Mobility is the ability to perform functional movements without having any limitations or restrictions within the range of motion of that specific task. Take the squat for example, done in its simplest of forms, the air squat. This movement should be performed with a perfectly upright torso, with heels on the floor, knees tracking out of the toes and most of all pain free. If we look at a toddler squatting then all of these points will be adhered to, they have not yet had the chance to tighten up and create limitations. Sadly most of us find that as we age and our lifestyles change we start to create these limitations, which then carry over to functional movement patterns. This is when the importance of maintaining mobility becomes apparent to us. So, in essence, mobility is moving as nature intended us to.
Why do we need good mobility?
Quite simply, without it we cannot perform movements efficiently, properly and most importantly safely. For example, when striving for the perfect overhead squat we need good ankle, hip, back, and shoulder mobility; a fault in any one of these could prevent us from hitting depth, having our weight in our heels, or maintaining active shoulders without ‘cheating’ in another area. If you have poor shoulder or upper back mobility you may find that your weight comes forward during an overhead squat. Your body will then try to get you to depth but it will do this by ‘cheating’ which could be by going up onto your toes. Not only does this look awful, it is also incredibly unsafe. Moving like this puts an enormous amount of pressure through the anterior portion of your knee and overloads structures such as your patella tendon. This may seem ok at the time but it will no doubt cause you problems further down the line.
How can you improve on this?
Firstly, find out where your major faults are during simple movements. An easy way to do this is to get a Coach to video a squat, strict press, and a deadlift all using just a pvc. Then get your Coach, or a trained Sports Therapist, to have a look and advise where you are going wrong and why. Some errors may simply be down to technique but a great deal will be down to a lack of mobility in certain areas. If you perform these movements well, then look to increase the difficultly with a front squat, overhead squat and snatch set up position until you are able to find those areas that need improving. Once you have found your main areas of concern, you can start addressing them straight away by implementing a ‘mobility’ programme that you stick to 3-5 times a week. This could consist of some static stretches, use of a lacrosse ball, foam roller, or resistance band to help get you into the positions that you are struggling with. Each tool or technique will have a different impact on the area that you are trying to improve, so I would suggest you don’t just stick to one method before retesting.
Lacrosse ball – These can be used to get into smaller isolated areas that you may have tension in. They are great at releasing tightness that maybe found in the muscles or the fascia that surrounds the muscles once some pressure is applied to them.
Foam Roller – This is another great tool, I tend to use to loosen off larger muscle groups such as the quadriceps or calves. Rolling can help release trigger points in our muscles (specific knots) that could be stopping us from being able to perform certain movements. Releasing these can help restore correct movement patterns.
Resistance Bands – These are incredibly useful for a few things; mainly getting extra pressure through a certain stretch that you could only manage with the use of another person or maintaining extreme sport specific positions for a good length of time.
In conclusion, whether you have hopes of becoming an Olympic athlete or you just want to be fit enough to play with your grandchildren, then maintaining your mobility is the key to success. Ignoring this and you will gradually find movement patterns becoming more and more difficult until you cannot produce them at all. Make mobilising a habit rather than something you may or may not do after work. Set aside time 4-5 times a week, even if it is just 10 minutes, to go through some mobility and you will soon see the benefits paying off!