Use your mobility to enhance your training and use your training to reinforce your mobility.
I appreciate you stopping by and I hope you enjoy the read. Today we are going to dive in and gain some further understanding around the word ‘MOBILITY’ in relation to strength training.
The word ‘MOBILITY‘ no doubt gets thrown around far too much these days. From foam rolling to deep tissue release, static stretching to dynamic drills… what really works? Well, let us first define what mobility means and what it represents in the context of strength training.
The ability to move or be moved freely and easily.
In this day and age, having the ability to move ‘freely’ is a privilege and one you have to work for. Just like all the other aspects of training, becoming mobile does not just happen over night. Over the last few decades humans have become complacent and comfortable with being immobile.
As our obesity rates goes up, our mobility rate goes down.
As our office hours go up, our mobility abilities decrease.
We are currently living in a world where many people have forgotten what its like to move and move freely. We are spending more and more time at our desk, in the office, on the couch, in the car or on the train and we suffer the mobility consequences.
We are forgetting HOW TO MOVE.
So many of us are curled over starring at a screen for 8 hours a day doing damage and creating tightness in all the wrong areas.
Due to these poor posture habits we come across some common issues.
a) We lose significant range of motion in our shoulders as they become tight from excessive kyphosis.
b) We can create tightness and pain in the hip as they become constantly in flexion, creating tension.
c) Our back loses the ability to go into a healthy amount of thoracic extension. Because we are always in flexion, rounded and hunched over.
d) We develop some type of lumbar or lower back pain due to the tight hips, poor movement patterns and over all immobility.
e) Our gluteus become weak and under utilised.
And that’s just to name a few…
You cannot undo 8 hours of poor posture habits with 10 mins of foam rolling – this is not a correct approach.
WHAT DO I DO AND HOW?
I’m glad you asked. So, lets say for some reason we are having major mobility issues. You work a normal office job where you are seated for 8 hours a day. You enjoy watching Netflix at night with friends on the couch for some down time and you spend 1 hour each way to work and back on the train seated. You spend time before every workout foam rolling out but you have little relief. You are feeling tight, stiff, sore and you want to squat deep, press with healthy stable shoulders and deadlift with a strong back.
Unfortunately, you feel kind of broke and don’t know how to fix yourself.
a) FIND AND STOP THE CAUSE
Firstly, we want to reduce whatever we are doing that is flaring up the specific muscle group. I have found this to be the most effective technique when running into mobility issues. Leading specialist in spine biomechanics, Dr Stuart Mcgill uses this technique to relieve chronic lower back pain. He explains that by pinpointing poor movement patterns and removing accumulative sensitisation you can often prevent the pain rather than having to react and treat pain or inflammation. I think this method is extremely useful for all things ‘mobility’ and not just lower back issues (8).
Play the prevention game.
For example, a few ways you can very generally implement better movement into your day:
Simple? This all seems incredible basic but trust me, movement is key and there is no quick fix!
I suggest you implement some changes in your life to allow you to be more mobile throughout your week which will then pay off in the gym with your training. To furthermore address mobility issues you can try the approaches below.
b) FOAM ROLLING + DEEP TISSUE RELEASE
Foam rolling and deep tissue release techniques most definitely have a place in the world of mobility and CAN help you find some relief! They are often used to relieve muscular tension and enhance flexibility when paired with different stretching modalities.
So if I was going to incorporate foam rolling into my routine, what can we supposedly expect from Foam Rolling (FR) and Deep Tissue Release (DTR)?
How does it work?
It’s pretty common knowledge that external pressure applied to a muscle belly can relieve tension and even soreness, right? I mean, we have seen countless studies showing the benefit of increased ROM, better recovery and even increased performance (1, 2, 3,4).
However, the final chapter and agreement that Foam Rolling and Deep Tissue Release is yet to be published… In other words, some of the best doctors, physical therapist and chiropractors in the world believe in the wide range of benefits and still prescribe it daily to their clients and athletes, while other leading specialists in their fields agree that is a temporary fix, that it doesn’t actually break up fibrosis or connective muscle tissues and some even claim it has more to do with alternate sensory input than actually tissue manipulation. I am a huge fan of Dr Quinn Henoch who describes it well in this video –> (6).
Moving on, I myself as a strength coach and powerlifter do in fact believe in the benefits of Foam Rolling and Deep Tissue Release and utilise these modalities regularly as well as prescribing them to my athletes.
So, lets take a look at why this method could be helpful on a physiological level.
You see, any type of massage or external pressure applied to the muscle or group of musculature creates friction. This friction and movement then creates heat promoting blood flow and increasing circulation, this helps the muscles and surrounding tissues become more moveable.
