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Article Quick Glimpse
- Flexibility vs Mobility – yes there is a difference!
- Static stretching vs dynamic ‘mobility’ stretching
- Benefits of Mobility training:
- Improve physical performance
- Minimise injury risk and compensatory movement patterns
- Improving lift techniques and range of motion
- Stable or Mobile what is the goal?
,,, Flexibility vs Mobility – They’re not the same thing!
Some may think that the terms ‘mobility’ and ‘flexibility’ are interchangeable. However, this is not the case.
First let’s start with flexibility.
This refers to the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to lengthen passively through range of motion about a joint. Joint movement tings!
Moving through the available range of motion should be pain free coming into resistance at the end of range as the muscle/s fully lengthen or joint ligaments prevent further movement.
That means you will start to feel a stretch or the limits of your joint mobility and it may be uncomfortable but good for you.
The end of range resistance will feel different based on the movement around the joint.
- Straightening the knee (knee extension) will have a firm ‘end feel’
- You will feel resistance behind or around your knee due to the ligaments in the knee that prevent hyperextension.
This also occurs the opposite way around:
- bending the knee (knee flexion) will have a softer feeling pushing into the end of range
- This is due to the compressing of the lower portion of the hamstring and upper calf into one another.
Assistance can be provided with someone pressing down and providing pressure at the end range to gauge the ‘end feel‘ at the end range of a joint. That is called applying overpressure. An example of this would be someone helping you stretch your hamstrings to maximum hip flexion with a straight leg.
This extra range does not always have to be from the assistance of someone else. Another example of flexibility is your ability to lift your leg higher by pulling it up with your arms.
It’s important to note that overpressure is not required with stretching but is used by therapists to assess possible causes of pain around joints or ligament integrity.
- Load muscle through range
- This means the muscles are actively contracting resulting in movement of our body parts.
- Passive Stretching
- This refers to the stretching of muscles when they are relaxed.
FACT: It is more effective to load a muscle through range rather than it stretch passively to increase its length.
Using weights or forms of resistance to execute load on a muscle through range is how this can be done.
For example; performing straight leg deadlifts (loading the hamstring muscles through range) will improve hamstring length greater over time compared to reaching for your toes (passively stretching hamstrings)
Remember this: “Strengthen to lengthen!”
Now, mobility refers to our ability to actively move our joints through range. This involves muscular control and strength to achieve.
Mobility is more relatable to improving physical performance in the gym and our functional capacity to perform daily tasks
When we mobilise through our available range of motion in our joints we NEED to contract the required muscles appropriately and in a timely fashion. This can be hard to do in for certain movements when we:
- Have stiffness in our joints
- Have tight tendons, ligaments or muscles in certain areas that can have an adverse affect
- An affect could be tightness in one area prevents you from being able to contract required muscles for movement or exercise
- Another affect could be tightness directly pulling on an area needed for a certain movement or exercise.
Contracting the required muscles through range of motion assists a smooth, correct movement which can lead to high performance and results.
You may be thinking….. yeah but how and what?
An example would be the beloved squat exercise.
A common mistake I see regularly is no contraction or firing of the abductor glute muscles through the movement which ensures a correct knee path over the toes.
Hip Abductors Can Be Seen Here.
Hip abductors and external rotators are used for keeping your knees out and they are used when doing this movement:
Therefore, if we can control this movement when squatting with motor pathways firing in sync, we get…..a drum roll please….. perfect exercise execution!!!
This is why mobility is so important for you to know and for you to take action on.
LUCKILY!!! For you I am currently making a mobility and stability training program to walk you through assessing yourself and giving yourself the perfect mobility plan. If you want first release and a little discount to that you will have to subscribe :).
Firing motor pathways in sync with one another is what allows our bodies to move effectively and minimises injury risk! Which is what we should all be striving for. To be our most optimal selves we want to be well balanced and highly functional bodies.
For example, if we can make ourselves aware of the external and internal rotation movements around our hip and improve our control of these actions we will be more likely to perform better with single leg movements in the gym!
The hip aeroplane is a great single leg hip mobility/stability exercise to challenge your motor control and balance. Give it a shot and let us know what you think!
