Sprinting Rules pt.1

Tissue Quality and Mobility Essentials

This is the first in a 4 part series on how to improve your speed. I understand that you may want to be faster like, yesterday, but trust me – you need to follow these steps in order!

  1. Tissue Quality and Mobility
  2. Strength
  3. Strides
  4. Uphill Sprints and Flat Sprints.

Q: “Why can’t I just do some sprints?”

A: Because pulled hamstrings SUCK!

Before you can even think about running fast you need to be concerned about your connective tissue. Muscle, tendon, fascia and ligaments make up our connective tissue and tissue quality refers to your connective tissue’s ability to relax and elongate, contract, or glide properly.

If you want to move well, your muscles must be able to hear your brain’s commands and carry out the task. Problem is with poor tissue quality, your muscles can’t relax or fire optimally. Once that happens, well, hello compensation! Patrick Ward, a noted sports massage therapist, writes more on that here.

What leads to poor tissue quality like muscle knots? Oh, just, you know, living.

  • Dehydration
  • Doing lots of reps (for example, running!)
  • Being sedentary all day
  • Using bad form while training
  • Existing compensation and imbalances

Really, no matter who you are (unless you’re under 10 years old) you need to address your tissue quality regularly. This can be as simple as using a foam roller, the stick, a tennis ball, or, if you’ve got some money, enjoying a therapeutic massage.

It has been said that, as a baseline, one should use a foam roller one day per week for every decade they are old. However, if you’re training regularly I recommend using it before EACH training session and target known “hot spots” at a minimum.

Here’s a great video from Eric Cressey demonstrating how to foam roll some of the most commonly tight areas of the body. Which areas are tightest or painful for you? Address them regularly!

Mobility

Once your soft tissue has been addressed, the next step is to work on achieving at least “acceptable” levels of joint mobility.

There are certain joints to which all runners need to pay attention:

  • Ball of foot/big toe – we need 50 degrees of extension
  • Ankle – we need 30 degrees of dorsiflexion
  • Hip – we need about 10-15 degrees of extension
  • Middle Back – we need rotation and extension

Ensuring you have enough mobility in these key ares will go a long way towards making sure you are able to run without compensation.

If you lack mobility in one or more of those areas, you will have no choice but to compensate. So, please, just do your homework first!

Be sure to steadily BREATHE through your nose and be aware of your breath during soft tissue work and mobility drills. The goal is to “relax and lengthen”, not yank or pull! It is not the time to test new pain thresholds, nor think about pushing yourself. Just exhale and find space in your body – don’t force it!

Here is a quick mobility series that addresses those areas. Yoga also works wonders, so don’t hesitate to incorporate that into your routine.

To sum up, sprinting puts a ton of stress on the body and unless you’re prepared to absorb and distribute those forces appropriately, it’s like playing with fire.

Before you even think about starting a sprinting routine, address your soft tissue quality and joint mobility every day for a month. …I know. I’m a pain in the ass, but you WILL thank me later!

Next time: Strength requirements for sprinting…

PS: My comprehensive running assessment is designed to help you figure out where your weak links are.  Is it your form?  Your body? Your training?  Your shoes? Let’s talk. Contact me here.

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