Mobility, Stability, Strength
Updated: May 21, 2020
Mobility is becoming a popular topic of late - everyone and their mother’s goat seems to want to become more “mobile”.
I’m not sure that most people understand WHY mobility is important, but my conversations in and around the gym usually result in me asking, “so what are you working on at the moment?”, or something along those lines, with the response more and more frequently coming back, “I just need to improve my mobility, you know?”.
I do know. It is a good idea to train your mobility, though, and there are good reasons having good mobility is so “in” right now.
Mobility and stability are precursors to strength - most people who train want to be strong. To generate force around a joint in a given position, first you actually have to get into that starting position. Second, you need to be able to limit unwanted movement (create stability) in order to direct any force produced. Only then will weights start to move…
It’s important to draw a line between mobility and flexibility. Flexibility is the passive ability of a muscle to lengthen, whereas mobility is our ability to actively move our joint though a range of motion (ROM).
Another important difference to note is that between active and passive ROM. Active ROM is the range in which you can move a joint on your own under full muscular control. Passive ROM is the range in which a joint can move when an external force is applied.
There is always more passive ROM available at a given joint than active. Take Hip Flexion - you’re standing upright, and raise one knee as high as you can whilst keeping your pelvis neutral. With no other input, this is active ROM. If you grab your knee and pull it up towards your chest, you’ve achieved more range of motion, but it is passive. We can consider than the space between these different ROMs is range where you have little-to-no control. If we want to improve our mobility, we can look to narrow the gap between active and passive ROMs, gaining control in as much range at a given joint as possible.
So, how do you go about improving mobility?
Stretching? Forget it.
Foam rolling? Pretty useless on it’s own, but it could be potentially useful…
Here are my favourite mobility improving methods:
1. Lifting Weights! Yeah, that’s right. The best way to improve your mobility is to lift weights with fine form across full ROM and to repeat the exposure frequently. You can consider this “loaded stretching” and it is effective because you are building strength at end ranges (even in new ranges).
2. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF). Basically assisted stretching, PNF positions the target muscle (or muscle group) in its lengthened position under tension. The muscle is then contracted (fairly gently) against an immovable object (usually a partner) for around 5 seconds. The muscle is then relaxed and a stretch is applied for 20-30 seconds. PNF can be used when the cause of limited mobility is a short or tight muscle/muscle group.
3. Foam Rolling. Well, not on its own. Foam rolling can release right muscles (if done correctly), which can open up new ROM for a given joint, but if you don’t move, strengthen and stables in this new range then guess what - things will quickly go back to normal! Try rolling tight muscles, then lift in the new range. A nice example for shoulder mobility:
Foam roll the lats > Butchers Block Stretch > 3-5 second negative Pull-Ups (grip supinated - palms facing you).
4. Band Assisted Stretching. A lot like PNF, above, bands are a great way to add load/resistance to increase the effectiveness of the essentially useless static stretch. Under this category we can put Banded Distraction, too, which I really like and is well worth a Google search!
5. Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs). With mobility, it tends to be “use it or lose it” - CARs are end range rotational movements at a given joint; you basically draw a big circle, e.g. with your arm using the shoulder joint or leg using the hip. Whilst CARs are unlikely to gift you new ROM, they will maintain what you do have as you age (or as you sit on the sofa waiting until you can go outside again). They are super healthy for the joint capsule too. You can do these before a workout to get joints moving, afterwards during a cool-down, or in a separate session altogether.
There they are - five of my faves, hope they help!
As a side note, the longer more static stretches (PNF + Band Assisted) should be performed after or separate from training, rather than before.
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