Paula Newby-Fraser and Jessi Stensland started the sport as top swimmers and transformed into great runners. So how can a swimmer learn to run?
Two differences stand out in the mechanics of running vs. swimming:
• The position of the ankle
• The movement of the hips
Only in swimming are the calf and foot muscles asked to contract all the time. When running, this over-development of the calf and plantar muscles will force your center of gravity back—and away from the finish line.
The solution is to free the calf tension and release the powerful plantar muscles. Unlike runners, swimmers have loose, open hips. In addition, swimmers recruit their back muscles as part of the leg kick. This same movement in running can lead to lower-back tension.
When swimmers run, they must learn to lift the knee without using the lower-back muscles. When I worked at the Olympic training facility with runners, the most common and consistent problem was this knee-lift/lower-back relationship. With a tight plantar and calf, the task is almost impossible.
- Face a wall with feet arms distance away.
- Put your hands on the wall.
- Bend the knees as you walk the hands down the wall.
- At some point, move the knees toward or on the floor.
- Feel the stretch at the bottom of the feet; wait for 10 to 20 breaths.
Plantar stretch was a key for Paula when she needed to fix her foot in order to defeat Erin Baker and regain her Ironman title. This stretch takes some getting use to; it does not feel great, but it will pay off. When you are in this stretch, it will help to remember that the foot muscles handle tremendous stress and strain. To help soften the plantar muscles even more, stand on a tennis ball.
Seated Calf Stretch
- Sit on the floor.
- Lift your chest, arch the spine and sit up straight.
- Bring the bottom of the right foot to the inside of the left thigh.
- Put a strap or towel around the right foot.
- Let the top of the right foot move toward the shin.
- Keep the arms straight, pull on the strap and arch the chest more.
- Get to a position that you can maintain for at least eight breaths.
- Change sides.
This is one of the stronger stretches for the back of the calf and knee. It may help to sit on a cushion. Find the foot and arch the back to make this stretch effective. Visualize the foot and ankle in this flexed position when running. If this feels easy, bring the left ankle/shin on top of the right thigh.
Swimmers can run. Use these stretches to compensate for the ongoing lower-leg contractions in swimming. Lean forward and get to the finish line first.
Brian Dorfman's proven techniques keep many triathletes performing at their peak. Brian can be reached at www.briandorfman.com.