Mobility and flexibility often get lumped into the same thing. Many of you believe that mobility is just stretching. Here, I am going to provide a definition of each and then dive in a bit more to what we call mobilizing, which many of you probably will just call stretching, anyway.
Mobility is the ability to have non-restricted range of motion (ROM) maintaining control and proper alignment.
Flexibility is passive range of motion from a muscle, not taking into account how it is interacting with other muscles and joint stability requirements.
Improving one’s mobility, is a great way to improve performance and feel great. It can get rid of constantly tight or stiff areas and can allow you to move more freely without pain or restriction. It can improve the positions you can get into, allow you to access more strength, power and train in a safer manner. Flexibility, on the other hand, probably won’t have the same effects. That’s because improving mobility looks at the whole system, not just the tight or short muscles.
Mobility can be address by looking at the following.
We can work on soft tissue restrictions and improving the sliding surfacing of the muscles and maybe even the fascia. We do this by using techniques like rolling on softballs, lacrosse balls and other implements. Most peoples introduction to this self-massage technique is a foam roller. We also try to relive trigger points or points of stiffness or tight feeling muscles through soft tissue work, just as a massage therapist would.
How is the joint functioning? Looking at the joint, we ask, can it be put in a better position during a mobility drill to improve the effectiveness of the mobilization? Doing so, can also improve the mechanics of the joint, i.e. how it rolls, slides or rotates, by mobilizing the joint capsule, which is a connective tissue surrounding the joint. You can learn more on the effectiveness of these techniques here:
The effects of caudal mobilisation with movement (MWM) and caudal self-mobilisation with movement (SMWM) in relation to restricted internal rotation in the hip: A randomised control pilot study
Your nervous system can limit a range of motion because you don’t have the requisite stability to stay strong in that range. This can give a muscle or muscle group the feeling of being “tight.” I talk to these people all the time, people who have chronic “tight” hamstrings, they constantly stretch and see no improvements. This is because they aren’t addressing motor control and the nervous system.
We can work to change this protective mode by using contract/relax techniques (PNF stretching) and being aware of the position other body parts are in and what other muscles groups are doing, i.e. contracting to tell the brain you’re in control and it’s safe.
Breathing can also improve mobility. Proper, diaphragmatic breathing while mobilizing is a must.
We cannot have a discussion about improving mobility without discussing how it is necessary to strength train. Strength training does a few things to aid in and provide improved mobility. First, it is a good way to load, challenge and test your positional ability. Can you get into and stay in that shape when challenged with volume or load or speed? Challenging positions is the foundation of strength training. Resistance training will also improve motor control and stability of the joints, potentially giving you more access.
By getting stronger and moving more freely, you will fell better, have less pain and be able to do more.
On March 19th, we will be hosting a free Mobility Class at GAIN. You can reserve your spot by clicking here.