Don’t forget to mobilise: the importance of improving mobility and range of motion

When it comes to training and we are even slightly time restricted, it’s almost always the warm up that suffers. We would much rather skip our mobility work and jump straight into the actual training session as it is often deemed more important.

And really, I can understand it.

Mobility work is arguably the least sexy component of training. But, as I have said A LOT in the past, when it comes to training for performance – simple is always better than sexy.

And mobility is no different.

Having appropriate joint range of motion makes it so much easier to achieve demanding positions (think the bottom of a squat or the top of an overhead press), while also resulting in vast improvements in posture and function.

By improving these two factors (through appropriate mobilisation exercises) we can cause large improvements in our capacity for physical performance (improving our ability to train AND perform), while also reducing our likelihood of developing acute and chronic injuries. This ultimately results in individuals who move better, and are more resilient.

Seriously, taking 5-10 minutes before our training session to perform a few mobility exercises is not hard – and because of the HUGE improvements it can have it is well worth the time commitment required.

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Critical areas of mobility

While there are hundreds of thousands of mobility exercises out there, many of them target similar areas of dysfunction – which ultimately means that the exercise itself is not as important as the area they focus on.

In saying that (and while I do typically hate to generalise), there a few critical areas that I believe do require attention in almost ANY individual.

 

Mobilising Flexion

As humans we need the ability to dorsi-flex the ankle, flex the knee, and flex the hip. Having the mobility to do so can make it much easier to get into the bottom position of a squat, and the starting position of clean and deadlift variations (all of which are integral movements in regards to performance enhancement).

It is also important to note that flexion of the lumbar spine also holds significant importance when discussing mobility. It is commonly accepted that loaded spinal flexion is bad (which it is…). As a result, we have made a large transition in ‘core training’ techniques from sit ups and crunches, towards planks, pallof presses, and other anti-movement trunk exercises.

Which for the most part is a good thing.

BUT, as a result, we tend to avoid spinal flexion like the plague – which has actually caused some issues.

We now find ourselves stuck in spinal extension (or in some cases, hyperextension), which is further exacerbated by the sedentary lives that most of us lead. This can lead to movement dysfunction, injury risk, and low back pain.

Our spine has the capacity to flex, and needs to maintain that flexion range of movement to ensure optimal spinal health.

As such, we should also focus on spinal flexion /extension mobility exercises – not under load obviously – but we should be able to flex the spine.

 

Mobilising rotation

The ability to rotate through the shoulders and hips is essential to further improve our ability to achieve demanding positions in the gym, and can also directly impact our ability to move freely during demanding physical movements performed on the field.

In addition to these two ball and socket joints, having adequate range of movement through the thoracic spine is also incredibly important. While I have written about extensively (HERE), I will touch on it briefly.

Having the capacity to rotate through the thoracic spine can reduce the likelihood of unnecessary loading through the lumbar spine, reducing the likelihood of developing low back pain or a spinal injury.

It is also essential to maximising the performance of throwing based sports (such as baseball, javelin etc.), running performance, among a host of other rotational sports, such as rowing and kayaking.

 

Improving the ability to separate the hips

Now this may not fall 100% under the ‘mobility’ category, but it still holds importance. While hip flexion range of motion is important, we also need to be able to move the hips separately.

In most cases this means having the capacity to flex one hip while extending the other.

This requires adequate trunk stability (allowing the hips to move freely) and hip mobility, combined with a high level of neuromuscular control, and is essential to maintaining a health lower back, and maximising sprint and single leg performance.

This should be addressed with things like dead bugs, split squats, and active leg raises / leg lowers.

 

Mobility work is essential

Ensuring adequate mobility does require a little bit of work – not time, just work – and by addressing the above qualities through a couple of key exercises, wecan go a very long way to ensuring adequate mobility is developed and maintained at the key joints.

This can vastly increase our resilience to injuries, while also improving our ability to perform in the gym and on the field.

It is important to note that we do need to place a primary on mobility work, and as such train it as it should be trained – not merely as an afterthought at the end of our warm up, but as the important physical quality that it is.

 

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