A few weeks ago, my friend Judd sent me an article about Kelly Starrett, a Crossfit trainer in San Francisco who is very serious about injury prevention and recovery. He’s made a name for himself as the Mobility Guy. That’s his word; most people would call it stretching, but it’s clear that to him it’s more than that, and his approach fascinates me. Another article Judd sent me has links to double handful of YouTube videos of his mobility workouts that are especially useful to runner, and in one of the last ones, he lays out his priorities, in decreasing order of importance: joint positioning, motor control, muscle stiffness, and then overall length. When most people talk about stretching to prevent injury, they’re really only thinking about the last one. Kelly’s strategy eventually gets around to that, but it’s much more about breaking down the muscle tissues that lock you into the limited-range-of-motion movements that will cause you injury.
That notion of breaking things down and building them back up has been following me around lately. I realized at some point this fall that the reason the running workout schedule I’ve been following has three consecutive days of running in the middle of the week is to force my muscles gently beyond the breakdown point on the third day, so that my body builds them back up stronger, faster, better. Reading Born To Run got me thinking about the whole barefoot running thing. Some of the arguments in that book about how modern running shoes actually keep people from learning how to run in a way that prevents injury are pretty compelling. As Christopher McDougall puts it in an article on his website “[U]ltimately, the debate isn’t about Bare Soles vs. Shoes. It’s about learning to run gently. Master that, and you can wear — or not wear — anything you please.” That evntually lead me to look at the Vibram FiveFingers website, where I found their guide to how to transition to running in their minimalist shoes.
What all of these these stress is the importance of proceeding slowly and listening to your body as you learn how to move (and be) better. That’s been a major theme of 2011 for me. I know that I’ve done a lot of things wrong for a while, and I know I’ve needed to make changes. Sometimes I feel like I’ve got Yoda leaning over my shoulder, whispering “You must unlearn what you have learned.” But I’ve come to realize that as long as I’m mindful of the feedback my body is giving me, I can unlearn a lot.