Mobility, Flexibility and Stability for Endurance SportsDonovan van Gelder
In modern times, where we spend a large portion of our daily lives sitting, our primary focus when it comes to mobility, flexibility and stability should be around the hips and lower back. Unrestricted movement through the hips, but also a strong and stable pelvis region are essential for producing force and power when pedalling and running. Swimming also relies on good hip and trunk rotation in the freestyle stroke.
Many of the compound, strength training exercises used by endurance athletes will aid and promote a good range of motion through the major joints, including the hips and pelvis and these are a preferred method for improving our mobility and flexibility.
Traditional weight training is not our go-to method of strength training but, in the Pre-Season, it has its place. We want to favour compound movements and free weights as much as possible to build our general strength. These will also have the additional bonus of improving the mobility through our major joints. The instinct we have to supress when in the weight room, is our natural, competitive instinct. Both externally and internally. We are not there to try to become better weight lifters. We are there to gain some general strength to make our bodies more durable for the training that we really want to be doing. Compare the effort required for a squat to that of pushing a pedal and we will realise that we really don’t need to go that heavy in order to achieve the gains we are looking for.
Compound movements are those that include a wide number of muscles to achieve. Not only in lifting, pushing or pulling the weight but also in controlling body position, posture and form throughout the lift.
Plyometric Training – Probably a little more fun for us, endurance athletes as it doesn’t require lifting weights, which we will never be that impressive at. Plyometrics are performed using our bodyweight, or at the most, light medicine balls, in a more, explosive manner. It is a lot like playing and probably has a more direct influence on our performance in our specialist sports. A plyometric program should be started in the Pre-Season as there will definitely be some adaption time after the first few sessions. Especially the eccentric contractions during deceleration can cause a lot of micro muscle damage and soreness initially. Plyometric training can continue into the next phase of training whereas we would stop the weight training at the end of the Pre-Season.
Static stretching has fallen out of favour amongst the fitness community, but it still has role to play.
It is not advisable to perform static stretches as part of our warm up for an endurance session. A more dynamic warm up that encourages loosening up of the structures around the joints and mimics the action of the activity to follow are a much better way to prepare for a training session or race. Things like hip and arm rotations are a good example. The best warm up is simply, a light performance of the main activity to follow. So easy running, cycling or swimming. Something that gradually raises the heart rate, gets the blood circulating in the working muscles but that doesn’t provide too much stress too quickly.
Static stretching after activity still has its place though. Easing out tight hips after a day in the saddle or a long run is an excellent way to maintain and improve mobility and aid recovery. There are more stretches than we could list here so we need to find the ones that work for us and target the areas where we most need it. Some of the better stretches are adaptions of yoga poses but endurance athletes never need to take these to the extreme. Remember that we are not trying to become as flexible as gymnasts. Hyper-mobility will actually cause more harm than good. Our primary focus should be on performing these in a calm, gentle, non-competitive manner without over-stretching or going as far as discomfort. Stretching should be an almost meditative experience that should leave us calm and relaxed, not more stiff and sore. Identify your problem areas and focus your stretching routine there.
Starting a regular stretching regime in the Pre-Season will help to establish the routine as part of your weekly schedule and will maintain the increased mobility that we gained through our strength training. It should be carried through into the rest of the year, even once we stop with the weight training.