After I posted my winter training article I have had a few people email me asking for a little more explanation on my recommendation to do some stability and mobility work in the winter. Without getting into any specific exercise prescriptions I thought it would be helpful to drop a little more science on the topic.
Basically, for our bodies to work effectively some joints should have good range of motion and freedom of movement (mobility) and others should have significant strength to prevent movement and provide a strong foundation (stability). For example, hips should be very mobile (especially in extension) and our lower backs should be very stable. When sufficient mobility exists in the hips it helps our lower back be stable and pain free; and when the lower back is stable it provides a solid foundation for the hips to move. This is especially important for runners as tightness in hip flexors will pull anteriorly on the lower back causing it to have excess movement with each stride.
When a portion of the body that is designed for stability becomes mobile it usually results in pain or other movement dysfunction or inefficiencies. This can also be seen with cyclists as tight hip flexors can cause more lower back mobilty on the bike as well. To compound this, cyclists are actively using hip flexors through out the pedal stroke to pull up on the pedals on the upstroke which can cause lower back movement if the anti-flexion muscles aren’t strong enough to resist the pull.
So how can we improve this movement pattern? By doing a series of hip mobility work and anti-movement lower torso work.
Hip mobility should focus around stretching the hip flexors including the tensor fasciae latae muscle and IT band (extension), and the adductor muscles (inner thigh) at different points of flexion and extension. Core work should be focused on anti-extension, anti-flexion, and anti-rotation movements. Note that this is specifically anti-movement work and not the typical crunches most people do for “core work.” Our lower torso is designed to be stable and training that portion of our body with movements is at best not effective and at worst can cause injuries. Planks, side planks, and pallof presses are all good exercises to train core stability.
This is just one example in the body. Thoracic mobility, posterior muscle function (particularly the glutes), and ankle mobility are all common movement issues with endurance athletes that should be addressed to improve performance and comfort. If you have had pain or overuse issues through out the season a functional movement screen is a good place to start to address these issues.
I haven’t even touched on tissue quality or self-myofascial release techniques yet. I will drop that science in a future post…