This blog post is entitled ‘Improve Your Flexibility’ because that is the most recognizable term. We actually talk to quite a few people who list one of their top 3 fitness goals as ‘improved flexiblity.’ A few of these same people have found out that we have proven techniques to improve their ‘flexibility’ and then failed to come to a free mobility workshop! Maybe the term ‘mobility’ doesn’t seem as enticing or maybe it is misunderstood because it hasn’t been popularized yet. You may say,’Why did you just switch terminology? Are the words mobility and flexibility interchangeable?’ By our definition, no they are not. So, we would like to start out by differentiating mobility from flexibility and it's an important differentiation to make! The simplest way to explain the difference is by asking the question: ‘Can you use it?’ As in, can you use your own neuromuscular system to control a joint through that range of motion? If the answer is yes, then we’re talking about mobility. If you can’t control the range of motion (ROM) then it is rather useless, and we would simply call that ‘unusable’ range, flexibility. Typically, a friend or ‘trainer’ could manually push your joint into a range of motion past what you can actually control. Does that improve anything? Not if you don’t know how to gain control over that ROM. Will you help us continue to popularize the term mobility and increase education for the general public in this movement discipline? Please SHARE at the bottom of this post!
Ready to get started gaining joint mobility? Here’s how.
For many years, it was common practice to stretch before working out. However, we now have over 20 years of research findings that steadily show static stretching (holding it for a 10-30 count) to be one of the worst things you can do. We’ve found that a light, movement oriented warmup along with foam rolling has the desired effects of increasing performance and decreasing injury risk. If you’re ready to take your exercise routine to the next level, you can get started with some foam rolling.
With a foam roller, you work to increase blood flow in the tissues to be worked (as well as any sore spots from previous workouts). Essentially a massage for your muscles, foam rolling helps your muscles prepare for the resistance training ahead. Once you knock out a little foam rolling, the time is right for a round of body-weight exercises or light activity before going full force.
Go All the Way
As you exercise, you can help your mobility by working throughout your entire ROM. At first, you may have a harder time squatting your full range, but sticking with it (as long as it is PAIN FREE ROM) will allow your muscles to work more efficiently, leading to increased lean muscle, a boosted metabolism, more functional strength which equates to better joint mobility. To get to where you can squat or perform other exercises as deep as your body allows, oftentimes, we would have you reduce the amount of weight you’re using (in a weighted exercise). As your body adapts to the greater ROM, you will be able to increase the weight and enjoy greater strength and mobility.
Stretch (INCLUDING BANDED MOBILITY) Afterwards
After you finish your strength training, muscles may feel tight and can potentially stay wound up or tight. If you’re new to this or just getting back into a consistent strength training routine, you may enjoy this feeling. It provides an immediate feeling of results and having worked hard.
However, this is when a stretching routine becomes the most important. Taking 10 minutes to stretch, included some banded mobility work (to increase the efficacy and depth of work in the joint capsule), will be a big step toward your improved mobility. A good post-workout stretch should work on muscle groups that may be chronically tight (as identified by a good Physical Therapist or exercise therapist) as well as areas that you worked during the strength training routine. Holding these for at least 30 seconds will provide the maximal benefit in terms of gaining mobility. Remember to breathe deeply, in through your nose and out through your mouth, filling and emptying your lungs with each breath. This will improve the length tension relationships in your muscles, increasing mobility gains and decreasing chance of injury. If you have a few extra minutes at the end, you can spend some more time SLOWLY rolling through and tight or sore muscle groups.
Take It Slow
When stretching for increased mobility, you may be tempted to push it as far as you can. But don’t give in. Instead, you should relax and take the slow and easy-going path to flexibility. Going too far too fast will actually have the opposite result that you want, as your body will have to repair itself from small injuries that occur from stretching and won’t want to stretch further in the future. Instead, take your time and allow your body to ease into stretches.
Feel an uncomfortable burning sensation that actually hurts? That is not your body’s way of thanking you. Back off and stretch to the point of slight discomfort. It is important to remember that improving mobility is a process that requires consistent work in order to see consistent improvements. It is similar to strength training, in that, when you stop for a month or a year (let’s hope not), you will lose lean muscle, just like you will lose mobility if you stop working on it.
Get Some Coaching on Re-training Your Brain
It’s no secret that the brain is an amazing creation, in and of itself, and that it acts as a regulatory control center for the rest of the body. The brain and spinal cord make up the CNS (central nervous system) with the brain as the primary processing unit of the nervous system and the spinal cord playing more of a ‘transportive’ role, carrying nerve signals to and from the rest of the body. The PNS or peripheral nervous system provides much of the sensory input which is processed in the brain and then responds to communication (or commands) that come back from the brain and spinal cord. Thus, the brain plays a major role in how we move and function in day to day life! If we address physical training as simply a matter of ‘pushing harder’ or ‘pushing the muscles to the limit,’ we are missing the boat and will not see maximal results in mobility or overall health and wellness. Some simple assessments and drills with a qualified and experienced coach can create some awesome changes in mobility. We’re also in a network of coaches who are experts in brain-based training and if we can’t help with a specific issue, we’d be happy to ask questions of colleagues and connect you with someone who can!