by Will Hogendoorn

How efficiently would your car run if you never changed the oil, left the brakes to rust and never changed your tires? It would degrade quickly and perform poorly. The same thing happens with the mechanics of the human body when it is forced to perform physical demands without good mobility. Parts start to break down.

Joints aren’t “lubricated” so to speak, and muscles that should be minor contributors in given movements become “over contributors”. The body works too hard and eventually something breaks – an injury occurs  – which is your body telling you, “put some oil in me and get me some new tires.”Battling Injuries

Battling with training-induced injuries is a reality we all have to face at some point. Anyone pushing their body to the end limits for a mission, competition, or even for fun has experienced injuries at some point – it is simply part of the game. The positive force in why we train is that the various types of demanding exercises we practice have great potential to make us faster, stronger and more powerful human beings. If you find that you take on injuries quite often and are becoming frustrated with being bogged down, it is probably time to honestly and critically examine your mobility. Why? Your mobility dictates the efficiency and safety of your squatting, running, rowing, pressing, lifting and virtually every other movement discipline. It governs your potential strength in any major lift and your impacts your ability to recover between sets and between workouts.

Before going on any further it is important to understand what mobility is and how it  can make you a better athlete. Mobility is the ability of a joint and the muscles attached to  it to  move through a given range of motion. Good mobility is the ability of a joint to  move through that joint’s full range of motion without:

  1. Pain or
  2. Muscular or structural restriction in local or distal areas of the body

The 5 powerful benefits of Good Mobility

  1. Safety and Efficiency – Your joints will be able to handle load more safely and efficiently.
  2. Movement Standards – You will be able to accomplish “standards” of movement easier – performing chest to bar pull ups, full depth back squats etc
  3. Increased Performance -Your body will experience greater resilience and perform for longer periods of time because your muscles are allowed to work optimally and not have to compensate for poor mechanics.
  4. Faster Recovery – You will recover faster after workouts because activating and using muscles properly avoids overuse.
  5. Resistance to Injury – You will experience resistance to future injuries due to the prior 4 points working in unison.

Please note: Benefit 3 should be taken quite seriously for anyone looking to lift more weight, run faster, PR on conditioning workouts or improve at virtually anything fitness related.

It is interesting to note that when specific groups of people such as gymnasts or dancers begin resistance strength training, they experience injuries and the aches of training significantly less then that of the non-dancer. This is largely due to the advanced mobility, flexibility and stability work gymnasts and dancers have gone through. Adapting a functional mobility routine similar to these athletes may elicit similar benefit.

Take Action

Whatever mobility concerns you have, it is time to take action if you desire the aspects discussed above – efficiency, increased performance (faster movements, stronger muscles), resilience to injury and more. Upping your mobility game can take on  many forms.

Self myo-fascial release (foam rolling) and other common mobility practices are fantastic and should be done often. But the most obvious empirically supported answer is to stretch more. This is difficult for most of us because unlike strength training or conditioning, stretching is boring. I frequently bore myself to tears stretching in the gym, but the results and benefits keep me going.

Not only is it boring, it’s also thoroughly discomforting. Results, being increased flexibility or range of motion, tend to occur slower than in strength training and conditioning which means that we don’t experience as profound immediate gratification and are not motivated to stretch more – only immediate discomfort. So what can be done to help motivate you to spend some more time mobilizing and less time hurting?
Mobility Stretch

Structure your Mobility Work in a Similar Sense to your Strength Work

Choose two mobility exercises – they can be stretches, foam rolling methods or any mobility practice. Each exercise should work different muscles to give each muscle group a small break. Then perform those exercises in superset fashion, working on one exercise and then moving immediately to the next.

Repeat your superset for minimum 3 sets so that:
A. You can push your body to progressively better ranges of motion in your stretch (just like in your squat sets as you progressively add weight) AND
B. Your body can experience repeated exposure to the stimulus. Repetition is king within learning skills like snatches and muscle ups. The same principle applies to improving mobility. Give your body lots of exposure to given mobility work– whether it be in your warm up, cool down, or an entire workout devoted to mobility – and you will start to witness sustainable improvements.

Positive Reinforcement

What you will find by super-setting mobility exercises is that uncomfortable stretches become a lot easier to accomplish because your brain is looking at the mobility work more like a workout. And as previously mentioned, lots of repetition throughout multiple sets gives your body the ability to make change that you can experience. This will naturally help you to practice more mobility because you know it is working.

Give your Body Adequate Time to Warm Up

Rushing into your strength work or conditioning is very hard on the body for several reasons. Your muscles and joints are figuratively and literally not warmed up and are not ready to efficiently handle stress placed upon them. This means they will perform less optimally (ex: you won’t lift as much) and be at a higher chance for injury. Neurologically your body is also not ready to absorb stress from heavy lifting and conditioning and so the physical pressure you place on yourself is actually a shock to your nervous system – telling your body to panic and seize up.

Prioritize minimum 15-20 minutes before beginning your workout towards movements that begin to elevate your heart rate, that activate important muscle groups such as your hip and shoulder stabilizers that need to be fired before strenuous exercise, and movements that loosen up your muscles from chronic activities like sitting.

The Take Away

We all desire increased performance in our jobs, workouts and daily lives. Invest even 20-30 minutes a day 3 times a week into mobilizing with a plan and purpose and you will start to find that it goes a long way in your ability to execute movements with higher efficiency, recover from workouts, and prevent nagging injuries. In essence you will become more powerful.

(Image courtesy of: Will Hogendoorn)

Will Hogendoorn is a personal training and remote coach with a specialty in flexibility and mobility development.  His enthusiasm for optimal physical performance took off in university as he studied in anticipation to become a physiotherapist with the goal to rehabilitate people. However, upon shadowing a physical therapist for a year, he realized my true passion was educating people to understand mobility and attaining optimal movement patterns before injury and to combat future injury. He has been coaching CrossFit™ for several years and works as a personal trainer. In the past 18 months he worked one on one with Ido Portal for 3 months to gain further perspective on improving flexibility, range of motion, and strength development. His goal is to help as many people as possible move more dynamically and efficiently so they can best experience their lifestyles and physical goals.

References:

Maxwell, S. (n.d.). Mobility Training May Be the Most Important Factor in Musculoskeletal Health Retrieved from: http://maxwellsc.com/articles.cfm?art_id=2990&startrow=1

Human Kinetics. (n.d.).The Importance and Purpose of Flexibility, Retrieved from http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/the-importance-and-purpose-of-flexibility

NSCA. (n.d.).Move Well Before You Lift Heavy, The National Strength and Conditioning Association, Retrieved from http://www.nsca.com/education/articles/move-well-before-you-lift-heavy.aspx

Schoenfeld, Brad J. (2010). Squatting Kinematics and Kinetics and Their Application to Exercise Science, Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(12), pp3497-3506,
Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2010/12000/Squatting_Kinematics_and_Kinetics_and_Their.40.aspx

Gleim & McHugh (1997). Flexibility and Its Effects on Sports Injury and Performance, Sports Medicine24(5), pp 289-299. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-199724050-00001