• Annabel Francis

Part 2: Talking Running & Stretching with The Sports Physio

Welcome to Part 2 of my recent chat with Adam Meakins aka The Sports Physio.  Part 1 of our chat focused more on the Yoga world but here we turned our conversation to running and the possible benefits of yoga for sports..

Annabel: As a runner I have taught several yoga workshops for runners over the years. I was quite fixed on moving runners into more lateral movements, to kind of counter the linear aspect of running. What are your thoughts? 

Adam: I think supplementing what we do most of the time with something novel and different is beneficial. I do think working in a different plane, in a different direction, with different loads, at different speeds to what you’re normally used to is beneficial.

Annabel: I got quite hooked up on the idea that all the linear motion was causing tight hips in runners (and cyclists) and made a big point of focusing on the stretching. To think hip flexors are getting tighter and tighter from moving in one direction, therefore we must stretch them, it’s not the case is it?

Adam: That’s not what I would say is the reason for doing something different, because adaptation to the task you’re doing is actually beneficial, so for a runner to get better at running they need to run, they need to develop those patterns and they do need to develop some muscles to become tighter and springier than other muscles to be able to run better. So I don’t think we need to say those types of definitions as to why you need to do something to help protect those issues that may be happening, because they’re actually not issues, they’re beneficial adaptations that your body is doing because you’re running. So I think the reason why we’re asking somebody to do something different is to supplement their body to have a different stimulus. I do give runners a few stretches but if I have a runner with a chronic overload type problem I give them really heavy, really slow exercises because it is completely different for their body. They’re used to doing long duration, high intensity, quick fast movements and I take it into the exact opposite. I say ‘here’s a great big heavy load and I want you to move it as slow as you possibly can and just to 5 repetitions of that’. And normally it’s in a direction that they do feel stiff and restricted into. I call it “strength-stretching’. You’re getting the best of both.  You’re getting a load to strengthen that’s done under long duration so that’s that time under tension which is a key stimulus for the adaptation that we need with a heavy load, and you’re also taking it into a direction that you feel restricted into, so there is going to be that mechanical stretching effect through it as well, eccentric loading. So you kill two birds with one stone; you’re stretching and strengthening as well.

Annabel: I saw a yoga for sports course advertised recently, which said it would explain ‘what is appropriate flexibility at the joints’ and I thought, I don’t know how you can define or answer that?

Adam: It comes to what is good movement. Again there're many people who’ve tried to model what is good human movement and it’s like any model. The models are only people trying to make sense of the randomness and chaos by trying to come up with a theory of what is good and what is bad. They’re never perfect. Back in the 80s one of the models I’ve come across that I think is really good for human movement is the Newell's Constraints Theory Model which says all movement is dependent on; the individual, the task they’re doing and the environment that they’re doing it in. So to ask someone what is the optimum knee movement I need, you have to say; who is the individual, what's the task that you want the knee to do, and what’s the environment that you need to do it in. If you’re talking about a runner they only need about 20 or 30 degrees of knee movement, if you’re talking about someone squatting they’re going to need about 140