Running is a fundamental human movement, but that doesn’t mean anyone can just start running and expect good changes. I have always loved the quote “we need to be fit to run, and not run to be fit”. This line immediately brings me to memories of the countless times I’ve had the conversation with clients about the process of getting someone to run well. Usually this conversation is happening because someone is dealing with pain and they can’t run, or exercise, how they’d like. Just like learning any skill there is a combination of factors that allow us to learn and perform something at a basic level.
With running there are flexibility/mobility pre-requisites, stability/balance pre-requisites, and finally the actual execution of running technique. Also note that all these three factors will further vary depending on whether we are talking about jogging/running or sprinting. For the purposes of this article we are going to stick to moderate-lower intensity running and jogging.
There is so much information out there with varying definitions and conflicting language that I want to take a second to make sure we are all on the same page with vocabulary.
Flexibility – A body part (I.e. joints/tissues) can move freely when passively taken to various positions. For example being able to grab your leg and pull it up into the air like a cheerleader/yogi.
Mobility – A body part is able to actively be taken to any various positions. For example a high level martial art athlete doing an extremely high placed kick. This position is effectively putting him into a standing splits. Keep in mind stability is also apart of this equation. In order to maintain flexibility and mobility we need stability as well. For movement to occur there must be a place that force can be generated, transferred, and absorbed.
Now with these definitions in mind the need for certain areas of the body to have flexibility and mobility for running is crucial for long term success. It is the foundation for which the rest of the skills necessary to run is built. So before we discuss running technique (part 3), and the stability/strength prerequisites (part 2) for running we are going to cover the most fundamental level first.
Ankle Dorsiflexion Test: Stand about 2 inches away from a wall. Keepingthe front foot flat on the ground see how far forward you can get your knee to the wall. The knee should track over the center of the foot and not go inside the line of your inner foot. Being able to get your knee to touch the wall at least two inches away should indicate you have enough passive ankle dorsiflexion to run. Knee to wall test:
Ankle Inversion/Eversion Test: Place the ball of your foot on an object about 2 inches high (i.e. a kettlebell, weight plate, or the leg of a table). Keeping your shin and knee still, attempt to lift your foot off of the object, roll your foot over (eversion) and tap the ball of your foot where your pinky toe/4th toe connect to the ball of the foot (4/5th metatarsal). Attempt to lift your foot back up and place it back to the starting position. Lastly attempt to lift your foot off of the object, roll your foot over (inversion) and tap the ball of your foot where your big toe connects to the ball of your foot (1st metatarsal). Lift your foot back up and place it back at the starting position. Being able to do this without moving the shin/knee should indicate you have adequate ankle/foot inversion and eversion to run.
Hip Adduction – Bilateral Pelvic Asscension Drop Test (PADT): This test comes from the brilliant folks over at the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI). Not only do we want to see if you can actively adduct your hip, but also if your pelvic floor is able to properly ascend/descend. Lay on your right or left side in a fetal position or roughly 90 degree hip bend and 90 degree knee bend. Keeping your knee bend to 90 degrees and your shin parallel to the floor, take your top leg back wards so your hip becomes straight with the spine (hip extension) and see if you can drop your leg to the floor without letting your pelvis lose its starting position. Keep in mind many individuals won’t be able to get their top hip into extension without using the spine to extend in a compensatory way. If you are unable to get the hip into extension before the drop then that is not a pass. Being able to perform this test on both sides would indicate you have the basic pelvic floor control to walk/run.
Hip Flexion/Extension – Asymmetrical Single Leg Raise (ASLR): This test helps to show if you have adequate hip flexion/extension among other things. Place an object at the half way point between your knee cap and front pelvic bone, the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS). Keeping both legs straight attempt to raise one leg as high as you can without arching your back off the floor. Being able to get your leg to the object placed next to your thigh is what we are looking for to pass this test.
Hip External/Internal Rotation (ER/IR): This test helps us see how much active control you have over your hips ability to rotate while in a flexed (bent) position. We should also have the ability to rotate our hips while in extension, and any other position for that matter, but this particular test is more important than other options if I had to choose a limited number of tests….which I did. Beginning in the same starting position as the ASLR test and bend one of your legs so you can place an object behind your knee. This should force your hip and knee to be bent to 90 degrees. Keeping your thigh straight up towards the ceiling, attempt to rotate your leg like a screw driver and see how far your shin/foot can travel left to right. When rotating externally (foot goes over your mid line/picture 4) you should be able to get your foot/shin well past the right side of your body. Likewise when rotating internally (foot goes away from your mid line/picture 2) you should be able to get your foot/shin well past the left side of your body.
Thoracic rotation – 1/2 Kneeling Thoracic Rotation: Place one knee directly under your hip and the other foot up at 90 degrees directly in front of your waist. Hold an object between your hands keeping your arms straight out in front of your chest. Without moving your lower body see how far you can rotate over your front thigh. You should be able to get at least half way to facing away from the side of your body (about 45 degrees). You should also be roughly equal on both sides. Having more than 10-20 degrees difference on either side could definitely cause some chaos in your running game.