Hip Aeroplane Exercise
https://video.wixstatic.com/video/6877a1_3cd9e71092cc4cab91f8985e63b8bd3a/1080p/mp4/file.mp4,,,Static Stretching vs Dynamic ‘Mobility’ Work
1. Static Stretching is when you stay in the same end stretch position for a period of time. For example, reaching down to your toes with straight legs and stretching your hamstrings
2. Dynamic ‘Mobility’ Work refers to moving in and out of different positions through joint range of motion. For example, stepping into a deep lunge and coming back up or alternating toes taps
Static stretching alone prior to exercise does NOT have a significant increase on all-cause injury rates! There is also an increasing body of research that suggests static stretching of gross musculature prior to exercise is detrimental to athletic performance. NOT TO WORRY; we can perform dynamic mobility exercises as part of our warm up routine instead!
Dynamic mobility exercises result in an increase in range of motion whilst helping to prepare our muscles and joints for the larger movements we complete in our training sessions.
The research suggests that the changes in joint range of motion from both static or dynamic stretching typically last <30 minutes.
These changes could be influenced by short-term changes in muscle and tendon ‘stiffness’ or acute neural adaptations to stretch tolerance. More on this further down!
Hence, reaching down to try and touch your toes may feel like you’re really stretching out your hamstrings but it’s not an effective use of your time prior to exercise.
Although, the jury is still out as to why this occurs, some theorise that this may be due to a decrease in neural activation (your brains ability to transmit nerve signals to and from your muscles) or various neural and mechanical factors.
This is not to say that static stretching should be completely avoided from a training program, but I would recommend completing in part of the cool down or at a separate time from the workout.
It’s better to be consistent – Make your stretching and mobility exercises a part of your day or training routine.
First thing in the morning? before dinner? while watching the brekky show in the morning? There is no time of the day that is best suited, just that you are keeping to it. It’s a lot easier to maintain mobility and muscle length to improve it!
Mobility Work & Decreasing Injury Risk
Incorporating mobility work into our training regime helps decrease the risk of injury and supports joint health. In many of our freely movable joints we have a natural lubricant known as synovial fluid. The more fluid and freely movable our joint are the more LIMITLESS we become!!! #goals.
This fluid helps the articular surfaces in the joint move with minimal friction similarly to the way oil works in your car engine.
Articular surfaces are the contact points within a joint that move against or ‘articulate’ with one another
This fluid also provides nutrients and removes waste products from the cartilage and plays a significant role in its durability.
When we undertake dynamic mobility exercises prior to training (or at any other part of our day for that matter) we move some of this fluid from the cartilage into the joint space. This helps to:
- Prepare our joints for larger movements
- Minimises injury risk
An example of this would be to complete hip circle exercises prior to squatting. Think about it; a good way to ruin your car engine would be to turn it on cold and drive as fast and you can immediately, pedal to the metal. Won’t be long till something breaks or stops working and you have to see your ol’ pal the mechanic.
To prevent this you let the car warm up first, fill it up with good petrol and regularly check the oil. This ensure a longer life span of the car.
KEY: Mobility exercises before training like hip circles prior to squats are the same as warming up a super car before putting the pedal down and going flat out.
It’s not just synovial fluid that is moved inside our joint capsule when we incorporate mobility drills into our warm-up routine. When we move we also direct blood to the surrounding muscles and tissues.
This is vital in assisting oxygen and nutrient supply to the required muscles and in the clearing of toxic by-products as a result of exercise. Clearing toxic by-products will create a better physiological environment in the muscles. This is CRITICAL for muscle gain, strong, explosive and endurance exercises.
FACT: Athletes can spend up to hours performing mobility routines before minutes and seconds of high intensity exercise to ensure a less risk of injury, most effective recovery and the highest performance possible.
Mobile is not ALWAYS better
Although as a general rule a freely moveable joint is a happier joint, there are exceptions to this. Someone who plays basketball for example may require stiff ankle joints to minimise ankle sprains when changing direction and efficient energy transfer with jumping.
