Why mobility matters and how to improve it...
Let’s start with a definition of mobility. It refers to your ability to move your body and limbs freely and painlessly through your desired movement. For many people it is the most neglected basic ability. Personally, I’m becoming more (painfully) aware of this as my back muscles are angry from repetitive use and are preventing me from a full range of motion. It’s a reminder that hitting the pavement hard, lifting a lot, high-intensity bootcamp training, and sitting, must be balanced with perhaps not so glamorous mobility work.
What could a lack of basic mobility produce? Plenty. Today we will look at just three of them:
Muscle tightness that creates postural imbalances - think of shoulders rolling forward like a hunchback (even more common in our technological advanced society looking at a ‘smart’ devices)
Soft tissue, muscle, fascia and tendon restrictions - examples would be extremely tight IT bands (sides of thighs), tight and immobile rotator cuffs in the shoulders and restricted neck and upper back muscles
Joint capsule restriction in the knees, hips and shoulders - "Each of your joints are surrounded by a fibrous tissue sac called the joint capsule. This capsule surrounds the joint and is filled with a fluid called synovial fluid that lubricates your tissues and the spaces within this capsule. When the joint capsule is immobile, fluid can build up in the joint and the tissue can't move properly, meaning you're predisposed to premature cartilage breakdown in that joint, along with nasty meniscal tears, sharp pains and “catches” in your joints, swelling, inflammation and everything else that simply can't be permanently fixed with an ice pack, an ibuprofen and a trip to your favorite massage therapist."
Other issues that can occur from lack of basic mobility include muscular restrictions and faulty movement patterns, overworking of muscles, and loss of movement efficiency. How do we avoid these issues and increase mobility? Here are three strategies. Dynamic stretching - this is in contrast to static stretching where you stretch a muscle by holding it for a certain length of time, rather it’s more ‘active’ stretching. Dynamic stretching helps prepare you for a training session or improve mobility. Studies have shown that dynamic stretching can improve power, strength, and performance during a subsequent exercise session. Before each training session, I have my clients perform dynamic stretching. “…dynamic stretching, incorporates posture control, stability, balance, and even ballistic and explosive movements such as swings and kicks." A few examples of dynamic stretching include:
Frankenstein walk - arms straight out in front, with back straight, walk while raising straight leg to hand one side at a time
Leg swings - standing on one leg, swing opposite leg front to back and side to side
Walking lunges - step forward using a long stride, keeping the front knee over or just behind your toes. Lower your body into a lunging position by dropping your back knee toward the ground. Then push forward, take a giant step, and repeat for the opposite leg
Deep tissue work - think of this in terms of any type of stimulation that works deep into your muscles and connective tissue. Examples include: Active Release Therapy, Trigger Point Therapy, Rolfing, Muscle Activation Technique, and deep tissue massage. Deep tissue work also includes foam rolling or using a tennis ball or lacrosse ball to dig into tight or sore spots. "When your body has chronic tightness and tension or an area with a history of injury or overuse, there are usually adhesions (bands of painful, rigid tissue) that form in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in that area. These adhesions can block circulation and cause pain, inflammation and limited mobility." This is referred to as Cumulative Injury Cycle. “...a repetitive effort (such as sitting) causes muscles to tighten (such as your hip flexors). A tight muscle tends to weaken and a weak muscle tends to tighten, which creates a vicious pattern. As the muscle become tighter and tighter, the area of tension experiences higher amounts of friction and pressure, which increase potential for injury and inflammation.” Deep tissue work is needed to help break down these adhesions and there by enhancing the blood and lymph flow to the affected area. Personally, I’ve been using Active Release Therapy, deep tissue massage, and foam rolling and lacrosse/massage ball for muscle knots. Admittedly, I need to spend more time on my mobility work to keep muscles in balance. Traction - "Traction is the application of a force to the body in a way that separates and elongates the tissues surrounding that joint.” Joints are under constant tension from all muscles, ligaments and tendons that surround them. Stretching a tight muscle applies even more pressure to the joint which brings the bones even closer together. This closeness can impinge upon the mobility available in that joint. Ideally, our joints glide in a smooth and frictionless way which assists with proper mobility. What if your bones in your joints are really close to each other and snug? This can compromise the mobility available in that joint. So even if the muscles and connective tissue are mobile, the joint still doesn’t move properly and thus joints aren’t gliding in a smooth and frictionless manner. Wonder why active people get joint breakdown and osteoarthritis? Their muscles move but their joints don’t. What to do? Traction. "Traction basically involves using some kind of bracing to apply forces to the joints in your shoulders, hips, knees, etc. to pull apart or “distract” that joint just slightly – and release any compressive forces that are causing limited mobility" This can be done with giant resistant bands like the ones here. To see how this is performed I recommend Becoming a Supple Leopard by Dr. Kelly Starrett and checking out some of his videos. I read an article recently by Dr. Peter Attia that I think fits perfectly with this mobility topic, How you move defines how you live. If we aren’t moving properly our mobility is impacted and if mobility is impacted, we aren't moving properly. This can result in muscle and subsequently postural imbalances, restrictions of our tissues, fascia and tendons, and joint restrictions in hips, knees, and shoulders. These issues can be improved with dynamic stretching, deep tissue work, and traction. Like many things, it starts with awareness. Make sure you are balancing out hard training (or a sedentary lifestyle) with mobility work. If you want to live well, you need to move well. To your journey, Lisa Schaffer GreenNote Fitness P.S. Check out my Facebook page for inspiration. P.P.S. Discover GreenNote Fitness recommendations for recovery, supplements, protein bars & powders, nutrition, equipment, books and more. **Do you have a friend that would benefit from this information? Please forward it to them!**