I started the first article of this mini at home mobility series by saying that many people are using this government enforced lockdown 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. The same is true for the athletic population, perhaps even truer. The typical athlete spends their entire week time-pressured, trying to combine elements of technical, tactical, physical and psychological training. Not to mention their work or school commitments (for the vast majority who are not professional). Lockdown has eliminated, or at least minimised, the number of these commitments, leaving the athlete free to spend more time focusing on their physical capacity. A focus on mobility, requiring little to no equipment, has been at the forefront of this.

Some Considerations

As mentioned in the previous article, the terms flexibility and mobility are often used interchangeably when they in fact mean different things. It is worth reminding ourselves of the differentiation:

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). Flexibility targets muscles whereas mobility targets joints. An improvement in flexibility does not necessarily result in an improvement in mobility, which involves balance, co-ordination, postural control and perception [1]. As it relates to sport performance, it has been shown that the most flexible athlete is not always the most successful [2].

The main goal of mobility training for the athlete is therefore not simply maximising flexibility, but instead optimising mobility for specific sporting tasks. If flexibility is improved, we must ensure the athlete can make use of this greater ROM during active movements required in their sport. Ultimately, the athlete must be able to apply force and hold key technical positions in this new ROM. An athlete must therefore include mobility drills that actively move joints through ROMs encountered in sport in order to maximise their mobility training, alongside flexibility training incorporating static stretches.

Stability: the missing component

In order to apply force and hold key technical positions in a new ROM, an athlete must possess stability in this new range. Ultimately, as an athlete, you need strong and stable joints. Indeed, shortened/inflexible muscles may be providing the body with adaptive stability so if we lengthen these muscles, the adaptive stability has been removed [3]. We therefore need to ensure we provide these joints with some new forms of stability.

One way of training to provide the outer range of motion of a joint with stability is Controlled Articular Rotations (CARS). I was first made aware of this in a mobility guide I purchased last year from Sam Portland (Coach Sportland) and if you have been taking part in my recent Rigs Remote mobility classes, you will have seen me incorporate these into the routines. CARS involve moving isolated joints through your usable active ROM under muscular and neurological control, thereby incorporating a stability challenge. With each circle, you should be trying to create a larger ROM.

The Joint-by-Joint Approach and Injury Risk

The vast topic of injury risk and sport cannot possibly be covered by this article. It will not even attempt to do so; instead, it will provide a small glimpse into how limited mobility can potentially add to the risk of injury.

Part 1 of this article series highlighted the concept of the joint-by-joint approach to mobility, popularised by Gray Cook and Mike Boyle [4]. Each joint has specific needs; some require mobility, while others require 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

As we work our way up the body, the joint requirements alternate between stability and mobility. Knowing that injuries relate closely to joint dysfunction it is important that we focus on mobility work, in those joints that require mobility, to prevent this from happening. Interestingly, however, the joint dysfunction usually shows up at the joint above or below the one that is the root of the problem. For example: if the hip joint becomes immobile, the lumbar spine compensates, therein becoming less stable, and subsequently painful.

Ultimately, athletes need to ensure that their joints are mobile otherwise there is a needless risk of injury due to joint dysfunction. This will likely not show up at the immobile joint, but rather further up or down the chain.

Free from the time-pressured constraints of needing to include technical, tactical, physical and psychological components of training into their weekly schedule, athletes are free to spend time looking at improving their mobility. When considering mobility improvements, athletes must ensure they are conscious of the need to control the ROM through active movements, rather than simply increasing their flexibility. After all, the most flexible athlete is not necessarily the most successful. One way of providing stability and neurological control under new ROM is the use of CARS. Additionally, it must be noted that there is a needless increase in injury risk through poor mobility though, interestingly, this will usually show up at the joint either above or below the joint with dysfunction.

References

[1] Cook, G., Movement: Functional Movement Systems: Screening Assessment and Corrective Strategies, 2010.

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

[3] Falsone, S., ‘Optimising Flexibility’ in D. Joyce & D. Lewindon, High-Performance Training for Sports, 2014.

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