Today I'm going to write about one of the most fundamental pillars of any good training routine: mobility! Like it or not, mobility has become one of the big 'hot topics' in the 'fitosphere' with a variety different opinions on when, how, and why it should be completed/worked on. However, the biggest misconception out there and the one I want to address first is this:
Mobility = Flexibility
Not to discriminate, but there have been too many times to count that 'macho' guys have told me that they aren't interested in stretching or going to yoga to work on their mobility. The good news for these guys (and everyone else) is as follows
MOBILITY IS NOT THE SAME AS FLEXIBILITY, NOR IS IT IMPROVED STRICTLY THROUGH STATIC STRETCHING
Phew! Now that we got that part out of the way, we can move on to more informative and practical information.
So, if mobility and flexibility are not the same, what exactly is the difference? Tony Gentilcore (one of the masterminds I follow on the interwebs) said it best in a recent post on his blog:
"Mobility: How a JOINT moves."
"Flexibility: The length of a MUSCLE."
I also like a recent quote from Men's Health to help explain why being flexible doesn't imply being optimally mobile (yes, I know...unbelievable. And as far as I know, hell has not frozen over):
"A person with great MOBILITY is able to perform functional movements with no restriction in the range of motion of that movement. A flexible person may or may not have the core strength, balance or coordination to perform the same functional movements as a person with great mobility."
If you check in regularly, you have heard (read) me rant about range of motion, compensatory movements, and risk of injury many (many) times in the past. This is exactly where having optimal mobility (and thus including mobility work in your training routine) becomes essential. Our bodies are awesome and they like to do exactly what our brains tell them to. This sounds great but the issue is as follows - our bodies focus on reaching the 'finished' product through the path of least resistance, which may in fact result in suboptimal positioning and injury. One really common example is the air squat. A full, ass-to-grass air squat requires a certain degree of mobility in the ankles, knees, hips and spine; lacking range in one of these joints often leads to compensations up or down the chain. One common 'flaw' seen in the air squat is the 'butt wink': the low back rounds out (and reverses curvature) and the bum tucks under the torso in the bottom position of the squat. Yes, you get your ass to the grass, but you do so at risk of straining a back muscle or injuring a disc. Believe it or not, this 'movement flaw' is often a consequence of inadequate mobility in the ankles or hips. Mind. Blown.... I know.
So Now What?
Scanning the web quickly as I put my thoughts together for this piece, I came across a couple great tips from other bloggers and trainers! The first came from Calvin Sun at CrossFit Invictus:
Mobility Should be a PROACTIVE approach, NOT a REACTIVE one
I absolutely love this. One of the reasons I chose to become a trainer and to go to Chiropractic school was to help people AVOID INJURY! Not only are injuries painful, they are time suckers, and often rob our bodies of their full capacity through tissue damage and scar tissue formation. Wouldn't it be great to avoid 6-8 weeks of rehabilitation work (and physio/chiro costs) altogether? You can do so for the low price of FREE in 5 minutes per day!
Video yourself doing an ass-to-grass air squat, bending over to touch your toes, completing a wall slide and attempting a bodyweight one-legged deadlift. If your form is less than perfect, you probably need to add (more) mobility work into your routine. The easy how-to: Include 5 minutes of mobility work in your warm-up and/or cool down each day. Don't wait until you have back pain, sore ankles or a torn hamstring to start working on your mobility. *NOTE* This applies to both multi-directional (such as basketball players) and uni-directional (such as runners) athletes!
The next tip came once again from Tony Gentilcore:
MOTION is needed to fix a MOBILITY Issue
Yes, tight muscles can restrict movement...but the jury is still out on whether static stretching has a positive, negative, or absolutely no effect on muscle length. What we do know is that REGARDLESS of muscle length, lack of range of motion in JOINT will DEFINITELY restrict your movement and potentially lead to injury. The solution: GET MOVING. The perfect place to do it: your DYNAMIC WARM-UP.
As an example, on squat day, you might include knee to wall drills and ankle walks in your warm-up if you're lacking dorsiflexion range, or finding that your ankles lock up at the bottom of your squat.
If it's not broke, don't fix it
Mobility is NOT a general trait. One single person could for example, have poor shoulder mobility, awesome thoracic mobility, good hip mobility and pathetic ankle mobility. When we're lacking sufficient/optimal mobility in a joint, we refer to that condition as 'HYPOmobility'. This is bad and increases your risk of injury. However, Hypomobility's evil step-sister HYPER-mobility is also bad (unless you're in the circus), and can also increase your risk of injury. As humans, we really like to do what we're good at, so it's in our nature to keep practicing touching our toes to our nose if that's what we're good at. However, it is from these areas of 'excess' mobility that we are likely to 'steal range' when we're lacking it somewhere else. Too much range/lack of stabilization in a joint, for example the ability to hyperextend the knees or elbows, changes the way force distributes up and down our 'chains' and may also allow increased contact between bony joint surfaces -- both of these are potential mechanisms of injury, particularly in chronic or repetitive stress situations. So, if you can already touch your toes to your nose and hit a perfect straddle split it's time to shift your focus to maintenance (vs increasing) mobility in your lower body and to meet mobility's soul mate...
Mobility + Stability = The Ultimate 2-man Wolfpack
When you hear the word 'Stability' the first images that probably come to your mind are standing on Bosu Ball or holding a plank. While these are definitely exercises to promote 'core' stability, they aren't necessarily specific to a given joint. When we talk about joint stability, we're referring to the ability to properly coordinate your muscular recruitment to move a segment through the full range of motion of the joint while maintaining optimal alignment and relationship between joint segments. For example, being able to complete a full shoulder pass without having the head of your humerus (upper arm) slip forward, up or back in a pathological manner, OR having 'hijacking' muscles taking over the movement (e.g. upper traps turning on and shrugging the shoulders up to the ears because you're lacking in other areas). Together, mobility and stability ensure a full range of motion, optimal coordination and muscular recruitment, and a decreased risk of injury.
So how Do I do it?
As I mentioned earlier, your dynamic warm-up and cool down represent ideal places to work mobility into your training routine. If you're a little lost on exactly HOW you should go about increasing your mobility in a certain area, there are various reputable online resources such as MobilityWod and Agatsu to help you along the way. HOWEVER, nothing beats hands on, supervised experience! With that piece of information, I'm excited to announce that I'm teaming up with my girl Paluna Sanatamaria to offer a SPECIAL mobility class this Saturday October 1st from 12:30-2 pm at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts: Mobility and Stability for Running and Athletics: Foot and Ankle Mobility to Optimize Performance and Avoid Injury #startedfromthebottom! Join us for an informative and active class (for $10!) that will help get your race and sport season off to an awesome start! Grab your spot here!