The Posterior Chain May Get All The Glamour, But Don't Neglect Anterior Chain Mobility
Hip Flexors & Quadriceps
Running places a significant demand on the hip flexors and quadriceps (quads). As the foot prepares to push off the ground, the hip flexors and quads become stretched through hip extension, internal rotation, and abduction which allows for a rapid elastic recoil effect - the energy created by this stretch is what drives the knee forward during swing phase to successfully set the leg up for the next foot strike. Tight hip flexors and quads limit hip extension which is one of the most common causes of low back pain with running (and walking too). Limited hip extension may also contribute to knee pain, overuse calf injuries, and IT Band Syndrome.
Improve Hip Extension (Hip Flexor & Quad Stretch)
Try this stretch by starting in a kneeling position with one knee down (back foot can be elevated against a box or wall as shown below) and the other foot planted on the ground in front. From this base position, tuck the pelvis under by contracting the abdominals and glutes. At this point you will likely feel a stretch along the front of the thigh. Maintain this tucked position and slowly swing the arms through all three planes of motion to drive a 3-dimensional hip flexor and quad stretch.
Just as suboptimal hip flexor and quad length limits full extension of the hip, limited pectoral mobility prevents full chest expansion (a fundamental component of aerobic exercise) and thoracic spine rotation (a fundamental component of core engagement). Tight pecs result in forward, rounded shoulders and may be accompanied by forward head posture which places more stress on the neck. These are classic postural problems caused by sitting but can be addressed through functional mobility and stretching drills.
Improve Pec Flexibility
Start by placing your hand on wall or door frame - your hand should be placed high enough that your elbow is above shoulder height. Gently push your chest forward, past the elbow and hand until a stretch is felt through the front of the chest. If you are stretching your left pec, your left hand should be elevated on the wall and your left foot should be forward. Pulse the chest forward (1 inch or less) to achieve a more dynamic stretch. Try repeating the stretch but use rotational pulses this time. Be careful to lead with the chest and not with the shoulder itself, as this may cause shoulder discomfort. Please make sure you adequately squeeze your shoulder blade down and back so that you keep the front of your shoulder (anterior shoulder capsule) safe.
Although not limited just to the anterior chain, rib mobility is an essential part of a runner's overall performance. Like pectoral flexibility, rib mobility is essential for optimal breathing. The ribs need to rotate and translate 3-dimensionally during breathing, and with poor rib mobility, cardiovascular performance may be compromised. Improving rib mobility will likely coincide with improving thoracic spine mobility as the two are intricately related.
Improve Rib and Thoracic Spine Mobility
While doing small forward lunges, move the arms in the patterns listed below:
- Right Leg Forward: right arm reaches overhead to the left, left arm rotates across the body to the right
- Left Leg Forward: right arm reaches overhead to the left, left arm rotates across the body to the right
Dr. Dan Benson, DPT, OCS, FAFS
Forefront Physical Therapy
Belltown & South Lake Union
2720 4th Ave #115
Seattle, WA 98121