How To Regain Your Natural Flexibility
You may be able to run a 100 mile ultra but can you sit comfortably in a squat like a child? There are several definitions of a squat but what I mean is a squat very close to the ground. You often see children sitting like this. It’s quite likely that – unless you have specifically worked on your flexibility – you'll find this difficult. Wonderful though running is, it does tend to make you stiff and inflexible. In addition, running can play havoc with the knees and squatting can be painful if your knees are in bad shape (like mine).
Of course you may not care. But if you love running you probably should do. Because if you have tight muscles and joints - and thereby lack flexibility - your chances of injury, while exercising are much higher.
Enter Roger Frampton, Iffley Road model and author of The Flexible Body. Like many of us Roger used to spend his time training in the gym – initially strength training and then bodyweight training. His “light bulb” moment came when he attended an adult gymnastics class. Humiliated by a 6 year old child he realised there and then that neither he (nor any of the other adult participants) were able to do the moves that the children found easy.
In his brilliant book, Roger has put together a programme designed to take no more than 10 minutes a day in which you can regain your natural flexibility.
The “Moves” he recommends fall into 9 different sections but personally I recommend that runners focus on 2 particular areas “The Overhead Squat” in Section 1 and “Legs, Legs, Legs” in Section 5.
If you have tight muscles and joints - and thereby lack flexibility - your chances of injury, while exercising are much higher.
The Overhead Squat
Roger quotes a study from 2012 that found that musculoskeletal conditions were the second greatest cause of disability in the world, affecting more than 1.7 billion people worldwide. Professor Woolf, a world leader in healthcare describes suffering from musculoskeletal disorders as being like a Ferrari without wheels. “If you don’t have mobility and dexterity, it doesn’t matter how healthy the rest of your body is.”
Whilst it will make remaining in a sitting squat easier if you turn your feet outwards (as is taught in yoga classes), Roger advocates feet facing forwards. There are 2 reasons for this
1) Turning the feet outwards increases the risk of collapsed feet and long-term ankle and knee damage.
2) Keeping the feet facing forwards ensures you maximize the effects of flexibility of your hips rather than resting on the joint.
As someone who used to be filled with dread at the idea of even attempting a sitting squat, I can give 2 pieces of personal advice.
Take it easy and don’t force it if you can only do a half squat at first. By practising every day you’ll eventually get a lot closer to the ground. It took me about a month to be able to hold a sitting squat for even 30 seconds.
Second, once you can do a sitting squat properly for a few minutes you’ll need to keep doing it regularly otherwise it will become very difficult again. It's not like learning to ride a bike!
Legs, Legs, Legs
Roger points out that typically people devote 90% of their exercise to strength and 10% to flexibility. However now he promotes 80% flexibility, 20% strength. The rationale being that the strength element becomes effortless when you reach a practical level of flexibility.
I recommend runners focus especially on “Squat to Stand” (on page 92 of the book). Obviously you need to master the sitting squat before you can even attempt this move.
In this exercise you start in a sitting squat allowing your chest to rest on your thighs. You place your fingertips on the floor (or on a block on the floor) in front of you, far enough forwards that it will allow you to straighten your legs fully. Keep your feet and fingertips in this position, then move slowly upward between the squat and locked legs position. Do this for 1 minute. Then stand up and hold your body in the straight-legged position for 1 minute.
If you keep practising both the Overhead Squat and the Squat to Stand not only are you likely to avoid injury but you may well find running easier. All in 10 minutes a day.