Mitch Hauschildt, MA, ATC, CSCS, Master DVRT Coach
Prevention, Rehab and Physical Performance Coordinator
Athletic Medical and Rehab Services
Missouri State University
Mobility and flexibility training are one of those things that most people say is important, but rarely put a lot of time and effort into. Stretching either before or after a workout is something that isn’t cool or sexy and many people see it as a waste of time. And, for most people it isn’t that important until they start having pain or problems. Truthfully, you can definitely argue that the research doesn’t support stretching as a means of preventing injuries or improving performance. I often ask my clients who prefer to take 15 minutes statically stretching before their workout, “Do you ever see a Cheetah stretch before it runs down its dinner?”
With all of that being said, I will be the first to tell you many of the injuries that I see in our athletic training room have roots in a mobility restriction somewhere. Poor range of motion around a joint will have a significant impact on the rest of the kinetic chain, causing movement dysfunction, compensation patterns, and ultimately pain and poor performance.
The real question that we all need to be asking ourselves when we have a client who has poor movement is this, “Is it a mobility or stability issue?”
This seems like an easy question to answer, right?
Stability is the body’s ability to resist outside forces to be able to maintain optimal joint centration. Mobility can be defined as the body’s ability to move through a full range of motion without restrictions. In order for the body to function correctly, both are needed.
So, how does poor stability present as a mobility restriction?
When a person has poor stability proximal to a joint, you will see “synergistic dominance.” That is, muscles that are designed to do one thing, are actually taking over and doing something else. In this case, prime movers are attempting to act as stabilizers.
A common example of this is a simple toe touch. It is common to see someone who can’t touch their toes in a standing position. If you take a closer look, though, what you will see is that many people who can’t touch their toes standing can do it in a seated position. This is a good indication of a stability issue. When you evaluate them both standing and seated, what you are doing is testing the pattern with and without gravitational forces. Gravity forces the body to stabilize so they don’t fall over. True mobility restrictions are always consistent. They don’t change. But, when you see changes in range of motion with a change in gravitational pull, you can almost certainly deduct that their lack of proximal stability is causing a lack of distal mobility.
How do we improve mobility without stretching?
In the client who has a true, consistent mobility restriction, the only way to improve it is through a series of soft tissue mobilizations, neurological re-patterning, and some form of stretching. For everyone else, their range of motion can be improved almost instantly by retraining proximal stability, usually in the core.
There are obviously a lot of ways to improve stability within the DVRT system. One of our favorites is the Tall Kneeling Around the World. This simple and powerful movement trains the core to work in multiple planes of motion within a controlled environment. This forces trunk stability.
Another great stability movement is the Overhead March. It seems simple, but don’t underestimate its power. It is an effective movement because it teaches dissociation between the upper and lower extremities. By placing the load overhead and balancing the USB the fists, the inner stabilizers of the trunk is almost guaranteed to be active and working. Once it turns on, the pelvis becomes stable and the lower extremity is allowed to work without restriction, the way that is designed to.
A third suggestion for improving proximal stability for distal mobility is either overhead or front-loaded carries. Both place a load on the stabilizers of the trunk and improve their function. Make sure your client maintains good posture with this though. Many will anteriorly tilt their pelvis and flair their ribs up and out. This is their effort to utilize the bony structure of their lumbar spine to create stability rather than their core musculature. This is known as a “scissor posture”. Make sure their “close” the scissors and then carry the USB for distance. Adding rotation will increase the difficulty if you are looking for an extra challenge.
Oftentimes things aren’t as they appear. Mobility is one of those situations. The key to identifying the true cause of movement dysfunction is a thorough evaluation. For information on evaluating and training movement dysfunction, check out the DVRT Corrective Course. There, you will learn the details of evaluating dysfunction and a series of techniques to make corrections.