mobility

The government enforced lockdown has left many gym-goers having to change the emphasis of their fitness routine. Without access to a barbell and plates, meaningful strength work has become much harder to indulge in. Instead, many people are using this time to focus on improving their mobility. After all, mobility is the component of fitness that often gets overlooked or neglected during a typical training week. ‘I’ll do it at the end of my session’ quickly turns into ‘I’ll do it as a mini session tomorrow’ and when tomorrow comes, there is another ready-made excuse on the tip of the tongue. With more time on our hands than ever before, the excuse well has now run dry.

But how should you go about improving your mobility? What exactly do you need to be including in this new-found routine in order to ensure you are optimising your time? Don’t worry, by the end of this article you will know what three components to include in your comprehensive mobility routine.

But first, let’s make sure we are on the same page with some definitions, specifically, distinguishing between mobility and flexibility.

Flexibility: the ability of muscles to lengthen to provide range of motion (ROM) at a joint

Mobility: the available range of motion through active movements

In essence, one is active (mobility) whilst the other is passive (flexibility). It’s all well and good having improved flexibility, but if we lack the requisite control and co-ordination to access these greater muscle lengths, it is of little use in our day-to-day lives.

So what do you need to be including in your overall mobility routine?

Foam rolling (self-myofascial release)

Why?

‘Foam rollers are the poor man’s answer to a good massage therapist, offering soft tissue work for the masses’ [1]

If you own one, the foam roller allows us to perform a technique known as self-myofascial release. This is a technique that allows us to inhibit overactive neuromyofascial tissue which may be responsible for reduced range of motion at a joint [2]. One way in which it is thought to achieve this is through a mechanism known as autogenic inhibition whereby the muscle is inhibited by its own receptors. Regardless of exact mechanism, it is
widely accepted that foam rolling is an effective tool when it comes to improving our body’s ability to move.

How?

There are a variety of tools that can be used to perform self-myofascial release. The most common is a cylindrical foam roller, but handheld rollers, lacrosse balls and golf balls have also been widely used. Some tools are more suited to rolling out different muscles, but whilst in lockdown make use of what you have. In general, foam rolling is best targeted on muscles that restrict your movement, or muscles that you have trained earlier that day.

Some key muscles/areas to roll are:

  • Calf
  • Hamstring
  • Quad
  • Glute
  • Thoracic

Stretching

Why?


Stretching, specifically static stretching (a slow and constant stretch held in the end position), enables us to successfully improve range of motion at a joint through the lengthening of mechanically shortened muscle and connective tissue. In short, this improves our flexibility. Though the exact mechanisms behind this are not fully understood, it is believed that there is both a mechanical and neural component [2].

Hip stretches

HOW?


Requiring no equipment and no external assistance, static stretching is ideal to perform during lockdown. Before following a static stretching routine, it is advised to spend a few minutes increasing body temperature as this increases the elastic properties of collagen within muscles and tendons, thus allowing for a greater stretch magnitude [3]. Focus on your breathing whilst you stretch; utilise a 3s:6s ratio of inhaling via the nose and exhaling via pursed lips [1].

Hold the following stretches for 30-45s per stretch:

Calf

Hamstring

Adductor

Kneeling hip flexor

Glute

Thoracic

Pec

Neck


Mobilisation Exercises

WHY?

Having extra flexibility via following a static stretching routine is great. But if you don’t follow this up with some mobilisation exercises, the new ROM you have access to will not be successfully utilised in
day-to-day active movements. Essentially, whilst your flexibility may have improved, your mobility will not have. Ultimately, you need strong and stable joints. Mobilisation exercises help us to achieve this by involving active
movement through the entire range of motion, therein including additional factors such as balance, co-ordination and postural control that flexibility does not address.

How?

When deciding which mobilisation exercises to include, the joint-by-joint approach put forward by Mike Boyle and Gray Cook is a fantastic starting point for considering the mobility demands of the body [1].
Essentially, some joints need mobility whilst others need stability. This is shown in the table below:

Joint Need
Ankle Mobility
Knee Stability
Hip Mobility
Lumbar Spine Stability
Thoracic Spine Mobility
Glenohumeral joint (shoulder) Stability

So what exercises can we perform to improve our mobility at the joints that require mobility?

Ankle – calf pulses, ankle rocks

Hip – 90/90 hip rotations, spidermans

Thoracic spine – reach and rotate, side lying rotations

With more time on your hands than ever before, use it to get rolling, get stretching, and get mobilising in order to improve the quality of your movement.

References

[1] Boyle M., New Functional Training for Sports 2nd ed., 2016.

[2] Clark M. et al., NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training, 2014.

[3] Jeffreys I., ‘Warm-Up and Flexibility Training’ in G. Haff & N. Triplett, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning 4th ed., 2016.