Take the test! Do you have the mobility required for running?
Three simple movements you can do right now to determine if you have enough mobility for running are Deep Squat, Twist and High Lunge. Check out the video below and give them a try.
Why do we need a Runner’s Mobility Screen?
To save us some time. Runners spend a lot of time working on their flexibility (I use the words mobility and flexibility interchangeably here). Stretching and foam rolling are the most common activities runners do in order to improve their mobility. I have nothing against this per se, but, there is an opportunity cost here.
If you are spending time on stretching and foam rolling, then you are not doing something else. Here’s some examples of other things that you could spend that time on that would benefit your running:
- Strength training
- Reviewing your training load
- Reading about ways to optimize your training
- Performing some technique drills
- Warming up
- Having a nap
- Playing with your kids
So, if you are going to spend that time stretching, you will want to know that what you are doing is benefitting you in some way. Generally speaking, runners should only be stretching if they have a mobility deficit that might impact their running form. That is to say, if you have “enough” mobility, then additional mobility will not benefit you.
This simple, three-part screen allows you to quickly check if you have “enough” mobility for running. If you can perform these three movements fully and without cheating, then you have “enough” mobility and your time would be better spent on something from the list above. Stretching will not help you.
How to Do The Runner’s Mobility Screen
The Deep Squat
- Place your feet roughly shoulder width apart
- Squat down as low as you can without letting your heels come off the floor
- If you can get your butt within a hand’s width of your heel and still move your arms around without falling backwards then you have passed
Twist (turning to the left)
- Stand with your feet together and your back to a mirror
- Twist as far as you can letting every part of your body move but do not move your feet
- If you can twist far enough to see your right shoulder in the mirror without bending forwards then you have passed
High Lunge (left foot on chair)
- Put your left foot on a regular dining chair (feel free to use your hand on a wall for balance)
- Move your right foot back and come up onto the toes of your right foot
- Straighten your right knee as much as you can
- Move your pelvis forwards while keeping your knee straight and your trunk upright until you can’t move your pelvis any further forward
What are we looking for?
The Deep Squat
- Primary Concern = Ankle Dorsiflexion (ankle bending)
- Secondary Concerns = Hip and Knee Flexion
- Primary Concern = Thoracic Rotation (mid-spine rotation)
- Secondary Concerns = Hip Rotation
High Lunge (left foot on chair)
- Primary Concern = Left Hip Extension and Big Toe Dorsiflexion (big toe bending)
- Secondary Concerns = Knee Extension
What can cause restrictions?
The Deep Squat
- Ankle dorsiflexion
- Knee flexion
- Hip flexion
- Hip IR or ER
- Lumbar flexion
- Trunk:Femur:Tibia ratio
- Left foot supination
- Right foot pronation
- Left knee ER
- Right knee IR
- Left hip IR
- Right hip ER
- Lx rotation
- Tx rotation
- Cx rotation
- Left shoulder retraction
- Right shoulder protraction
High Lunge (left on stool)
- Right great toe dorsiflexion
- Right foot supination
- Right ankle plantarflexion
- Right knee extension
- Right hip extension
- Left knee flexion
- Left hip flexion
- Left hip IR or ER
- Lx extension
What should I do about it?
Well, that depends. As you can see from the list above, there are lots of places where you need to have “reasonable” mobility in order to perform the movement. If you are having trouble with the Deep Squat, for example, it could be because you have limited internal rotation of your left hip. However, it could just as easily be because you have limited dorsiflexion in your right ankle.
In order to address a specific mobility limitation you would first need to identify it. If you are having trouble with one of the movements then you probably have a mobility limitation somewhere. Finding that limitation is beyond the scope of this article. To be honest, most of the time you would need the help of a qualified professional.
Do I need to do anything about it?
This is a much better question. Again, unfortunately the answer is “it depends.” Many of us will have trouble with one of the three movements in the screen. What is causing you to have trouble with that movement is likely a specific mobility restriction. The human body has an amazing capacity to adapt and cope with mobility restrictions.
If you are currently achieving your running goals and are not having much trouble with injury then I would say not to worry about it. If you are currently injured then the restriction may be relevant. If you have had repeated injuries then the restriction may be more relevant. If you have had repeated injuries very close to the restriction then that mobility deficit may be very relevant.
You will likely need the help of a qualified professional to help you determine where the mobility deficit is and whether it is relevant to any problems you are currently having.
So what should I do?
Quickly do the screen. If you can do all of the movements then quit stretching, you don’t need to do it.
If you can’t do all of the movements but you are currently achieving your running goals and not having injury troubles, do nothing.
If you can’t do all the movements and are having trouble with injuries, seek the advice of a qualified professional.
Is this going to cause an injury?
Again, this is a good question. The link between mobility restrictions or “faulty biomechanics” is actually not as strong as you might think. Check out this wonderful article by Greg Lehman for more on that. That being said, I would attempt to address mobility deficits identified by the Runner’s Mobility Screen.
The reason being that these three movements are not terribly difficult. If you can’t do one of them, you likely have a fairly large restriction in your mobility. We can take me for an example here. You may have noticed in the video that I have trouble with the Deep Squat movement. I have to reach my arms forwards to keep myself from falling backwards. I actually fail that screen because I can’t lift my arms over my head or move them around freely.
As a Physio with a slightly obsessive nature, I’ve dug into why I can’t do this movement in the past. When you go through the mobility I need joint by joint, you quickly find that I have a significant limitation in my left ankle dorsiflexion. That means that I can’t move my knee very far past my toes while keeping the heel on the floor. This dates back to a fairly nasty ankle sprain I suffered as a teenager while playing football (as in soccer, the real football – not that American nonsense).
So I know that the specific mobility deficit that is leading me to be unable to perform the Deep Squat is my left ankle. If I prop my heels up you can see that I do the movement no problem:
I’ve worked very hard on this deficit and it’s not changing. It would seem that the restriction is now permanent. That means that when I run my left ankle is not as flexible as my right. I’m doing the same thing with both legs (running), which means that I will have to distribute the load differently on the left. I will have less options in terms of where the load can go because of my limited movement. That means more load may be placed on certain parts of my leg. Those parts may develop injuries if I increase the load too quickly – see my blog on load management for more about this.
Take home message
If you have a limitation on the Runner’s Mobility Screen, don’t panic. Just follow the advice in this article and be sensible with your running habits. The mobility screen helps you identify potential problems, but not being able to do a Deep Squat is not a reason to quit running!
I got the Runner’s Mobility Screen from a course I did recently with The Running Clinic. Their website is a fantastic resource for recreational runners and I definitely recommend that you check them out.