To be an efficient runner with a low risk of injury, you need a balance of strength and flexibility. Too much imbalanced flexibility and you risk weakness; too much imbalanced strength and you risk lack of mobility. More than that, your level of flexibility and strength affects your ability to run comfortably for a long time.
According to Wesley Miller, a physical therapist who works with runners, your muscular system is like a spring. Your body uses connective tissue to create passive energy. “Muscle tension generates force with each step. And the more flexible you are, the less force available.”
And that’s not all. “Most of us want to go into training cycle and feel like we are progressing, getting strong, and getting better,” he says. “Most of that is about fidelity, the capacity to do the same thing over and over again in a way that is kind on the body.”
So, what is one to do? Stretch that parts of your body that aren’t flexible and strengthen the parts that are flexible. In short: create balance (ah, the yoga buzz word!). It sounds easier than it is, though, because it’s often hard to tell. Weak glutes may feel tight for example and so the inclination is to overstretch.
Still, there are two poses we’d be willing to wager almost every running could do more of to become a stronger runner. They all have to do with “the back chain,” aka the hamstrings and glutes, the big propelling muscles we need to move forward.
Yep, skip over chair pose entirely and sink down into the kind of squat you learned in the weight room. It’s grounding and glute strengthening. Start with the feet a little wider than hip distance apart with the toes pointing slightly out. Inhale and lift the arms up. Exhale as you sit back and extend the arms up. Think about widening the upper thighs so that the knees continually track over the feet. Play around by bouncing a little or playing with your edge by sitting a little lower or higher every few breaths. Inhale to stand up and repeat.
From any standing pose, inhale to shift weight into one leg and “lift off” with hips square to the ground and arms stretched out overhead. Reach toward the front of the room with your hands as you reach toward the back of the room with your raised foot. Be sure to keep your standing leg bent. Stay as long as you can. Shake out the legs before switching sides. Advanced option: Bend and straighten the knee several times while balancing.
It’s a combination of a squat and third position plie (if you know ballet). Not only does the post stretch the inner thighs, hips, and groin (which runner’s often need), it also strengthens inner thighs and quads, which balances out the two postures above. Inhale to step out from standing with toes pointed toward the short end of your matt. Exhale sink down, keeping your chest lifted. Breath here and hold. Consider rising up onto your toes for some balancing and calf strengthening.
Just kidding. Please don’t.