I go into this deeper in our mobility and stability program and PREACH this often but the goal is in generally:
- Stable/mobile ankles
- Stable knees
- Mobile hips
- Stable lower back
- Mobile mid back
- Stable upper spine
- Mobile neck
How can we do this ourselves? You can subscribe to the website to not miss out on our program or you can watch our ,,YouTube video or simply email us.
Warming Up Improves Physical Performance
This follows on from the physiological effects of performing mobility work (and a proper warm up in general). By supplying our relevant muscles and joints with an increase in oxygenated blood and nutrients we are creating an optimum environment for energy transfer. Energy transfer means big explosive, strong or endurance exercises.
Although this is not exclusive to mobility work, it emphasises the importance of a good warm up to improve performance.
A good warm up will:
- Increase our body temperature
- Decrease our baseline muscle resistance
- Prepare muscles for greater and more ballistic loads.
Improve Lifting Techniques With Mobile Joints
When we lift weights, to perform at our best we require adequate range of motion at the relevant joints.
If one of the joints we are using lacks range of motion or has relative stiffness in relation to the other joints it can have negative effects including:
- Decreased weight on the bar
- Compensatory movement patterns
- Increased risk of injury
For example: if we lack dorsiflexion at our ankle joint (our ability for our knees to track forwards over our toes) our squat technique may suffer and result in greater hip flexion (knees towards chest) to keep the bar within our centre of gravity.
This places greater stress on the lower back at the same weight and as we lift heavier can lead to injury! Sound familiar to some of you?… it does to me haha.
Through mobility work, we can address the localised stiffness around joints and mitigate this risk. This in turn allows our muscles to perform optimally through full range and helps put weight on the bar safely.
More weight on the bar is one way for us to progressive overload in our training which ultimately means more gains or results!
Stable or Mobile?
Although an increase in movement about a joint generally means a healthy joint we sometimes require less movement.
‘Stability’ can often be used to decrease injury risk and improve our performance.
This is especially true when performing certain lifts in the gym.
The back squat for example, requires a stable spine with adequate bracing from your abdominal muscles on the front, latissimus dorsi (in red below) on the back and your deeper muscles like your Quadratus Lumborum (in green below) to help protect the spine throughout the exercise.
Latissimus Dorsi. Quadratus Lumborum
It also requires increased intra-abdominal pressure from breathing in. This outward pressure helps brace from the inside and provides stability to your back!
This requires us to be able to differentiate between hip flexion and lumbar (lower back) flexion to optimise our performance in this movement. If we are unable to do this we may experience pain or discomfort during a squat movement as our spines will take more load. This can even show up as pain in other areas like shoulders, hips, neck and knees.
Whilst stretching out our back muscles may ‘feel’ good it does not address our ability to brace appropriately. It’s important to note that there is no one size fits all approach to addressing joint mobility and ensuring we can remain stable in the required areas. This means it is important to know your own body….. how to do this?
You may seek a screening process from a physiotherapist or coach can highlight areas for improvement.
JUST QUIETLY, I can help out with this if you would like. Please subscribe, email me or follow/DM my ,,instagram page here
EVERYONE has something they can improve upon in regard to their mobility and stability!
The take home message from this is that different exercises require sufficient MOBILITY AND STABILITY to perform well whilst minimising injury risk and maintaining good joint health.
If you are unsure of where you may be able to improve in these areas a movement screening is a great place to start.
We will have a self screening process available soon if you are interested for us to help you. Subscribe and you will be updated (we don’t send spam – just article and program updates).
Whole Body Dynamic Mobility Sequence
You won’t always have the time to spend 10-15 minutes on mobility drills at the start of the gym session or out on the track. Here are two whole body dynamic flows to get some bang for your buck and ensure you’re not completely missing out on the benefits of mobility training
These 2 dynamic flows are perfect for Whole Body Dynamics give them a try before your next workout or even better every day for a week ;).
1. Downward Dog to Cobra
2. Lunge to Kick Back
If you have any questions regarding mobility training and its role in training and general longevity of our bodies please don’t hesitate to contact us!
We are putting this good information out for you so we would love to hear form you.
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