I write this back in my home village of Clonlara in the wild west of Ireland in county Clare. The last few months in Edinburgh have been a juggling act of getting a new personal training business up and running whilst keeping on top of a full time masters course with other adventures like experimenting with slow cookers and trying to a repair a damaged ligament in my back (and the associated equally damaged ego). There are probably more blog posts in those topics alone.
Returning home has been fifty shades of awesomeness. Catching up with my family has been great but so far the highlight has been catching up with this little dude. I’m very certain butter does not melt in this guy’s mouth. He joins the extended Nihill dog family (3 so far) and is fitting in quite nicely (if it were not for the rivers of pee on the kitchen floor).
Last month, I took a trip to London with a few friends to do a Primal Move course. The concept of Primal Move is enhancing movement skill through play orientated, game based movement which flows from one sequence to another mindfully and effortlessly. I am not going to give a full review of the course here but did take a lot away from it. The course was very interesting and made me think quite a lot about how we warmup and prepare to move whether it be in a personal gym setting or group training. One key point I took away is a common misunderstanding between mobility and flexibility. I have listened to Gray Cook talk about this concept for a few years now but have only appreciated its importance recently.
Many people still choose to statically stretch their muscles before an activity. If I were to ask why, most of them would tell me it’s because they “feel tight” and stretching helps them feel a bit looser. Like I mentioned in a past blog earlier in the year, this is not all that bad, if it works for those people and they feel better then great. Am I going to be the d**k who will tell that person to stop stretching because they will get injured choosing that method? Oh hell no. Is there a better way to achieve what they are looking to achieve plus a few bonus benefits. Most certainly.
Firstly, let’s be clear on what the words flexibility and mobility mean.
Flexibility relates to soft tissue extensibility. When we think of flexibility we should think length of muscle.
Mobility encompasses much more and can relate to three different areas including
If you are feeling tight in a certain area, that is simply your body’s way of putting the brakes on at that area as a protection mechanism. Stretching out that area is usually not enough to satisfy the nervous system to release that tightness. Stretching alone is equivalent to you getting your nervous system a pair of socks for Christmas. It will initially show some gratitude but within the hour shit will get nasty.
To provide an example, a close friend and training partner of mine has been complaining recently of poor ankle mobility in one ankle that he feels is restricting his squat. Running a quick knee to wall test reveals that one ankle had roughly 2-3 cm less ROM on the right compared to left. Following some twenty minutes of soft tissue work and muscle energy technique stretches on the right calf, there was no improvement in ROM. More importantly, when performing the MET stretches, the client felt no stretch on the right calf muscle as compared to the left. My suspicion was that this lack of ROM came from an ankle joint restriction rather than a soft tissue restriction at the calf. Performing some distraction on distal tibia by gliding it backwards away from the wall using a cotton stretching strap while moving the knee forward gave us an extra 2 cm within five minutes and following a retest a few hours later, the results were consistent.
I mentioned stability as the third consideration as your internal movement police (nervous system) will not allow you to achieve certain movements if it knows that you do not have the stability to achieve them safely. Training this component by performing stability drills can look like magic when it works. Tony Gentilcore does a really good job demonstrating the effect this has on mobility in a recent blog. Dean Somersets material including his recent resource Ruthless Mobility is also a very useful product to demonstrate this whole concept.
This same principle can be applied to a number of situations where a feeling of tightness in the body cannot be automatically assumed to be a flexibility issue.
We are in a time when people will claim to not having enough time to look after their bodies. People go to the gym or to their team training sessions and will neglect the warm up due to time constraints so will do a few quick static stretches. We know now that these stretches are not enough to gain better mobility. Our joints will not become mobile by stretching the soft tissues that are trying to protect them.
Flow + Mobility = Flobility (genius)
For me the most time efficient way to work on achieving better mobility is to perform a flow sequence that will hit a number of areas and only take less than 5 minutes. Allowing mobility work to flow from one body part target to another whilst controlling breathing is far more time efficient and gets the heart rate going. My video below gives a quick demonstration of a hip mobility sequence we perform with a number of our clients prior to workouts. It must be said however that many people will find this difficult for a number of reasons be it motor control or just glued up hip joints preventing the body from moving where you want it to be so regress the move if needs be.
One key piece of advice for any mobilisation drill is not to force the movement and try and breathe throughout. Holding your breath while forcing a movement means you are borrowing that movement pattern and shows you fail to own it. If you cannot achieve the pattern without holding your breathe, regress it to something a little more comfortable and one that is not going to piss off your nervous system. Mobility drills have a lot in common with a massage in that we are flirting with the nervous system to allow us to have a little more freedom. Kind of like giving your girlfriend/boyfriend a Game of Thrones/Greys Anatomy boxset so you can head out on the tiles with your friends.
In my next blog I will elaborate a bit more on the importance of breathing and how breathing correctly will be the best Christmas present you could ever give to your nervous system.
Have a great Christmas!