Maintaining good flexibility enables you to run with a good running gait. If one area gets tight, this will restrict the movement of one joint and over loads another. Similarly, if there is one muscle group that is weaker than another, this will over load the other side or another muscle group. For example, if the calf is tight the ankle will not be able to bend fully as you swing the leg through. This causes the knee to lift too high and can over load the hip. If the calf is weak, this will cause you to land heavier on the floor and transmit unwanted forces through the hip, knee and ankle. Other muscle groups, like the hamstrings, will try and compensate for the lack of force the calf is producing.
There are some simple tests you can do at home to check your flexibility and strength endurance. For marathon running your muscles need to be able to work for a long time. It is important to check your muscles are conditioned to be strong and work repeatably. We term this strength endurance. Muscles get tight if you use them a lot and don't stretch them. As you'll probably be experiencing, marathon training is hard work and it's important you do a regular stretching program to prevent these muscles getting tight.
We will review some of the key muscle groups you should be monitoring........
We assess this using the 'knee to wall' test. You start with your foot against the wall, and keeping your foot fully on the floor take your knee to the wall. The idea is to see how far from the wall you can take your foot and still get your knee to the wall without your heal lifting. We measure the distance from the end of your big toe to the wall. Make sure your knee comes forward over your foot in line with your second toe. If you knee comes forward but comes inside of your big toe it will give you a false reading.
This test is referred to as 'popliteal angle'. You lay on your back with one leg straight and the other bent, holding the back of the knee and knee bent to 90 degrees. Make sure your knee stays in line with your hip and then straighten your leg as far you can. We measure the angle from the starting the position, if your leg was straight this would be 90 degrees.
Calf Strength Endurance
There are two muscles that make up your calf; Gastrocnemius and Soleus. The gastrocnemius attaches above the knee so you have to keep the knee straight when assessing this one and Soleus attaches below the knee so we have to keep the knee bent when we look at this one.
The repeated single calf raise will assess how well your calf can keep working. Standing on one leg with your knee straight, use a wall to help steady you and tip toe up and down as many times you can at a rate of one every second. Make sure you do not bounce up into a tip toe and it is a controlled push up rather than a jump. This will assess the gastrocnemius. Repeat the same test with your knee bent to assess the soleus making sure the knee stays fixed and does not bend and straighten as you tip toe.
Hamstring Strength Endurance
The hamstrings are assessed using a repeated hamstring bridge test. Lying on your back with one heal on a chair and the other held in the air, lift your hips off the floor and then back down again. Count how many times you can do this at a rate of one every 2 seconds. Make sure you don't use the other leg to gain momentum.
Assessment of 'How Ready you Are'!!
There has been a lot of research into how flexible your muscle should be and how long they should be able to repeat the test for. Put your results into the table below to see how ready you are:
|Test||Good||OK||Work on it!||Left||Right|
|Knee to wall test||>10 cm||8-10 cm||<7cm||________||________|
|Popliteal Angle (hamstring)||> 70 degrees||60-70 degrees||<60 degrees||________||________|
|Repeated tip toe - Gastrocnemius||>30 reps||25-30 reps||<25 reps||________||________|
|Repeated tip toe - Soleus||>30 reps||25-30 reps||<25 reps||________||________|
|Repeated single leg hamstring bridge||>30 reps||25-30 reps||<25 reps||________||________|
If you have any results in the OK column, then it would be worth considering spending some of your training week focusing on improving them. If there are any results in the 'Work on it' column you should start doing some exercises to improve these scores. There are a variety of exercises you can do to improve your results, the testing of the calf and hamstring strength endurance is a perfect exercise to repeat to improve your strength endurance. Though depending on previous history, your level of participation in sport and your current strength you may want to seek advice before starting something new, especially when you are in mid-training.
The assessments discuss here are not exhausted, and if you have concerns about your ability to complete your training schedule or have already started to notice aches or pains after running, it would be worth getting them assessed before they stop you running. You can also repeat the tests to see how your training is affecting your flexibility and strength.
Here at Physio Form we can offer a full assessment of your readiness for marathon training and help to treat those aches and pains. You can either call, visit our website or visit us at the clinic or call in the the Running Form shop to arrange an appointment.