Whether you’re a runner, lifter, cyclist, crossfit enthusiast or gym boet – there’s a common thread we need from our training: we want to optimise our movement; whether it’s lifting heavier, running faster, or breaking our personal bests. Here’s why mobility training is the answer.
As a sports and orthopaedic physio, much of the problems that present at the clinic relate to not having enough mobility, which is a big factor in any injury. This is what I educate patients on and provide them with the tools to manage their own mobility, and create awareness of their restrictions and movement patterns.
But besides helping you to avoid injuries, mobility can also influence your strength gains. Think back to high school physics for a second and think about mechanical advantage: if you have too short a lever or too long a lever, you effectively decrease your mechanical advantage. Similarly, having a tight joint, or short muscle can decrease the amount of force that the muscle or joint can absorb or exert.
Poor mobility robs you of your ability to generate and absorb force through your joints and muscles – which is a ticking time bomb for injury and strength losses if neglected.
I started doing Crossfit two years ago, much of the Olympic lifting and gymnastics challenged me to move in new ways. Initially, my poor technique and movement restrictions were not a problem, but as movements became more intricate and more weights were added, my underlying mobility deficiencies were highlighted.
Choosing to ignore the problem resulted in shoulder pain during all my overhead movements, including pull-ups, kettlebell swings, snatching, and overhead pressing. According to my physio brain, I had a shoulder impingement. So I waited for the pain to go away, did some rehab and went back to training.
This didn’t work and I knew there was a problem. The chicken or the egg situation of mobility and injury was pondered: was I moving badly because of poor mobility or was my mobility poor because I didn’t have the competency with overhead movements?
Either way, both needed to be addressed. To this day, when my training load spikes and I’m doing a lot of overhead movements, I feel a niggle return to the shoulder. Refocusing on my mobility drills quickly extinguishes the fire and I continue to progress through training.
How To Address Mobility
There is an abundance of information out there, just do a quick Google search and you’ll find a host of videos for multiple body parts. Better yet, get your hands on Dr. Kelly Starret’s New York Times best-seller Becoming A Supple Leopard, which is has become the go-to for mobility seekers.
My advice to clients when we finally fix their mobility is that you need to solve the problem on two fronts – understand your restrictions, and make concerted efforts to increase mobility and use new ranges to move better.
I advise you use a foam roller for 3-5 minutes daily, or do some bodyweight mobility movements. Remember that it took a long time for your restrictions to arise, so one day of mobility drills won’t have an immediate effect, but a concerted effort over time will result in the resolution of injuries and help you break through those plateaus holding you back.
Effective mobility improvement requires awareness. If you move through the drills without consciously thinking about the way you’re moving, you may be wasting your time. Make sure you understand the mechanisms behind why you want to improve your mobility and open yourself to learning about your body and movement along the way.
Check out Nick’s mobility exercises below:
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*Nick Pereira is a health and exercise enthusiast. A MSc. Sports and Exercise Physiotherapist from the University of Cape Town, who is an advocate of healthy living, regular exercise, and educating the public regarding all things health and fitness. Follow him on social media:
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