The idea of functional movement seems to everywhere for me lately. How can we move well through life? As runners, we tend to move only in one direction: forward. It doesn’t matter if I can touch my toes or squat with my heels touching the ground. Or does it?
Aaron Alexander is a physical and massage therapist and was being interviewed on a recent No Meat Athlete podcast. He talked about all the ways we runners can integrate different movement techniques into our day to not only become better runners, but to feel better with every movement. Little kids have perfect running form, yet somehow start to lose that around the time they enter school. Too much desk time and not enough barefoot play time changes the way we move and subsequently the way we are able to move. Luckily, we can change that. Alexander’s website, www.aligntherapy.com has some great videos and tips for stretching, strengthening, and moving so that we can get the most out of our bodies no matter what our lifestyle. He even has videos on how to sit better if you’re stuck at a desk all day.
One of the challenges he has clients do is to be able to squat with your heels touching the ground. I tried it and I can only do it if my squat is really wide with my toes facing outwards. With my feet straight ahead and shoulder-width apart, I’m probably a couple of inches off the ground. When I was really into yoga before I started running, I could do a flat-footed downward dog, but I’m a long way from that now. I asked my almost-7-year-old son to try it and he could do it with effortlessly.
So I’m going to work on this. The way to begin is by placing a book under your heels and practicing 30 seconds a day. Gradually, you can switch to a skinnier book until your heels can reach the floor. Just doing it a few times trying to take a picture for this post was enough to improve some. I’ll get there.
Then yesterday in my strength class at the gym, our instructor decided to make us really move to work our legs. We cleared the room of our weights and did walking lunges and squats forwards and backwards. Then we put our hands on the ground and crawled without letting our knees touch and keeping our butts down. Then the same movement laterally. Then jumping squats across the room. It was really tough, but great to actually move in a way our bodies once might have had we had not decided to sit in chairs all day. And if I have to admit it, it was a little fun too!
Runners do not have to be flexible gymnasts to run well and some say it might even be detrimental. Your muscles, tendons, and ligaments function as a spring which, if stretched too loosely, does not effectively propel you forward with a long stride length. But being flexible within the full range of running motion is important to get all the length out of your legs possible.
And what is also important to remember (which I often forget), is that running is not absolutely everything. Being able to move well for life is.