There’s more to fitness than just pure strength and physique. Mobility and Flexibility are just as important and are all too often more neglected. Though strength is an adaptation that can take a very long time and some specialty equipment to facilitate, gaining flexibility and mobility can be done at home or with very little to no special equipment.
Mobility and Flexibility sound similar in context and are often used interchangeably when talking about range of motion and how we move. But in fact are very different concepts:
Mobility - is how a joint or area of the body moves through a given range of motion
Flexibility - refers to the length and elasticity of a muscle or group of muscles
If you think of Mobility as being the building or structure, flexibility along with stability (joint strength) make up the foundation of that building. A structure without a solid base or foundation is apt to more wear and tear over time or joint pain and discomfort. Thus requiring more maintenance to alleviate the associated breakdown.
This concept brings us to 3 main archetypes of athletes.
1. All around good movers - These are the athletes that have a great basis and understanding not only how their bodies are moving, but also how to control that movement. They also have a good base of flexibility and joint stability with few limitations when load is placed on the body like squatting or pressing heavy weight. This is ideal. These athletes need to be mindful on maintenance and all around joint care.
2. Hypermobile – Hypermobile athletes have few problems getting into and moving through range of motion exercises. They are sometimes double jointed and able to perform feats of flexibility that make others cringe like the splits. All too often these athletes lack stability in their hypermobile joints. Thus resulting in the inability to stay in proper positions when under heavy loads. The focus for hyper-mobile athletes is gaining strength and muscular awareness while maintaining proper positions to gain joint stability.
3. Superbound – Think rubber band ball. Superbound athletes have many issues when performing anything from simple stretching to complex multi joint exercises like the front squat or deadlift. These athletes can get overwhelmed due to the restrictions and the amount of time they need to get warmed up just to move comfortably through a given exercise. The focus for Superbound athletes should be increasing flexibility through both dynamic and static stretching as well as maintaining joint stability.
After identifying with an archetype, the work begins. Whether it’s to maintain what you have, increase stability, or increase flexibility here are some general practices and guidelines.
Self Message / Foam rolling – Muscle fibers don’t always heal in a perfect pattern. Which can lead to soreness and restrictions in movement. Using a foam roller or lacrosse ball in those areas can help loosen those fibers up and allow them to move as they were intended. Just be aware that not all issues can be resolved by rolling on a ball or piece foam. Limit rolling one specific area for longer than 2-3 minutes.
Mobility Drills – These are exercises that meld Self message and stretching along with dynamic movement pieces to help an athlete identify and treat specific limitations. For knowledge and prescriptions for exercises, take a look at MOBILIYWOD.com.
Stretching – There is nothing fancy or glamorous about sitting in a pigeon pose for 2-3 minutes but no one will argue that overtime it doesn’t provide more flexibility. Static stretching can at times become very monotonous and boring. It is by far on of the most neglected pieces of the “movement” puzzle due to the fact that is takes time. Not just 3-5 minutes every other 5 day, but 3-5 minutes everyday. At first, start just by focusing on areas that cause the most issues. Then as those issues start to resolve, move on to the next issue. Once an athlete has done this for a few weeks they will have built not only a habit, but also a mental checklist of what they will need to focus on that day based off how they are moving. A great source to facilitate this is ROMWOD. They not only do they provide new videos daily, they also have a library much like Mobility WOD that can be narrowed down by time, muscle group, or even a movement.
Stability – Building stability in and around a joint can be done in many different ways. One of the most beneficial ways is 30-60 minutes of resistance training utilizing everything from multi-joint exercises to unilateral and isolation type exercises. Heavy weights aren’t always needed but are at times integral to building dense healthy skeletal muscle.
Once a person has worked these things into their fitness routine or they have found a program that encompasses them, they will become stronger, more agile, and usually experience less pain and restrictions. Mobility, flexibility, and stability are vital pieces of the puzzle that can not only help break plateaus in the gym, but will also drastically improve elements in a persons everyday life.