What if I told you that you could simultaneously improve your performance and reduce your risk of injury in as little as 20 minutes a day? You’d probably think that I was going to try to sell you a shake weight. But alas, I’m only going to attempt to sell you on something that you probably already know about or potentially even do already as part of your training program, yet maybe not with as much priority or focus as it requires. I want to sell you on mobility.
Mobility is a trendy word that has been thrown around recently and is slowly gaining some traction within the athletic domain. For the sake of this article, I will define mobility as the process of improving joint capsule range of motion, decreasing muscle tightness and tendon restriction, and improving sliding surfaces. A lack of mobility will result in decreased force production, inefficient movement patterns, and movement restrictions which may lead to injury.
Some athletes may already do some form of mobility practice, potentially including the occasional short foam rolling or stretching session before or after a workout; but a mobility practice needs to be more strategic than that. A mobility practice needs to take into account an athlete’s specific athletics as well as their lifestyle. The human body is an amazingly adaptable machine and it will form itself into (almost) any shape you put it in, whether for better or for worse.
With that being said, what position are you subjecting your body to the majority of the day: aero position on the bike or lazy position at your work desk? That’s what I thought. This means your strategy for mobilization should not only focus on preparing yourself for your one hour workout but also at improving some of the joint restrictions caused by the shapes that you put your body in the other 23 hours of the day. If you want to improve your performance and reduce the amount of nagging injuries, you need to improve the quality of your tissues so that you train and race on a body that isn’t consistently in a compromised position.
In the future articles, I will specifically address these major parts of the body and how you can improve the mobility of each: The foot and ankle, the knees, the hips, the shoulder, and the spine. But so that you don’t go away empty handed, the following are five lifestyle changes that you can do right now to improve your mobility and body position. You don’t even need a foam roller!
Point your feet straight ahead
You’re a human, not a duck, why are your toes pointed out? Your body was engineered to perform most efficiently when your feet are parallel and pointed straight forward. Non-parallel feet are disastrous for your body, including collapsed arches, inward knee tracking, and much more. Your feet should not only be pointed forward while you’re running, but throughout the entire day. You can fix this problem by consistently checking your feet throughout the day and adjusting them if they turn out.
Stop wearing elevated heels
Elevated heels mean that the heel of the shoe is raised above the forefoot of the shoe. Wearing elevated heels puts your foot into a constantly plantar-flexed position (toes pointed down) which in turn causes the arches of the foot to collapse and the heel cords (Achilles’ tendon) to shorten, basically removing your dorsi-flexion (toes pointed up). This is not as simple as trading in your stability super running shoes and buying a pair of zero-drops that will almost certainly result in disaster. Instead, purchase a pair of minimalist shoes and spend at least two months transitioning into them. Start out by doing your warm up in the minimal shoes and then transitioning into your current shoes; each week increase the duration by about 5-10 percent. Also, if you’re wearing elevated heels to work, go buy zero drop dress shoes; they make them, I promise.
You’ve heard it, right:“Sitting is the new smoking”? This isn’t just from a cardiovascular health standpoint; it’s really a dumpster fire and it’s ruining your body. At a minimum, sitting turns off your posterior musculature (If you’re sitting while you read this, how fired up are your glutes right now? Oh, they’re asleep?), shortens your hip flexors and the connecting musculature of your quads, and misaligns your femur towards the front of the joint socket. All of these ingredients are a recipe for a highly compromised run gait, among other issues. Therefore, limit your time spent sitting! If you have the option, use a stand up desk at work or set an alarm on your phone every 30-60 minutes to stand up and work on your hip extension for a couple minutes before sitting back down.
Don’t slouch (and stop texting!)
How much time during the day do you spend slouched over your laptop or your phone texting? While this may seem like a comfortable and relaxed position, you’re putting yourself into a shape of compromise with a tight thoracic spine, rolled forward shoulders, and a forward head. Neck pain, poor shoulder mobility, and lower back pain are usually the most common results of this poor position. To improve your position, consistently work at “pulling your shoulder blades together” and sitting up with a stable core. When texting, maintain this same position but bring the phone in front of your neutral head; don’t move your head to the phone (this is going to look weird, but your body will thank you).
Hydration is one of the single most important factors that an endurance athlete has to deal with. Hydration is not as simple as just helping you cool down on a hot day. Water plays a role in every function of your body, down to the cellular level. Body heat regulation, tissues, joints, nerves, cartilage, regulatory systems, and so much more are all effected by your level of hydration. To improve this, you should be drinking around 2-3 liters of water per day and replacing the amount of fluid lost during exercise. When you’re not drinking water with food, make sure that you’re also adding in a small amount of electrolytes to your water to improve absorption.
Use these lifestyle changes right now to begin cultivating a mobile body, so that you can move better to perform better!
By Coach Nick Mongar