In the training world, one of the “newest” popular ideas is that everyone needs mobility training. This is absolutely true! However, there is a clear lack of understanding in many circles of just what this means. The fact is, in order to use mobility training for your own benefit and improve results for your clients, you must:
- Define mobility training
- Know the best method of developing it
- Understand the numerous benefits of true isolated mobility training
Dynamic Mobility Defined
Many people consider dynamic stretching activities and gross, integrated movement pattern training as “mobility.” In one sense, this is true. However, mobility encompasses far more than the training drills traditionally associated with it.
A significant reason for this confusion is that it is virtually impossible to find a “unified” definition of mobility. If you try a Google search on the Internet, it might surprise you to find that there is little consensus on exactly what mobility means. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to utilize or improve something you can neither define nor quantify!
What you will find when you search long enough are select definitions for mobile. Here they are:
- Capable of moving or of being moved readily from place to place.
- Capable of moving or changing quickly from one state or condition to another.
- Marked by the easy intermixing of different groups.
- Moving easily from one level to another.
- Flowing freely; fluid.
If we could combine a few of these definitions and apply them to the human organism, one potential definition of mobility might be:
mo•bil′i•ty (n.) – Definition 1
A state in which one is capable of moving readily from place to place, able to change quickly from one state or condition to another and change levels, all with fluid ease.
When you look at mobility using this definition, there are a few key words that stand out. Those words are:
- Capable - By its very definition, capable means that there are no impediments to carrying out an intended action. In the human body, capable means that the body is free of interference from poor movement patterns, musculoskeletal compensations, adhered scar tissue, overactive protective reflexes and any other issue that impacts motion.
- Readily - Life is a dynamic activity that requires motion to make things happen. Readily refers to the ability to move on demand – in any direction, at any speed, with precise control.
- Change – At its essence, change means moving from one state to another or transitioning from where you are to where you want to be. In humans, transitions are the essence of movement as every activity requires transitioning from flexion to extension, from internal to external rotation and every other combination you can imagine.
- Fluid Ease – Movement can easily be characterized by the level of effort required and the coordination with which it is performed. Movement that is performed with fluid ease is maximally efficient – done just the right way, at just the right time, with just the right amount of energy.
If you were to combine the underlined words from each of the above, you can now re-define mobility in this way:
mo•bil′i•ty (n.) – Definition 2
Maximally efficient motion performed on demand, in any direction, at any speed, characterized by smooth transitions between movements.
As you can see, this new definition is very specific about the qualities that comprise good mobility. Ultimately, using this definition, mobility can be viewed as the basis for true athleticism. It is the single attribute that encompasses the body control, coordination and agility for which we all strive. Now that we have defined mobility, the next question is how do you develop it?
Developing Dynamic Mobility
Training journals, books and magazine articles are finally including mobility as an essential component of fitness. As a result, many well-meaning professionals are using movements like those listed below, plus hundreds more, as mobility drills when in reality, they are simply dynamic stretches and body weight calisthenics. Ask yourself if the following drills develop mobility as it was defined earlier:
- Side Bends
- Bear Crawls (Crawling with just the hands and feet in contact with the floor)
- Forward Bends (Toe Touch)
- Shoulder Blade Reach (Trying to join the arms behind the back)
- Torso Twists (Rotating the trunk side to side)
- Leg Raises (Kicking the leg in front of the body with the knee locked dynamically)
- Cat Stretch (Arching the low back like a cat while on hands and knees)
- Jumps in Place (Jumping rope without a rope)
In approximately 98 percent of clients, the answer is a resounding, “No!”
Why? Because each of these drills is too integrated. Each of the above exercises involves total body coordinated movement patterns. Unfortunately, unless your client has already eliminated most of their movement compensations, these drills will actually reinforce their faulty movements.
Remember that true mobility requires us to be capable. As defined above, this means that the body needs to be free of poor movement patterns, musculoskeletal compensations, adhered scar tissue, overactive protective reflexes and other issues that impact motion.
When you try to develop mobility via integrated full body motion like the drills above, it is virtually impossible to control or correct these issues. In essence, you and your clients develop “mobility” on a compensated body, which leads to long term problems and slowed progress.
How do you counteract this problem? The answer is to begin mobility training with true isolation. Mobility should be developed for each and every joint of the body, in all ranges of motion, at all possible speeds. Once you have these “basics” in place, only then should you move on to more integrated drills like those listed above.
Remember that isolation is the KEY step in the beginning stages of good mobility training.
Benefits of Isolated Mobility Training
As you begin to explore the power of isolated joint mobility training, it is important to understand the benefits of the process. Here are just a few things you can look forward to:
- Increased joint range of motion
- Improved end range of motion coordination and strength
- Enhanced joint lubrication
- Dramatically improved body awareness, coordination and agility
- Increased ligamentous and connective tissue strength
- Enhanced proprioception and injury resistance
- Dramatic postural improvement
- Increased strength and athletic movement skill
While it is beyond the scope of this article to offer a scientific rationale for each of these benefits, a simple explanation may be helpful at this point.
Physiologically, whenever you move a joint through all of its potential ranges of motion in isolation, you maximally stimulate the mechanoreceptors that surround that joint. As a result of this, the body’s proprioceptive awareness and control of that joint is dramatically enhanced, the joint and surrounding tissues are safely and effectively strengthened and long standing postural problems and poor movement patterns self correct as the body becomes more “intelligent” about movement.
You are now faced with three questions:
- “Do I have good mobility?” The simple way to assess this for yourself is to note if you are currently in pain, have restricted ranges of motion in any joint or have difficulty in performing any activity you attempt. If you answered yes to any of these, there is a high probability that your mobility training needs more attention.
- “Am I developing good mobility in my clients?” The same questions you just asked yourself apply to your clients as well. If your clients would answer yes to any of the above questions, consider learning more about adding dynamic mobility work into their programs.
- “Do I have an assessment process that can quickly identify true mobility problems?” Assessments, to be useful in the real world, should be fast, reliable and provide you with information you can immediately put to use. Ideally, an assessment should not only tell you what to do with a client, but it should also tell you what NOT to do with them. This means that in addition to having a good initial assessment, to really ramp up your results, you need a fast, reliable re-assessment process. Practically speaking, a specialized gait assessment process meets all of these requirements and can be used throughout a training session to tell you if the exercises you are using for your clients are working well.
A New Frontier
Precise, dynamic joint mobility training is a new frontier. Hard science and rationale of how and why it works so well has only currently become available. In future articles, we will share the emerging science of mobility training with you as we look at the components of good mobility training, stability versus instability training and the power of reflexes on performance.
Until then, let me encourage you to think about these definitions of mobility. Study your training and how you train your clients to see if you have the tools and assessment skills you need to experience the massive benefits of true mobility training. Chances are, even if you’ve done a lot of “mobility” training, you’ve only scratched the surface of the possibilities ahead.