To understand what joints/areas need the most mobility, you must first understand the different planes of motion: sagittal, frontal (coronal), and horizontal (transverse). Sagittal is the movement of a limb forward or backward (i.e. shoulder flexion, hip extension), the horizontal plane is the rotational movement of a limb (i.e. shoulder external rotation, lumbar rotation), and the frontal plane is the movement of a limb side to side (i.e. hip abduction, side bending).
When it comes to running, the most prominent plane of motion is sagittal because the overall translation of your body is in the forward direction. In contrast, for example, during lateral shuffling the overall movement is side to side, or in the frontal plane.
Although there is frontal and horizontal plane motion during running, it is minimal and therefore not likely to cause an issue due to lack of mobility. Typically those movements will cause issues due to excessive mobility and lack of stability (the ability to control movement). In regards to mobility and running, it is especially important to have adequate sagittal plane mobility.
Hip Flexion Mobilization
Anchor a 1-2” mobilization band close to the ground. Hook the band around the front of your hip, as high as you can get it. Put your foot up on a step (the height depends on your flexibility), and relax your flexed leg to allow the band to pull your femoral head inferiorly toward the ground. Slowly lunge forward so that your hip comes into more flexion, pushing only within a comfortable range. Repeat 20 times.
Normal hip flexion is 120 degrees and is most important during sprinting and uphill running where the knee has to get higher than during normal jogging.
Compensations: posteriorly rotating your pelvis and/or flexing your lumbar spine
Possible injuries include lumbar strain, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, and hip impingement.
Hip extension mobilization/stretch
Anchor a 1-2” mobilization band approximately 1-2 feet from the ground in front of you. Hook the band around the back of your hip, and assume a ½ kneeling position with the banded leg down. Tuck your pelvis under by engaging your glute (on the banded leg), this should give you a gentle stretch in the front of your hip. Gently push your hips forward while keeping your spine upright. Repeat 20 times.
Normal hip extension is 20 degrees and is most important as you move from late midstance to initial swing (while your leg is behind midline)
Compensations: anteriorly rotating your pelvis and/or extending your lumbar spine, rotating your lumbar spine toward the extended leg, and/or externally rotating your hip
Possible injuries include lumbar strain, lumbar stress fracture, and sacroiliac joint dysfunction.
Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobilization
Anchor a 1-2” mobilization band close to the ground behind you. Hook it around the front of your ankle with the band laying flat on the top of your foot while in the ½ kneeling position. Slowly push your knee over your toes while keeping your heel on the ground. Repeat 20 times. If you feel this mostly in your calf, instead of the front of your ankle, then you may benefit more from calf stretching.
(Gastrocnemius) Stand in a lunge position with your forefoot on a towel roll. While keeping your knee straight and your heel on the ground, slowly lean forward. Hold for 30 seconds.
(Soleus) Stand in a lunge position with your forefoot on a towel roll. While keeping your heel on the ground, slowly push your knee over your toes. Hold for 30 seconds.
Normal dorsiflexion is 10 deg (with a straight knee) and 20 deg (with a flexed knee) which are important as your leg moves behind you past midline.
Compensations: excessive pronation, abnormal forefoot pressure, excessive great toe extension, and early knee flexion.
Possible injuries include plantar fasciitis, Achilles’ tendinitis, shin splints, TMT joint dysfunction, stress fracture, metatarsalgia, and knee dysfunctions.
Great Toe Extension Stretch
Stand in a lunge position. With you great toe on the ground, slowly pull your ankle forward. Hold for 30 seconds.
Normal great toe extension is 70-90 degrees and is important during the pre-swing phase of gait (right before your foot comes off the ground behind you).
Compensations: excessive dorsiflexion, excessive knee flexion, early knee flexion, 1st MTP compression, and premature pre-swing.
Possible injuries include turf toe, 1st MTP bone spurring, plantar fasciitis, Achilles’ tendinitis, and knee dysfunctions.
In the end, having good hip, ankle, and foot mobility can save you from a world of pain. So grab a band and get your mobility on!
Allison is the Director of Physical Therapy at NAKOA. She earned her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from St. Augustine University in 2011. Allison is passionate about making a positive difference and helping people live pain-free. She loves working with all types of impairments including acute sports-related injuries, repetitive overuse injuries, post-surgical patients, and challenging cases of chronic pain. She is thankful to be able to spend ample time with every patient, allowing her to deliver the highest quality-of-care. Although she continues to grow and support our incredible therapy program with ease, Allison also manages to balance being a wife, a new mom, and an athlete all at the same time. We couldn’t have found a more capable, talented, and kind-hearted woman to lead our therapy team, we are incredibly grateful to have her.