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Mobility refers to our ability to move freely into various forms with limited stress on the body. Mobility along with strength and control is one of the fundamentals of movement and exercise. Being mobile means you have a greater spectrum of movement available to you at certain joints. Mobility helps keep joints and muscles healthy and also greatly helps increase your body awareness.
A greater spectrum of movement allows you to perform greater varieties of movement and that can’t be a bad thing. The following are five keys principles to remember if you are looking to get mobile for life.
Consider Joe Soap only practices mobility when he visits a gym. He goes to the gym twice a week and spends ten minutes on a mobility warmup before every session, that means he spends a total of 20 minutes a week exploring different ranges and looking for more freedom in his joints and muscles. There are 168 hours in the week. Doing the math, that means that 1/336th of Joe’s week is spent trying to improve his movement spectrum. Bill however goes through a mobility routine 10 minutes every evening, Bill has badass mobility, Bill is smart, be more like Bill.
Mobility essentially involves teaching your nervous system to tolerate greater ranges of movement. This will not happen if only 20 minutes of an available 10,000 in the week are devoted to it. The rewards from mobility are very worthwhile both mentally and physically. You might be pain or injury free now but regular mobility training will keep your joints and muscles healthy and potentially keep the injury wolf from your door.
Holding your breath while moving into certain positions is like treating a headache by banging your head off a brick wall, you are doing something but it’s probably not helpful.
The autonomic nervous system is split into two parts, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic side is the fight or flight response whose purpose is to prepare the body for imminent danger. Think zebra running from lion, think lion running after zebra. The parasympathetic side however is the rest and digest part and is vital for physical and mental regeneration. Think zebra grazing or mating, think lion eating said zebra.
If we are looking to gain some more freedom in joints and muscles it is vital that we play with the rest and digest side of our nervous system and this can be done by concentrating on our breathing. Just like in mindfulness, a slow exhalation and continuous rhythmic breathing pattern will greatly help switch on your parasympathetic side. Holding your breath while moving into certain positions is like treating a headache by banging your head off a brick wall, you are doing something but it’s probably not helpful.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say static stretching is old news but it’s pretty boring. There is no prescription for everyone to feel a stretch. I might try a stretching pattern and feel it in one place but my client might feel it in a completely different place and that’s OK.
Mobility doesn’t always come from your classic “stretch” either. It might come from playing about on the floor too. Using primal movements like the monkey or bear crawl are great. They allow your nervous system begin to tolerate other ranges without a familiar danger response that may have happened if those same ranges were attempted standing up. Free yourself of prescriptive approaches to stretching certain muscles and just explore what movements give you the best stretch.
This probably affects females more so than males in my experience but not everyone needs to get mobile. Some have huge ranges of motion available to them but cannot control those ranges. You’ve probably seen those people who can contort their body so much they look like they’ve been run over by a bus.
If you are currently hypermobile then mobility probably shouldn’t be a focus of yours. Your emphasis should be in trying to build enough strength and stability to ensure you can control those great ranges available to you.
You can get great benefits from simply using body weight to achieve great strides in mobility. Adding extra weight however can help give you a different emphasis. Using weights builds both flexibility and strength into the positions you are targeting. Research has shown that eccentric training can lead to greater muscle fascicle length and reductions in corticospinal inhibition (basically the handbrake stopping the muscle lengthening into oblivion).
The key here however is to avoid becoming a hero. Eccentrics for stretching do not require a lot of weight, especially if targeting tricky areas like the hips or lower back. Movements like Jefferson Curls for the lower back or weighted shoulder dislocates can be very beneficial to add some strength to the ranges you’re moving into.
Those are my five principles for mobility for life guys. All through Advent (first 25 days of December for the non-religious amongst us) I will be running a mobility for life Advent calendar. Every day up until Christmas, I will provide my mobility move of the day to help you build some more freedom into your body to tackle the festive season. Keep an eye on the YouTube channel and on Instagram for further updates.