Mobility and flexibility. Often confused, frequently neglected. How can focusing on these two key aspects of training really change your life?
The following two definitions were taken from the Oxford Dictionary.
Mobility- The ability to move or be moved freely and easily.
Flexibility- The quality of bending easily without breaking.
Now I don’t know about you, but I think they sound pretty important when it comes to talking about them in relation to the human body!?
In less Lay terms, when it comes to the body, flexibility is the range of motion achieved by a joint.
In the context of training, if we can increase our mobility, it will allow us greater control of our limbs throughout the full range of motion, which will enable us to perform exercises with more power and efficiency (1). If we can increase our flexibility, it will greatly reduce the risk of injury due to the surrounding muscles being stronger and longer (2), therefore again allowing us to perform at a higher level.
Both pretty desirable then! (smug face emoji)
Simply put, greater flexibility leads to increased mobility and therefore a far greater output!
Whether it be sprinting, jumping, lifting a PB/PR, running for longer, pulling harder, pushing further or simply being able to perform day to day tasks more comfortably, there is no draw back to increased flexibility and mobility.
Personally I utilise mobility drills prior to every single one of my sessions, as it helps to improve the pliability of the muscles as well as waking up and stimulating the central nervous system. Then I always end the session with 5-15 mins of area specific stretches, designed to help increase my flexibility in due course. I also designate one full session each week for about an hour and a half to working on functional movement, mobility and flexibility.
It takes time to develop this discipline, as I’m sure a high percentage of you reading this have the tendency to go in and hit it as hard as you can for the period of time you have to train. Pre session drills and a post session stretch soon become an afterthought, as you feel they’re not a beneficial use of your limited time.
Here are a few drills that I like to incorporate in to my warm up routine:
- Spiderman stretches to reach up- Due to the volume of squatting, sprinting and sports I’ve done in the past, my hips can get quite tight. This move I find really opens up my hips and due to the twist, gets the muscles in my lower back firing.
- Cossack squats or warrior sways- Again effective in loosening up the muscles surrounding the hip girdle, as well as really activating my hamstrings.
- Light single arm kettlebell swings- For me they’re extremely effective in warming up the posterior chain (lower back, glutes, hamstrings, calves).
- Lunge with torso rotation- The lunge in itself when performed in a controlled manner stimulates the muscle fibres in your quads, hams, glutes and hip flexors. So it’s already a ninja lower body warm up move. Adding in the rotation gets the muscles in your lower back going as well. Be careful not to overdo the rotation or go too fast; it’s all about muscle activation and contraction, not explosion.
As you can see, all have a similar theme in that they are focused on loosening up the lower body as a whole whilst also including a lot of work to activate the lower back. Very rarely are there any isolation exercises incorporated.
- Hindhu push ups- Great for the shoulders, rotator cuffs, pecs, upper back and the muscles that make up your core. Looking for a mobility move that gets the most ‘bang for your buck’? This is it.
- Band dislocations- Sounds crazy, but YouTube it. No it’s not popping my shoulders in and out! It’s all about becoming aware of what the shoulder is doing throughout it’s full range of motion (ROM) in the joint. The majority of people I see have poor shoulder mobility due to everything that we do in life being to the anterior side of our body (reading, writing, typing, texting etc). Effective at re-setting the shoulder where it should be in the joint.
- Plank twist to reach ups- Another exercise that exaggerates the strain on a shoulder. If performed correctly, your whole body opens up, so what begins with as mainly an abdominal, pectoral, anterior deltoid (front shoulder) and hip flexor move, quickly transitions in to an oblique, serratus anterior, lat, rotator cuff and medial deltoid (mid shoulder) move. USE IT!
- Cable external rotations- Used for scapula setting and really getting the brain attuned to how the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) moves throughout its possible ROM.
Again there is a common theme in that they all incorporate a focus on the shoulder. Everything you lift up, grip or push away will at some point effect the shoulder joint. Think about it…. Your hands/arms stem from your shoulder. So this should be a key focus to any upper body warm up.
How did I come about from designing my training like this?
Unfortunately, these mobility drills and the importance of a session specific warm up were not drilled in to me when I was younger. Otherwise I may have been able to spend more time performing and training. I have over time developed an understanding of what is required in a warm up due to countless hours of research, as well as a lot of trial and error off of the back of:
- 3 knee dislocations (age 14-16)
- 1 fractured ankle (age 19)
- 3 shoulder operations (age 19-21)
- 15 months of suffering from elbow tendinitis (age 24-25)
Needless to say, after going through all of this, I am constantly asking myself…. If I’d done something sooner, could these injuries have been avoided? Possibly.
Possibly spending just 1 hour or so out of the 168 we have available to us each week, working on mobility drills could have saved me two years of my training life, that I’ve missed since I began when I was a naive 17 year old. Which will have lead to potentially saving thousands of pounds spent on medical professionals and possibly (if I’d have picked up the habit as a teenager), even given me a chance at a career in sport?? Who knows.
Want to avoid the surgery and physio/chiro tables….. as well as being able to perform better? Begin doing some MOBILITY work won’t you! Your older self will thank you for it (further touched on below)!
So what do I do now?
Due to having joints like biscuits, I now have to take extra care and really focus on what the muscles are doing at all times (excellent when it comes to muscle hypertrophy, not always the case when looking to improve max strength).
So to help prevent any further serious injury, I have designed a mobility programme, containing 4 total sessions including 2 upper and 2 lower body focused. Created with the sole purpose to reduce the chances of these biscuit joints from crumbling again. They may not be the most exhilarating training sessions in the world, but a way to look at every one of these sessions is that;
PREHAB is 100% more preferable than needing REHAB!
Think about it in this sense. Regularly, videos pop up and go viral on social media of 70/80/90 year olds lifting crazy weights, or performing some outrageous gymnastic move…… Do you think they got there without a serious amount of mobility work performed over time? HEELLLLLL NO! We’ve all witnessed elderly relatives struggle to sit and then stand again, do you reckon an 80 year old who can deadlift his body weight would have this problem? Not a chance.
Again, as mentioned earlier, think about the long term affect of your training, not just about what your guns are going to look like on the beach in Marbella, whilst donning your speedos and dodgy straw hat.
Question yourself, is what you’re doing in your training right now, beneficial not just for the short term, but also for longevity and general health. Is pumping heavy iron or pounding the tarmac really the only way to go, every single time?
Think about your joints! Look after them, as once they begin to need work doing on them, they are NEVER the same again!
Think of it as an investment; give one session up of hard graft and replace it with a mobility session. Take it from someone who wishes they had done! Otherwise your training life (like mine previously was), may become a merry go round of 2 steps forward, one step back!
If you like this article or believe you know someone that could benefit from the information provided, then please hit share via the buttons below. Should you have any questions or feedback, or want some advice on PREHAB/REHAB, we would love to hear from you!
Yours in health.
- Aztec Recreation
- Muscle and Strength