I’m one of those people that has had pretty much every injury under the sun and I’m so happy I’ve found the answer to my problems. And no, it’s not visit the doctor, take pain killers and rest. In fact it’s the opposite. In this blog I am going to talk about 1 exercise technique that we all require, and that is mobility.
When it comes to correcting range of motion restrictions, addressing tight muscles and treating sore or achy joints there is no one-size fits all approach. To account for all positional and movement-related problems, soft tissue stiffness and joint restriction, you need to combine different techniques and take a systematic approach. What’s more, you need to spend 10-15 minutes a day working on your mobility.
For a long time stretching has been the be-all modality for dealing with soreness and pain, range of motion restrictions and joint troubles. But I want to point out that stretching doesn’t work by itself. It doesn’t improve position or performance, it doesn’t eliminate pain and doesn’t prevent injury – that’s why after your training sessions when you stretch you haven’t become a better athlete or stopped getting injured. When I began researching this topic a few years ago, it made so much sense to me as to why I encountered injuries so often.
Picture a standing quad stretch, where you stand up and hold one foot close to your bum and hope that something happens. This type of stretch can theoretically lengthen the quad but it doesn’t tell you about your motor control or your ability to get into good positions. In other words, taking your quads to end range and keeping them there is not going to help you run faster or change your capacity to deadlift more weight. But still, people are under the assumption that if they have a tissue or joint restriction that prevents them from getting into a good position they think “I need to stretch!”
Lengthening a muscle is not a bad thing if you have the motor control to handle the new end range position. Sometimes being too flexible without the right motor control can enter you into a world on injuries, like me!
Stretching only addresses one aspect of your physiological system – your muscle. It doesn’t address the position of your joints or whats going on at those joints.
If you can’t get into a good position comfortably, you have a tissue restriction of some kind and stretching alone will not give you the results you want.
FACT: When a joint is in a bad position, the surrounding musculature will adapt to that working position.
Let’s take forward rounded shoulders for example. We can treat the overstretched and weak external rotators of the shoulder and restore normal range of motion to the shortened tissues of the chest muscles, but until I resolve the dysfunctional mechanics of the shoulders, weakness and tightness in those tissues will always be an issue.
A much more effective approach is to put the shoulders in a good position and that starts with thoracic mobility. Restoring suppleness to the thoracic spine creates the right conditions for rounded shoulders to assume a good position. The external rotators will likely turn back on, and the pec muscles will return to their normal working state.
When you put a joint into a good position, all the affiliated muscles turn on the way they’re supposed to and pain tends to disappear.
Think of mobility as moving well, it is critical for long term, sustainable fitness. You want to grow old being flexible and supple, not stiff and sore.
Without the necessary range of motion to perform a perfect (or close enough to perfect) squat or overhead press, the exercises you perform may be strengthening exactly what they shouldn’t, and setting you up for injury rather than success.
The 10 Do’s And Don’ts Of Mobility
1.Don’t Neglect Your Mobility
I totally get it, stretching and joint mobilisation isn’t as exciting as improving your squat numbers. The improvements you see in flexibility and mobility take longer than improvements in your physical strength and cardiovascular fitness, and their results are harder to measure. But that doesn’t mean they’re not critical to performance, quality of life, and injury prevention. An injury can set you back you at any moment, and having one sux! Through regular mobility training, you can improve your movement patterns and greatly reduce that possibility.
2. Don’t Expect Quick Changes
In all honesty, improving your mobility is a long process that takes consistency and dedication. Yes, a skilled trainer or therapist may be able to mobilise a joint in just a couple of minutes, but momentary triumph isn’t going to erase years of a dysfunctional movement. What?! You heard right. Lasting gains in mobility never seem to come as quickly as you would like, but that doesn’t mean that your mobility work isn’t working. As I say to my clients, just trust the process. Unless you’re recovering from an injury, your mobility issues can’t have happened overnight, and neither will the solutions.
Look at any toddler squat, and you’ll realise that we all started out with amazing mobility, but through our day-to-day life, that changed. Celebrate the little wins during each training session. Some of my clients look at me like I’m crazy when I give them a mobility drill, but even if it takes months for them to achieve it, I always remain hopeful because I understand that the body wants to move well. Look for the small changes in your positioning as you deadlift, squat, or overhead press. Over the course of weeks or months, you should be able to feel a difference, even if it’s small. Be patient and remember that this is lifelong process.
