There’s a good reason many runners lack flexibility. It turns out that a certain amount of elastic energy in the muscles, often interpreted as inflexibility, allows your muscles to fire and propel your body forward more efficiently. Too much flexibility leads to decreased power in that department.
Superior mobility, on the other hand, is a non-negotiable for runners. The difference between mobility and flexibility is that the latter is all about how much your muscles can stretch in a certain direction, and the former deals with your range of motion at the joints. When range of motion is limited, your potential for running at your best will also be affected.
In particular, adequate mobility in the hips is essential for the running motion — think of the hips as your body’s fulcrum and your legs as the levers. For instance, consider the repercussions of a stiff hip joint: You won’t be able to swing your legs forward effectively with each stride if the fulcrum isn’t moving properly. Limited movement will thereby impede your ability to run at a pace any faster than a shuffle. What’s more, research has linked improved hip mobility with everything from running economy to force production in running.
While a pre-workout plyometric regimen focusing on hip mobility is a great way to prime the joints and muscles for running, a five-minute post-run mobility routine can play an important role in relaxing your body after hard training. While these exercises are less explosive and active than pre-run mobility moves, they are equally essential to the long-term mobility of your hip joints.
Supine Leg Rotations
Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground. Pick up your right foot and rest it sideways on your left knee as if you were going to cross your legs. Move that bent right knee by rotating it slightly in toward your body and back to its original position 15 times. That knee should move back and forth continuously at a gentle clip for those 15 reps. Switch legs, and repeat on the other side.
Kneeling Hip-Flexor Stretch
Place your hands on your hips, and step into a lunge position with your right foot out in front of your body. Slowly bring your left knee to rest on the ground. Hold good posture as you tilt your pelvis forward and feel a slight stretch around the front of your hip. Hold for 30 seconds, rest, and repeat 4–5 times before alternating legs.
Walking Butt Kick
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, step forward with your right foot. Simultaneously kick your left heel to your backside, grabbing your left heel with your left hand to enhance the stretch, while you raise up on your right toes. Come back to the original position, and step forward with the left foot. Repeat on each leg 8 times.
Assume a plank position, supporting your weight on your toes and your hands. Step your right foot forward, planting it outside your right hand. Hold for 3–5 seconds, flexing slightly forward to enhance the stretch. Return your foot to its original position, and repeat on the other side. Alternate sides 3–5 times.
Supine Hip Rotation
Lying on your back, extend your arms out to your sides with your palms on the floor, and bring your legs into the air, bending your knees at 90-degree angles. Drop your bent legs to the left. Meanwhile, be sure to keep your middle and upper back flat on the ground. Hold for several seconds, bring your legs back to the starting position, and rotate to the other side. Repeat 6 times per side.