: (three variations – find the one that works the best for you)

 

Written by Mark Green of The Body Mechanic

 

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