Monday, July 28, 2014

3D Stretches for Runners

As runners, we have all been exposed to stretches but recently there has been so much controversy. Is it good or bad? Before or After a run? Dynamic vs Static?
Here's my take!

Is stretching good or bad? I will have to argue stretching is good. Stretching reminds our body of the range of motion which is available to us. Sitting through the day promotes tightness in a position which is completely opposite of running.  Stretching restores mobility which increases power. Visualize an old rubber band and the power it generates versus a new, mobile rubber band and the power it generates. The mobile rubber band has more elastic recoil which generates more power. Running efficiently relies the ability to stretch and rebound.

Before or After? It depends on the purpose of the stretch. Performing stretches before a run can give the body the mobility to move with proper mechanics. After stretches I perform a series of light strengthening exercises to load the muscle in the new range of motion.* During a workout muscles tighten due to the chemical waste products produced and micro tears of the muscles during the run. Performing stretches after the run can help increase recovery by facilitating mobility.

Dynamic vs Static? Dynamic! Our body is 3 dimensional, by performing only static stretches  encompasses part of the muscle. By performing motions in all 3 planes of motion more muscle fibers are included in the stretching. There is a time and place for static stretching but for athletes, dynamic stretches help to muscles warm up. Dynamic stretches is controlled movements not ballistic bouncing. 

*Please see my post on strength exercises. Prior to a run, I don't use weight.

I perform these stretches prior to my run about 30 seconds and up to 2 minutes depending where my limitations are that particular day.


I used a piece of wood under my toes to increase the ankle angle allowing a deeper stretch. Use your pelvis to drive forward, side to side and twist while keeping the heel on the ground. To focus on the soleus muscle, bend both knees.


Place one leg on a bench with the knee slightly bent. Since the knee is never fully straight in the swing phase of running, I keep it in a relax position and drive my body over my hamstring. Use your hands to drive the body forward, side to side and twist.


Place your foot on the bench with the knee bent behind you. Tuck your pelvis under your body until a stretch is felt in the front of the thigh. Use your hips to drive forward, side to side and twist.


Place you foot on top of a bench. Tuck your pelvis under your body. Use your arms to drive forward and backwards, side to side and twist. This may be one of the most important stretches to perform if you work at a desk. Hip flexors shorten from prolong sitting but for a good stride it needs to be flexible.


Place one leg on a table  at about mid thigh to hip height depending on flexibility. The knee should be bent to 90 degrees and thigh perpendicular to body (very important!). From there, hinge forward in the sagittal plane, reach away sideways in the frontal plane and rotate towards in the transverse plane to the stretch leg. These motions create length at the hip and pelvic junction. 


Rotation T/S stretches- These stretches improve the rotation of the spine.
To improve rotation of the thoracic spine while the arm is swinging forward - Take a step forward with L leg and L arm next to head, bring R arm in front of body and reach forward. 
To improve rotation of the thoracic spine when the arm is swinging backwards - With L leg in front and R arm next to head, swing L arm behind the body.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

3D Strength for Runners

As runners we are great at moving our body forward in the sagittal plane over LONG periods of time. On top of that, most of us strengthen by performing squats, lunges, bench press, etc. which promotes mostly the sagittal plane of motion. What we don't realize is how much side bending (frontal plane) and rotation (transverse plane) our body goes through while running.

Here is a series of exercises which focus on the frontal and transverse planes of motion we use while running. These exercises have a foundation based on lunges and squats by using our arms to drive motion in other planes of motion. Using our arms as a driver also strengthens the core and upper extremity.

These exercises can be performed prior to a run ( after stretching) for muscular activation. When performed prior to a run, do not use any weights. For strengthening use between 5 - 10 lbs., depending on the exercise. This helps to build muscles in all three planes of motion.

In addition to tri- plane exercises, I perform more traditional strengthening exercises such as squats ( 135 lbs!!), pull ups, power cleans and dead lifts. However, lack of strength and endurance of muscles which control the accessory motions (frontal and transverse plane) contributes to fatigue leading to injuries. Adding tri plane exercises to your strength routine will help reduce fatigue, and as a result, decrease your susceptibility to injury.

These are basic tri-plane exercises but can be made more complex as the athlete becomes familiar with the techniques.  

I perform 10 repetitions, typically 3 rounds using 5- 10 lbs.


Yes, this exercise is done in the sagittal plane. However, this exercise is powerful because bringing our arms overhead enhances extension of the core muscles. Lifting our arms overhead also creates an eccentric load through our abdominals which is how it contract while running.  
Take a step forward while bringing both arms overhead. This creates extension through the trunk and the hip flexors. To make the exercise more similar the running, bring the same arm overhead as the leg stepping forward ( as shown in the front view). Bringing the same arm overhead will help create a rotational movement in the upper body similar to the arm swinging back.


This exercise helps to promote the frontal plane motion which occurs while running. As the leg swings forward our body weight shifts laterally over the front leg. Bringing the arm out to the side drives a rotational motion in the thorax eccentrically loading the abdominals. 
Take a side step while bringing the same side arm to the out and behind. ( similar to a throwing motion). Focus on sitting back through the glutes, having your torso shift over your knee and keeping your foot facing forward.


This backwards lunge helps to promote gluteal activation in the frontal plane while using the arm to drive upper torso rotation. 
Reach backwards and across the stance leg while reaching the same side hand in front of the forward leg.


This exercise focuses on rotation of the trunk and loading the hip in a transverse plane of motion. 
Place one leg in front and as you squat down swing the same side arm behind, As you come up swing the arm cross body. Stop the motion with the other hand.


This lunge helps to generate the transverse motion of the core and glutes using the opposite arm as the driver.
As you lunge forward reach opposite arm in front of the knee. As you step back bring arm up and out to the side.
To increase the challenge as you step back, step through so the swing leg is behind the stance leg. 


A running training program is complete without balance exercises. Balance on one leg - reach both arms up forward, up backwards, right side, left side, right rotate and left rotate. This represents the different cardinal planes of motion. To increase the difficulty alternate reaching one arm at a time. I recommend switching the balancing leg each time so your arms aren't fatigued when it's ready to switch sides. 


Last but not least planks! I don't perform my planks with a hold. I use my pelvis to drive my body in the 3 planes of motion. Use the pelvis to drive up towards the sky, down towards the ground ( drive with your pelvis, don't let your belly sag), side to side and twist to both sides. To change the exercise and challenge your muscles differently, change the foot position or hand position. I put my feet so they are touching. You can put your feet wide, turn your toes in, hands together, the patterns are endless.

As in all exercise programs, if it hurts don't do it! Consult a professional!