In this article we explain the benefits of mobility training as well as sharing our favourite tools and techniques to help you achieve better mobility.
What is Mobility?
Mobility comprises of two components, the first is your ability to achieve the shapes that are native to the body, this means being able to reach the capacity and ranges we have as human beings. The second component is the skill to express those positions under pain free control. For example, someone who is hypermobile will be able to achieve shapes and ranges well but lack the stiffness to control those positions. Most of us are too stiff to achieve the shapes because of soft tissue restriction.
The action a lot of people take to correct this is to statically stretch, this passively pulls on your tissues and the feeling of tension makes you feel like you are achieving something. Whilst static stretching can be utilised it is just one aspect and usually lacks neurological involvement that is key in gaining access to your body’s capabilities.
It may not be just your musculature that is limiting your body. It could be how the connective tissues are sliding over each other, the quality of tissues surrounding the joint and how your brain is interacting with your musculature. Using a variety of mobilisation techniques allows for a whole systems approach that has been proven to have quicker and longer lasting benefits.
How mobility training can benefit you?
In the gym
Some simple mobility exercises before your workout will increase blood transportation and the production of synovial fluid which coats your tendons and joint surfaces to allow them to articulate freely. Imagine putting some oil on a creaking hinge and you get the idea. It also reduces the risk of injury. Taking your body through different ranges before loading it with weight allows you to assess your body’s current state of mobility which is constantly changing as a result of your previous activities.
By giving your body a quick check over you can identify any areas that may be cause for concern and adjust accordingly before putting high amounts of load on it. Last but not least it has a huge effect on your form and technique, if you are restricted then you will be unable to get into the positions to efficiently apply force to your lifts. In other words, you will be making every lift harder for yourself because you are fighting to hold position against your own body.
Throughout your life
Mobility can put years on your life. No matter how old you are losing ranges of motion will restrict what you can achieve. Flexibility often deteriorates quicker than strength as we get older. Almost 90% of residents living in long-term care facilities have limited mobility associated with a loss of ability in activities of daily living, falls, increased risk of serious medical problems and a significant decline in health-related quality of life.
If you fall over it is very rare that you lack the strength to get back up, however it is much more likely that they cannot get in a good position to use their strength. Have you ever tried to get off the floor with your arms behind your back? The same applies for any of your movements, if you can get into optimal positions you will be taxing the body less.
“Your posture is a reflection of what you do most frequently”. For many of us driving, looking down at phones, sitting and working on computers puts lots of force on the anterior chain (the front) of our body which becomes strong but stiff and neglects our posterior chain (the back) which becomes loose but weak.
Using simple mobility practices consistently we can help to regain a balance from front to back, left to right and top to bottom, allowing us to be stable in any position.
Mobility training tools
Stretchy bands are a very versatile tool that can help with a lot of your mobility drills, the elasticity allows you to modulate the intensity of the positions. By actively working against the bands and then relaxing and letting them pull you into different shapes, you can employ a technique known as PNF stretching. PNF stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, a long way of saying using your brain to contract and relax muscles during a stretch.
According to research from the University of Queensland, PNF stretching may be the most effective stretching technique for increasing range of motion. The Bands also can be used for ‘distraction’, by this we mean it pulls against areas of the body during a stretch to encourage more space in the joints.
Banded Distraction Stretches
Rollers and balls
Laying on a ball is a pinpoint approach to working through deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue like fascia. Fascia is like a tough sheath that surrounds your muscles and holds them in place, however it can become too tight and restrict movement. Imagine putting on a really tight pair of jeans, if you work the fabric a little you can move a lot better.
Foam rollers are now common place amongst gyms, physio’s and athletes, because whilst there is still research to be done on how it works, there are plenty of studies that reported benefits of feeling less fatigued, a reduction in delayed onset muscle soreness, more range of motion, one study even found it took less effort for the muscle to produce a given amount of force.
Some scientists have theorised it provides myofascial release helping to separate fibres and re-establish integrity of tissue, others believe when we foam roll, imbedded nerve receptors are being stimulated in that region, the receptors talk to the brain which responds by instructing the muscle cells to loosen. It could be both or none all we know is it works.
One rule to remember when rolling is to go slow, rushing up and down will make your body tense and brace against the pain, going slowly allows your body time to relax, sinking into the roller to get more benefit. There are a lot more areas to roll than just the lower back, take a look at some rolling hotspots bellow, investigate new areas yourself and get in contact with the CoActive team for more information.
Foam Roller Mobility Exercises
Voodoo floss or muscle flossing involves constricting a joint or painful site by wrapping with a rubber band, this results in a massive reduction in pain and increases in ranges of motion. It has been found that high levels of intermittent compression are effective at managing, treating and improving tissue quality of overused or sensitised tissues.
Localised congestion, swelling or tissue trauma caused by any exercise or activity can be difficult to remove if we are sedentary for long periods of time. This stiffness and tissue pain which stems from your body’s inability to remove inflammation effectively can be aided by compressing the area for small periods of time and then taking it through ranges of motion.
It is theorised that the pressure helps shift and break up congestion then releasing the compression creates a big rush of blood to the effected area that clears waste products and brings in nutrients that support the tissue health. Voodoo floss or compression bands are cheap and readily available and can be used on any joint. For tips on how to apply it get in touch with the Coactive Team and look out for the instructional video on Instagram.
Muscle Flossing Technique
Frequency is key
Mobilisation drills don’t need to last forever, whilst it would be great to strap, roll and stretch the whole body every day we are unlikely to commit that much time to it. By selecting a few movements that address your restrictions you can create a 10-minute routine that you can repeat daily and before or after training.
However, because they are easy to do, they are also easy not to do, so write out or note down every time you spend some time mobilising and try to keep a streak. Consistent practise will allow you to release your stiffness, stabilise your weakness, bring self-awareness and unlock capabilities you never knew you had.