Stretching, yes or no?

It’s a tricky and controversial question in sports, because it always depends…

The relationship in the flexibility of the athlete and the risk of injuries is something that you as a coach always have to consider.

Even though within scientific literature there are dissenting results in many studies that conclude that greater flexibility does not provide a lower risk of injury, there are also studies which says that the athlete must present some minimum values of flexibility to be within a safe mobility range.

Most of the muscle ratings that Fernando made last year on athletes who came with injuries, sometimes chronic, reflected important muscles with excessive tension, that were located in some key joints for running, outside the safe range. Those shortenings where generating a cropped mobility that overburdened its muscle system with unwanted compensations. In the end they were athletes with limitations and that presented an inadequate running pattern in all its phases.

Obviously, these athletes do need to stretch, not only to gain flexibility but also to keep it once obtained these profits.

Mobility required for Skyrunning

Mobility required is also depending on the sport that you do practise. The recommended mobility of a Skyrunner should be such that it allows the Skyrunner to take advantage of more efficient angles while running on all types of mountain terrains. Therefore, we strive to get the running step as efficient as possible and to be able to work in a natural movement pattern, which also decreases the risk of injury.

A complete Skyrunner should have adequate mobility in several muscle groups and should, for example, be able to:

  1. Absorb and compensate for uneven ground during running.
  2. Be able to pass ground obstacles smoothly without having to lift the centre of gravity unnecessarily high.
  3. Mobility required for steep uphill and downhill running.
  4. Have adequate mobility throughout the movement, so that any stiffness does not cause unnecessary load/damage on exposed places and thereby increase the risk of injury.

Flexibility tests for Skyrunners

Here are some pictures and explanations from the test session that we did with Snezana Djuric, Serbian Skyrunner Champion.

Exercise 1 – Ankle mobility test

Why it is important in running to be mobile in this area?

If you do not have enough movement in your ankle (mainly in dorsal flexion), you may have health problems relational with fasciitis plantar, over pronation as well as limitations in your landing and impulsion capacity. Moreover, it may affect to the correct execution of some usual strength exercises like squats.

What is an adequate mobility?

It is important that the knee can advance at least 10 cm in front of the toes without lifting your heel.  It is also important to have similar mobility degrees in both ankles.

How do I do the test?

You can just put your barefoot on a flat surface and advance your knee as much as you can without lifting your heel. Then measure the distance. It may be easier to control the movement and measure the distance doing it in front of a wall. Make sure that your knee advances just in the forward direction.

Ankle mobility test
Ankle mobility test (at least 10 cm between knee and toe, and equal on both sides (Snezana’s ancle mobility is in the correct values and is very good = 13 cm)

Exercise 2 – Thomas test for hip extension

Why it is important in running to be mobile in this area?

It is important to obtain an efficient running technique with the best hip mobility angles.

What is an adequate mobility?

This test is used to check if we have some muscles shortenings that may affect to a correct hip mobility in forward direction. We check rectus femoral and psoas iliaco muscles.

How do I do the test?

First, lay down at the edge of a bench with your legs hanging. Secondly, with the help of your hands lift one leg and approach one knee to your chest.

Finally, ask someone to observe the other leg or taking a picture if possible, to see its position and analyse if you may have any shortening problems (11 degrees is good, if knee is above such as the ones showed in the diagrams.

Thomas test for hip extension
Thomas test for hip extension (Snezana is within the correct values)

 

Thomas test for hip extension
Thomas test for hip extension

Exercise 3 – Active leg raising test (Hamstrings)

Why it is important in running to be mobile in this area?

A Range of reduced movement here are relational with some injuries caused by heavier loads supported by the knee, as well as lumbar pain.

What is an adequate mobility?

Reference values are between 71 and 91 degrees.

How do I do the test?

Lay on the floor and get someone top lift your leg and push it as far as you can keeping the leg straight as showed in the drawing.

Active leg raising test (Hamstrings)
Active leg raising test (Hamstrings), Snezana is within the correct values.
Active leg raising test (Hamstrings)
Active leg raising test (Hamstrings)

Exercise 4 – Nachlas Test (Quadriceps)

Why it is important in running to be mobile in this area?

