Welcome back to this special series featuring the stories of the Senior Planet Sponsored Athletes as they pursue their fitness and wellness goals in 2023. You can find all of our Sponsored Athletes’ stories here.
Richard Westbrook, 71, is a competitive runner, but it wasn’t always that way. After a drastic health transformation, Richard rediscovered his love of being out on the track. Today, Richard wants to provide as much encouragement as possible to fellow older adults athletes, no matter their level of expertise.
In my previous blog post, I gave tips for better running. They include good posture, proper foot strike, good position for knees and hips, and good arm motion — all with the idea of being as efficient as possible. Improving the range of motion of your ankles and hips will help too.
Today, I’m sharing a few tips for better joint mobilization. Runners and walkers often develop pains in their feet, legs, hips, and even lower back. We often blame our shoes, but that’s usually not the problem. More likely, these issues are the result of poor immobility or misalignment of joints. I like to work on joints (range of motion) as well as muscles. We can improve, but there is no magical cure. And of course, it’s more challenging as we age — so just keep at it!
Let’s start with the foot. The arch is not a load bearing surface. It’s a combination of arches which are analogous to a suspension bridge or a leaf-type spring. For arch health, the feet should point straight forward, be parallel to each other, set shoulder-width apart, and stand under your hips.
You can work on improving even when you’re not running. When you stand, are your feet in proper position? If not, correct them. When you sit? If not, correct them. It takes a lot of work to overcome years of poor foot positioning, but we can improve.
“You can work on improving even when you’re not running.”
Ready for Liftoff
In CrossFit, I learned how to brace for lifts, but this concept works well for general activity including standing and sitting:
- Stand tall so your spine is in a neutral position, and place one thumb on your sternum.
- Put the other hand near your belly button so they create two parallel planes.
- When you move, keep these planes parallel. If your hands come closer to each other, you are rounding your back. If they move apart, you are extending it.
With your spine in neutral position, you can establish a “brace” by squeezing your glutes, tightening your core, pointing the tips of your shoulder blades down towards your hips (the blades don’t have to touch each other). Now you’re ready for your mobilization work!
From Head to Toe
In running, especially sprinting, dorsiflexion (the backward motion of a hand, foot or toe) is very important. Raising the toes helps lift the foot and get it into position to strike the ground:
- Place your toes against a vertical surface with your heel on the ground.
- Bring your lower leg forward to increase dorsiflexion as much as you can.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds.
You’ll want to ease into this, so start with a shorter hold, and eventually increase your time. Maintain good posture here — this is how you will use your toes when running.
The Ankle Bone’s Connected to The…
Better ankle range of motion enables you toward a longer stride:
- Stand on the lowest stair step, or suitable object, and lower your heel slowly.
- Hold for a few seconds, then step off.
- Repeat several times. (Again, maintaining good posture!)
To work on ankle extension, sit on your heels. Make sure your feet are pointed straight back, not angled in or out. (If you can already do this, kudos!) If you are like me and can’t, then kneel and work your glutes towards your heels as far as you can without forcing.
I hold myself in position with my hands, using good posture. After a few seconds, I can relax into a deeper position. You may be able to, too. Go with it, then straighten up, rest a bit, and repeat.
“Remember that every day is different. Adjust your routine for areas that need some extra attention.”
Hips Don’t Lie
For hip extension, the Samson stretch is useful. The purpose is to bring the hip forward as much as you can while maintaining a good brace position. You will feel a stretch in your quads. This helps you get more out of each stride.
10 Minutes Per Day
If you can devote just 10 minutes per day to mobilization, you will soon see the benefits!
- 2 minutes: Start with squats
- Brace yourself — a good starting position consists of feet forward, shoulder width apart, vertical shins, straight back, and weight on your heels. Move your hips back, and down. I learned how to do this standing in a doorway and holding on to the doorframe. You can use a chair, bedpost, stick, or anything which will help you keep your braced position. Don’t go lower than your brace and proper position allows.
- 1 minute for each foot: dorsiflexion
- 1 minute for each foot: ankle flexion
- 1 minute for each foot: ankle extension
- 1 minute for each leg: Samson stretch
Remember that every day is different. Adjust your routine for areas that need some extra attention.
Click here to join me on Wednesday, September 20 at 1:30pm EDT to learn more about joint mobilization. I will hosting a live demonstration of these movements and more, and I hope to see you all there!
In need of a little motivation to get moving? Join our free online exercise programs, get the latest fitness updates from Senior Planet by signing up for our health and wellness newsletter, and follow us on social media (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) to get to know these awe-inspiring athletes. You might just find a new love for fitness along the way!