3. Don’t Train Incomplete Movements
Each joint is designed to move a certain way. Your shoulder joint, for example, is a ball-and-socket joint that can be used for pressing, rotating and pulling in many different directions due to the configuration of muscles and ligaments. When we stop taking advantage of that range of motion and stop halfway between movements—from stopping short on shoulder press to only doing quarter lunges—we start to reduce that range of motion. Be sure to complete the movement at full range of motion and lessen the weight if needed, because remember the saying: Use it or lose it? Well, that applies here.
4. Don’t Make Mobility Sessions Too Long
There are many mobility exercises and stretches to choose from. Instead of trying to incorporate every hip or hamstring stretch at once, find a few that you like that are simple to execute, and do those daily for 10-15 minutes. K.I.S.S. it. Keep it simple stupid! Short and simple is your best bet for great results.
5. Don’t Deny Yourself Different Methods
I know I just said keep it simple but bare with me. Focusing on a few key things at a time doesn’t mean you can’t try something new and mix it up after a few weeks. There are many ways to mobilise joints and stretch muscles. Bodyweight, resistance bands, foam rollers, tennis balls, golf balls, trigger balls, sticks – they all do great things!
When one exercise begins to feel too easy or you feel like your mobility has improved, try something new. It’s wise to find different ways of moving your body so you’re never stuck in the same positions.
6. Do Assess Your Mobility
Assessing your mobility is the first step toward improving your movements. Improving your mobility means starting with a clear understanding of where your movement patterns have become compromised.
You need to be able to specifically define the limitations and understand the effects on your movement patterns. Is it your thoracic spine, your ankle or your scapula that are causing the problem? Once you determine the cause, either through a one-on-one assessment with a trained professional, an informed self-assessment, or by defining your performance goals and focusing on improving mobility for those movement, you can make more specific mobility decisions. Well educated personal trainers, sports chiropractors and sports physio’s are great for this!
7. Do Remain Consistent
The best way to improve your mobility is to work on it every day. It’s a lot more effective to spend 5-10 minutes daily working on your overhead position and shoulder mobility than to spend 30 minutes twice a week on the same thing.
Why? Well, when our movement patterns become compromised through injury, overuse, or lack of regular functional movement/ stretching, our bodies adapt to that change. Remember, our bodies will adapt to a bad position or posture. Our bodies try to find efficiency through this limited range of motion, so working on mobility each day means that we can properly reteach our bodies how to move more efficiently.
8. Do Exercises You Can Perform Well
To get the most out of a mobility program, you have to move in a way that promotes full range of motion in functional movements.
So if you want to improve your overhead press, you need to retrain your body to press more efficiently without load. Here’s an example of a drill: Stand about 12 inches away from a wall with your arms straight overhead and thumbs together. Keeping your chest as vertical as possible, slowly squat down and back up (the slower the better). If you can keep your arms straight and your hands from touching the wall, step a little closer and try again, here is an example: https://youtu.be/TZANDEEwHHI
9. Do Yoga Once A Week
One of the underlining themes in any yoga practice is proper alignment. This means moving in a way that encourages fluid movement, creates stability within the joints, and gives you a really good understanding of where your body is in space at any given time. Being aware of how your body moves and feels is a huge part of improving your mobility. This is great for your low conditioning or rest day.
No, you don’t need to do yoga every day to see its benefits. Plenty of people do, but plenty of people also do one or two classes a week and still see serious improvements in their movement quality. I currently do 1 day a week of Bikram Yoga.
10. Do Reduce Your Stress
The brain is the most complex and powerful organ in the body. It develops many different coping mechanisms for everything from relationships to mental stress to physical stress. Stress is held in the body in many ways—from tension in the shoulders and neck to tightness in the hips and hamstring. Whenever I massage people, I can always feel how much anxiety and stress they carry by the tension in their body. Even though physical activities can help improve these symptoms to a certain degree, it doesn’t compare to simply reducing the amount of stress in your life.
One easy way to reduce stress is to take some time each day to switch off, unplug and be quiet. Turn off the TV an hour before bed, sit quietly in the morning for 5-10 minutes, journal, have a massage, meditate or go for a walk. Doing things that give your brain a chance to relax and be quiet will help your body release built-up tension. I do one of these everyday and I really encourage you to do the same and make it a priority.
I have found that the more your body opens up with mobility, the more your life does too.
Make it a goal to focus on both living better, breathing slower and moving better, and watch yourself start to perform better too!