It is important to obtain an efficient running technique for non-supporting leg during its running pattern.

What is an adequate mobility?

To reach a good mobility, you must be able to touch your glutes with your heel as shown in the picture.

How do I do the test?

Lay face down on the floor and simply lift your leg and try to approach your heel to your glutes as close as possible.

Nachlas Test (Quadriceps)
Nachlas Test (Quadriceps). Snezana is within the correct values.

Exercise 5 – Stability tests to check alignments Knee-Hip-Ankles

Why it is important in running to be mobile in this area?

In these types of tests, we want to check the knee stability while doing different movements with just one leg supporting the body (Natural behaviour when running).

What is an adequate stability/mobility?

The lack of knee alignments ability may be responsible of injuries like problems with iliotibial bands, patellas tendonitis or patellofemoral syndrome. During this exercises or tests, the most important is not getting a value. The most important feedback is about how is your movement and how you keep moving along the test.

In these types of test, we have to check the way of execution in different unipodal exercises. Test like lunges execution, touching the floor with….. or Ybalance test,… are use for this proposal.

How do I do the test?

There are many different tests to check the quality of your movement with just one supporting leg. The main ones I usually used with my athletes are Y-balance test, touching the floor with the opposite hand to the leg supported, or just lunges execution. These exercises are also adequate to train balance skills. Something really important for trail and skyrunning.

Stability tests to check alignments Knee-Hip-Ankle
Stability tests to check alignments Knee-Hip-Ankle. Snezanas stability is very good.

 

Touch the floor with the opposite hand to the supporteing leg test.
Touch the floor with the opposite hand to the supporteing leg test. Snezanas stability is very good.
Y-balance test.
Y-balance test. Snezanas stability is very good.
Y-balance test. Snezanas stability is very good.
Y-balance test. Snezanas stability is very good.

Mobilty & Running Technique

To have an adequate mobility throughout the movement is necessary in order to have a good running technique. Below is an example of an athlete with a very good running-technique.

An athlete with a very good technique
An athlete with a very good running-technique

Summary

Having a lot of flexibility is not important and could also lead to loss of energy while running but having minimum ranges in certain joints is fundamental. Required mobility also depends on the type of sport you practise.

Recommendations for effective work are:

  1. To gain flexibility: 3 weeks program 3 times per week in a program to increase flexibility.
    Type: Static or PNF (Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is a more advanced form of flexibility training, which involves both the stretching and contracting of the muscle group being targeted).
  2. Maintenance work: At least 1 session a week.

In Fernando’s opinion we must always maintain a job of a minimum flexibility or mobility, but not always with a specific program to increase it if we are already in correct values. But, sessions of maintenance are always required.

It could also be a good idea to do a warm-up including some dynamic stretching before our running sessions.

For people who do not like stretching’s, the foam roller can be a good tool when working on muscular stiffness and range of motion.

As the years and miles pass, the muscles are producing “shortenings” that little by little undermine our ranges of motion (ROM). All our athletes have that job included within their training plans and before starting up a new athlete, Fernando always do the mobility tests required.

If you need help with your training or have any questions, please check out our online coaching program https://arduua.com/online-coaching-for-skyrunning-trailrunning-ultra-trail/ , or send me an e-mail katinka.nyberg@skyrunner.nu.

/SkyRunner, Katinka Nyberg

Research by Fernando Armisén Entrador, Head of Personal Training, SkyRunner, specialised in Skyrunning and Trail. 

 

2 thoughts on “Stretching, yes or no?

Add yours

  1. The tests performed on Snezana are incorrect in my opinion. On the hip extension test she is too far to the end of the table and her butt is falling of the end of the table. This allows for her back to arch and the whole pelvis goes down and doesn’t stay on the same level as the chest. You can see on the “Active leg raising test”, her opposite leg is a little bit in the air. Kinda shows she has restricted hip extension.

    1. Okay, thanks for the feedback. The surface that she lays on might be a little too soft (and that’s why it might look like that). Our coach Fernando’s opinion is that her mobility ranges are okay. Maybe we also caught the picture in not exactly the right moment. Here is a YouTube https://youtu.be/Oz5-2zMWxGA

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