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Cardio for Women

The Essential Mobility Routine for Runners

Looking to boost your running longevity? This mobility routine for runners checks all the boxes you need to keep running pain-free.

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Mobility continues as a rising fitness trend, but why is it so important for runners? 

At least 50 percent of runners are sidelined by injury each year, and most are overuse injuries. Considering runners repetitively load their joints more than virtually any other fitness enthusiast, this may not come as a surprise. Mobility exercises help sustain not only joint health, but also the ligaments and tendons that surround them, so think of mobility like restorative exercise to enhance your running longevity.

The bottom line: If you want to stay in the fast lane, a mobility routine for runners needs to be part of your routine. 

Aren’t Stretching and Mobility the Same? 

If you already cross train by stretching or doing yoga, you’re off to a great start in restoring your muscles between workouts. This, however, is not the same as mobility. 

The difference is subtle, but important. Stretching exercises lengthen muscles across their joints to increase flexibility. Specific positions determine whether a muscle is fully lengthened. In these fully lengthened positions, you use external force (like the floor, or a stretch strap) to relax and sense a gentle line of pull. 

Mobility exercises move joints, like your ankles, knees, hips, spine, and shoulders. Instead of feeling a line of stretch, you sense movement. Think of arm circles or deep squats. These are examples of mobility exercises. 

Why Mobility?

A mobility routine for runners not only helps restore movement for running sustainability, but also helps performance. It teaches all the sensors in your joints to be more responsive. This responsiveness allows you to adapt to different terrains and speeds. 

The Perfect Mobility Routine for Runners

There are many great mobility exercises to choose from. Here’s an entire routine that will get you moving fast in any environment. No equipment needed! 

1. Dynamic Calf “Stretch”

The dynamic calf “stretch” increases ankle mobility. With 26 percent of running injuries occurring at the ankles and feet, they need to be a major mobility focus.  

  1. Begin standing with your feet side-by-side. 
  2. Maintain good posture with your shoulders over your hips as you move your right foot back about two feet, keeping your toes facing forward. 
  3. Keep both heels on the ground. If the heel on your trailing leg doesn’t reach the floor, move your back foot a bit closer to your front foot. 
  4. Now, you are ready to move. The only movement will be the knee of your trailing leg. 
  5. Slowly move back and forth between bending and straightening your back knee, while keeping your heel on the ground. 
  6. You should feel a gentle pull shifting between your calf and Achilles area with each repetition. 

Repeat 10 times, then perform on the other side. 

Note: If you feel pain, pinching, or locking in the front of your ankle, do not push through it. That might be a sign of a medical issue for which you should see an orthopedic doctor.

2. Bent-Knee Calf Raises 

The bent-knee calf raises increase mobility in your big toe. While this area is often overlooked, it provides 60 percent of your balance and push-off power. 

  1. Begin with your feet side by side and your knees slightly bent. Bending the knees allows more motion at your toes. 
  2. Complete 10 calf raises in this position. 

3. Knees to Chest

Running knee injuries take the lead at 28 percent. And just like ankles, they need mobility work, too. Knees to chest helps increase hip and knee mobility, with an added bonus of standing leg stability. 

  1. Begin standing with your feet directly under your sit bones. Keep your posture upright throughout the entire exercise. 
  2. Fully straighten your left knee and engage your left glutes to create a strong supporting leg. 
  3. Actively bring your right knee as close as you can to your chest, and give it a one-second hug. 
  4. Bring your right leg down, then repeat the process on the other side. 

Alternate sides so each side gets 10 reps. 

4. Air Squats

Air squats teach your hip, knee, and ankle mobility to work in coordination. Coordination is an essential performance and injury-prevention skill. 

  1. Begin standing with your feet at about shoulder width.
  2. Turn your toes outward about 45 degrees. Keep your knees in line with your toes throughout the movement, as opposed to letting them cave inward. 
  3. Descend into a squat by hinging at your hips, then sending them down and back. Allow your arms to come forward, as this can increase the depth of motion. 
  4. Go as low as you can while maintaining a flat back and heel contact with the floor. 
  5. At the bottom of the movement, squeeze your glutes to return to your standing position.

Repeat for 10 reps. 

5. Butt Kickers

Butt kickers increase knee mobility, with an added bonus of standing leg stability. With 17 percent of running injuries due to kneecap tracking, butt kickers are a top-of-mind risk reduction drill. 

  1. Begin standing with your feet directly under your sit bones. Keep your posture upright throughout the entire exercise. 
  2. Fully straighten your left knee and engage your left glutes to create a strong supporting leg. 
  3. Actively bring your right foot back and up toward your right glute, catching it and holding it for a second with your right hand. 
  4. Try to keep your knees close together.
  5. Bring your right leg down, then repeat the process on the other side. 

Alternate sides so each side gets 10 reps. 

6. Side Bends

Side bends increase hip, trunk, and shoulder mobility. Tension in the trunk muscles often limits hip and knee mobility, which makes trunk mobility essential. 

  1. Begin in a wide stance with your toes forward and your arms straight out to the side. Your feet will be directly under your elbows. 
  2. Place your right hand on your right hip. 
  3. Reach your left arm up in the air so your arm is next to your ear. 
  4. Bend sideways toward the right while keeping your abs tight. Allow your hips to shift to the left. 
  5. Return to standing, then repeat on the other side. 

Alternate sides so each side gets 10 reps. 

7. Torso Twists 

Torso twists increase toe, ankle, hip, and trunk mobility all at the same time. This coordination helps your shoulders and lat muscles contribute to your running speed. 

  1. Begin in a wide stance with your toes forward and your arms straight out to the side. Your feet will be directly under your elbows. 
  2. Keep your right leg stationary as you twist your torso to face the right side of the room.
  3. During the twist, come up to the ball of your left foot so your entire left leg can pivot toward the right as the torso moves. 

Alternate sides so each side gets 10 reps. 

Pro Tips

Before you dive in, check out these pro tips help you get the most of any mobility routine for runners.

1. There Are No Shortcuts

You may have noticed some redundancy in the overall selection of movements. For example, several exercises include the hip joint. While it may be tempting to skip an exercise, try to include all of them. All of your joints have multiple movements, and working on mobility in a single movement is not enough to keep your joints working their best. 

2. Pay Attention to Tempo

Start each movement slowly, then build speed as you work though the 10 reps. This helps increase how responsive your joints will be in the run that follows. Responsive joints not only enhance performance, but also help reduce injury risk. 

3. The “When” Factor

Do this mobility routine every day before you run. It helps prepare not only your joints, but also your cardiovascular system. You can repeat the sequence 2 or 3 times for a full 5- to 10-minute warm up routine! 

Next Steps

Give your body its best chance for running sustainability. Save this post so you know exactly what to do before your next run. Then, do it! See how your run feels different. Even better, share this post with a runner friend to help increase performance and running longevity!