Certain soft tissues can be similar to a gelatine type substance and can become stiff, tight and hard when exposed to cold temperature. Heat and pressure can counter act that effect by helping the muscle become more fluid when warm. Research also shows that direct pressure can interrupt tension creating signals being sent to the muscle during a spasm. Using a roller or a hard massage ball can also aid in stretching and smoothing scar tissue formed by muscle trauma and research has shown this to drastically increase ones flexibility when done in-conjunction with dynamic and/or static stretching (4). Direct methods of deep tissue release has also shown to be positive for long term rehabilitation (5). We can also experience a large amount of tension from the myofacial complex. The fascia is a type of thin, strong connective tissue that covers your entire body offering protection to your muscles and bones. They are constructed of collagen and fibres that are arranged in a web-like structure and this can cause tension and tightness also. Basically, by using a massage ball or foam roller you are performing a self-manual massage therapy which aims to reduce localised myofascia tightness. This tightness is believed to inhibit joint range of motion and blood flow. Furthermore, the increased blood flow generated as a result of deep tissue work/foam rolling can benefit you post training (muscle trauma) as it allows for waste products and acidity in the muscle (such as hydrogen ions) to be flushed away, helping with post workout pain and recovery (2). In conjunction with the removal of these waste products, the muscle is flooded with oxygen and nutrients that allow for a reduction in inflammation and promotion of recovery.
This technique is definitely worth a try if you have not tried it before.
GENERAL DEEP TISSUE RELEASE EXAMPLE:
Lower Body Tension:
– Foam Roll into the hip (short rolls into the hip, stop and sit on tight areas then roll through them) 3X60secs each side
– Massage Ball (roll it in the hip and the hold it on a tender part) 3X60secs each side
Note: Expect it to hurt!
– IT and Quad Release (long rolls across the IT band/through to the quad, stop and applying extra pressure to areas of tightness) 3X60secs each side
– Massage Ball (Roll into the quad, hold and sit when tender) 3X60secs each side
– Foam roll across the front chest and front shoulder (long slow even rolls) 3X60secs
– Massage Ball (find the tension and increase the pressure of the ball on it, hold it) 3X60secs
I think it’s very important to define the outcome you are trying to achieve. If you have a injury or a serious on going movement problem due to some type physical tightness, I suggest you see a medical professional. However, for general tightness and niggles I think the above modalities can be very effective. However, my approach is always to perform FR or MFR around your training, so either to improve performance or enhance post trauma recovery.
Some research has shown the effects of FR and DTR to only last up to 10 minutes post application (7), meaning that those long, lengthy and drawn out sessions you’re doing may not be as effective as short, intense, deep tissue release followed by dynamic movement or specific barbell movement.
For further information or help on this, go to LETMECOACHYOU.NET
c) DYNAMIC STRETCHING
Dynamic stretching is a series of active movements that contract and stretch an area of muscle to bring forth a stretch which then returns to the starting position without holding that stretch. The opposite of this is static stretching.
I have always been a fan of stretching through a range of motion. I think physiologically, it’s absolutely necessary to take your joints through some extended range of motion on a daily basis. Your body has many mechanisms that require activating and stimulation before they can contract efficiently. During the stretch cycle of a muscle your brain sends signals to the muscle fibres and connective tissue in the specific area to prepare to work hard. This also promotes blood flow and and prepares the musculature to perform as effectively as possible.
In fact, research done in the Department of Physical Therapy of Wichita State University found that participants who performed a series of dynamic stretching prior to testing their vertical jump showed significant increases in performance compared to the participants who did static stretching or no stretching at all.
So trust me when I say, dynamic stretching is a fantastic way to warm up that improves performance and reduces the chance of injury.
d) STATIC STRETCHING
Static Stretching is a series of static movements that contract and stretch an area of muscle to bring forth a stretch in which it holds for a period of time to increase elasticity and range of motion.
Static Stretching can increase blood flow to the muscle and be extremely helpful. This is a great tool to have and to use but only at the appropriate time.
I would suggest you use other techniques like deep tissue release and dynamic stretching to warm up and only begin static deep stretches when you are conformable warm enough to perform them safely. Performing deep static stretches when cold can cause muscle damage.
e) USING THE LIFT (TECHNIQUE, FULL ROM)
I’m going to finish up discussing the broad topic of mobility by explaining one of the most important elements of it. Although everything I have stated above is helpful and does work to a degree – it is no magic wand and nothing comes easy.
I cannot stress it enough, USE the tools above to get yourself into a position where you can perform the main lifts well. This is a great opportunity to incorporate some Deep Tissue Release work in-between working sets, then use the main lifts while absolutely prioritising technique to solidify the changes you’ve made through full range of motion compound movements.
The weight and load of the barbell will reinforce and increase your mobility over time all the while making you strong as hell. It has to go hand in hand, you cannot do one without the other.
Use your mobility to enhance your training and use your training to reinforce your mobility.
Written by Brogan Williams
Edited by Cullen Le Roy