Updated: Oct 14, 2020
Flexibility is the ability of your muscles to lengthen appropriately to allow a joint, or a combination of joints to move through their full range of movement. Mobility is the joints ability to move through the available range. The joint needs to be healthy to do this and some conditions such as arthritis may reduce the available range within a joint.
Why is it important to us as agility handlers? Well firstly, we need to run, and run fast! Let's look at the ankle joint and the calf muscles during running as an example. To run efficiently and get optimal propulsion to accelerate and decelerate you need to be able to dorsiflex your ankle to at least 90 degrees. Dorsiflexion is the movement of pulling the top of your foot upwards towards your leg, this is shown by the angle in yellow on the diagram below. To achieve this you need to have good ankle joint mobility but you also need to have appropriate flexibility of the muscles in your calf, this is shown by the red arrow in the diagram below. You can see in the picture below that the ankle is dorsiflexed just over 90 degrees making the heel lower than the toes.
Your calf comprises two main muscles, Gastrocnemius and Soleus.
Gastrocnemius is shown in the left hand picture , the two muscles are shown on the right
The gastrocnemius is the large more superficial muscle that gives your calf the shape. It is the prime plantar flexor (i.e. the opposite to dorsiflexion, your foot is being pointed away from the leg). The soleus is the muscle that sits deeper in the calf and has a slightly more postural role, this is the muscle that is constantly measuring and analysing the ankle position and is the muscle that if you let yourself fall forwards keeping your feet flat will kick in to try and save the fall. Both these muscles can become short and tight and can cause different issues. Firstly it will adversely affect your running performance if you can’t get enough dorsiflexion your running will be hampered. It can cause issues such as Achilles tendinopathy, plantar fasciitis, pain and aching. Lastly, it can cause issues further up the kinetic chain, in other words further up the body. If your calf complex (the combination of Gastroc and Soleus or one or the other) is shortened this will affect your whole posture both in standing but even more so running.
Another consideration is that Gastroc originates above the knee joint and inserts below the ankle joint therefore it covers two joints. Muscles that pass two joints are more prone to becoming short and tight, other two joint muscles include the hamstrings and quadriceps. It is also important to make sure that right and left legs are equal, otherwise, there is a risk of biomechanical stress further up the kinetic chain therefore possibly causing a knock-on effect on other areas of your body, such as your knees, hips and back.
Testing calf length is very easy, you can test both Gastroc and Soleus and then if you find any problems you can stretch them out. There are other key areas that are vital for agility handlers, hamstring length, quadriceps length and thoracic spine mobility being some of the key areas. Learning how to measure these and improve them is a great use of your winter training time and doesn’t take long.
Great news – If you are reading this blog, we are very grateful for your time and support and to say thank you we are offering you a whopping 20% off any of the handler fitness modules, including the already discounted Handler Fitness Package combining the Strength to Succeed and the Need for the Speed. The Strength to Succeed will show you how to test all the key areas we have discussed including calf, hamstrings, quadriceps amongst others and then how to improve them if necessary. There is also some ladder drills for footwork and coordination, some strength exercises and also two workouts to incorporate in your winter plans. So much information packed into this module. The Need for Speed video is an amazing tool for your winter training, some easy to follow drills to incorporate in your winter plans that will help you to learn how to accelerate faster and make your running much more efficient. Limited time only on this offer so snap it up while you can, use the code THANKYOU20, enjoy. 😄