It is probably the part of any workout that often feels the most like Groundhog’s Day with clients. The beginning, when we first start to get ready to train and people seem “tight”, “stiff”, and as though we hadn’t done any work to improve the way they move before! That was the struggle I faced for years as a coach running my own facility. We would, of course, follow the path of stretching, “warming-up”, you know the very standard approach to trying to improve mobility of our clients before we got into training.
Yet, I found even though we saw improvements in the stretches, that improvement often didn’t carry over to their training and workouts. It also was frustrating to do the SAME work day after day and wonder why people weren’t getting better! Very often we just chalked it up to the fact that you had to stretch a lot.
Most people can probably relate to this in one form or another. However, if you couldn’t tell, I am a hard sell when it comes to just going with conventional ideas if I still see a problem. Eventually I started reading functional training ideas that would change completely how I would think about how we can improve mobility.
The first is to understand what the difference is between flexibility and mobility because it can be very confusing! Why use one term versus another? If I lift your leg up to do a traditional hamstring stretch, that is flexibility, I am moving your body for you. However, if I asked you to lift your leg up, that is more mobility. YOU are moving your body through a range of motion. Mobility is so important because it is the quality that better predicts how well you are going to move during your exercises, not necessarily flexibility.
That is because flexibility doesn’t require my nervous system to be very active, however, whenever I move in life my nervous system is working very hard to coordinate extremely complex patterns in seamless ways. That is why you have seen all this mobility talk, but again, people seem to oddly ignore the science of mobility training.
When our nervous system perceives our body to be unstable the natural reaction is to “protect” itself by getting tight. Most of us don’t move much during the day and when we sit in something that provides artificial support (like a chair) many of the muscles that would normally help make us feel more stable don’t end up working very much because our body tries to conserve energy. Then when we get up our body doesn’t feel stable so our body tends to default to getting tight.
Stretching won’t address the issues of instability by itself. What we need to do is learn how to use movement and drills that improve how stable our body feels to actually see that movement improve and begin to stick more and more (it is ultimately challenging to make anything permanent if there aren’t some lifestyle changes). This has gained some momentum in the idea from the physical therapy system of PNF where “proximal stability creates distal mobility”. That is nice way of saying, “the more stable the body feels the greater the permission it will give segments of the body to move”. This tends to be very true especially of the hips and the shoulders but does have other areas of the body.
So, this has led to an increased awareness of “creating tension”, but unfortunately, people don’t understand what tension does and just creating tension doesn’t create solutions. Why does tension help us create stability? It is called the “law of irradiation” and basically if you develop tension at one area of the body, it brings in the muscles of the surrounding and those that are connected. If you hold out your arm with your hand with the thumb facing up and squeeze your fist you can feel your forearm, upper arm, and even go down into the shoulder, lats, and core!
Great, so we should create a lot of tension and we will create stability right? Not quite so fast, the joint angles actually matter a lot. Remember what that just felt like to create tension and what happened to many connecting parts of our body right? Now, turn the arm so the palm is down, do the same thing. Do you get the same tension through the body? I’ve done this enough times with people to know that you are shaking your head no! Just “creating tension” isn’t an answer, it is understanding how to position the body so that we can create the stability through connecting chains.
A great example in DVRT in how we create “magic” with mobility in the shoulders is with our press out drills. We coach holding the Ultimate Sandbag by the bellybutton and pressing out as we pull the Ultimate Sandbag apart. However, if we hold the Ultimate Sandbag by the chest and actually “squeeze” the Ultimate Sandbag, we create tension, but we actually don’t improve stability because we are not connecting!
The same goes for our lateral drags and bird dogs. If you position the weight too high up and not under the bellybutton, or turn the Ultimate Sandbag so you are gripping in anything BUT underhand, you aren’t going to get the stability that leads to this great mobility improvement.
When you apply our DVRT mobility principles well, you get some amazing results. You can see in the type of work that Strength Coach, Martin Adame does with one of his coaches. Using the Ultimate Sandbag and bands for the CORRECT feedback and tension opens up movement and mobility that makes really a difference!
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