Most runners and medical professionals agree that runners need to stretch, for both injury prevention and peak performance. But beyond that, consensus ends. What and how runners should stretch is debatable if not contentious. Pre-run or post-run? Small and gentle, or big and assertive? Long and static, or short and dynamic?
My answer to this debate is the morning mobility routine: a dynamic, yoga-based movement sequence that’s designed to provide numerous key benefits to the runner and non-runner alike.
It provides balanced, dynamic, progressive, and running-specific mobility designed to jump start the body to move efficiently and pain-free — and early in the day!
Why is this important and useful? What are the key concepts? What’s the routine? Let’s dive in.
The What and Why
- Early in the day — Mobility is key in the morning. A previous article outlined the importance of restoring motion relatively early in the day. That is because we lose mobility overnight, both due to a lack of movement and a lack of hydration. A morning routine jump starts the mobility and hydration restoration process so that we are able to fully restore normal motion by day’s end, which is the key to long-term mobility maintenance.
- Dynamic — A movement-based mobility routine is most useful and functional because it facilitates two key concepts: tissue warming and tissue hydration. Active movements generate heat, which is a crucial part of the tissue mobilization process. Motion also pumps water into the moving tissues.
- Running-specific — A good mobility routine should be running-specific. This implicitly means it should be whole-body, as we run with not only the legs but the arms and trunk too.
- Traction-based — An effective but gentle mobility routine should emphasize traction. This is the concept of not only elongating tissues lengthwise, but trying to “distract” tissues — namely bones and joints — through generating space between individual structures. This is the opposite of compression, which is attempting to mobilize tissues by pushing structures together. (We discuss more on this concept in the mobility videos.)
- Progresses from gentle to assertive — A good mobility routine will, like a run, begin gently and get progressively more assertive.
- Progresses from passive to active — A quality mobility routine will begin fairly passively, and become increasingly active by recruiting more muscle activation in running-specific motions.
- Breath-centric — Lastly, the most useful mobility routines will also emphasize breath. Efficient breathing not only facilitates mobility, it also prepares the cardiopulmonary and nervous systems for optimal function whether that’s on a run right after, or simply diving into your day.
The Prologue: Foam Rolling
I often precede the morning mobility routine with foam rolling the spine. If I feel particularly stiff there, that rollout will help me get more mobility out of the dynamic routine.
The Morning Mobility Routine
My specific routine is yoga-based. I model after this movement medium because it’s familiar to me, and most of the movements are functional (walking and running-specific) and gentle to perform.
Below is a video that explains and demonstrates the routine.
Here is a brief outline of the specific movements:
- Child’s pose (with side bend)
- Cat/camel (with threading rotation)
- Downward dog (with plank to downward dog shifts)
- Upward dog to child’s pose
- Three-legged dog to knee-to-chest
- Runner’s lunge (with rotation in each direction)
- Side lunge/ninja pose (each side)
- Horizon lunge
- Mountain pose (with side bend and rotation on each side)
- Forward bend (with knee straightening and bending in forward position)
- Chaturanga (low push-up)
- Repeat other side
The Next Step: Advanced Mobility and Neuromuscular Activation
The above mobility plan makes for a fluid routine, or flow. Once that is completed, the body is ready for more advanced and active, strength-based movements. They include:
I always end my routine with the diagonal chop, as this neuromuscular strategy helps ensure our mobile system stays connected with the core stabilizers of the trunk efficiently facilitating both the arms and legs.
Joe’s morning mobility routine represents the most comprehensive and time- and energy-efficient strategy I know to restore full mobility, facilitate efficient movement, and optimize function in and out of running shoes.
Call for Comments
Give it a try, and let us know in the comments what movements you think would be good additions or substitutions!