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Smarter Mobility Training

As I am still on a bit of a high from this weekend’s last Perform Better Summit of the year, I am excited to share so many of the ideas that make these conferences so important for our industry. After all, fitness as an industry is quite young which means we are constantly looking how to make things better for those that come to us for help. The topic I was hammering this year was looking at mobility training differently. 

mobility training

Kinda funny coming from a guy that can’t really do impressive feats of mobility training. In fact, if you took me ice cold and put me on a therapy table, you would wonder how I was even able to walk through the front door! That is what drove me to look deeper at mobility training, things we were doing well and things we weren’t. 

That led me to 3 ways to make your mobility training so much better. If someone who has the spinal diseases that I do can train and push themselves, then we can make people who have fallen victim to our society’s current lifestyle, SO much better! Where can we start with thinking smarter about our mobility training? 

Key #1: It Isn’t Bodybuilding

If I asked most coaches in this industry if trying to isolate every muscle was productive in achieving most fitness goals, they would probably tell me no. Not because we can’t strengthen the body to some degree or grow muscle with isolation training, but rather because it goes against how our body is designed and how our body would rather perform. 

The whole idea of functional training is not to replicate what we do in life, but to improve the functional ability of our body. However, as I often say, we can’t make better something we don’t understand how it works in the first place! Sadly, when to come as to understanding the body we are often not as educated as we would like to believe. 

Understanding how our body is connected is key in actually utilizing functional training as it was intended. 

THE major difference of bodybuilding strategies and why they aren’t as effective as real functional training goes back to one simple idea, our nervous system! No, not a sexy topic, but our nervous system governs our strength, our mobility, our performance in any task. One of the huge benefits of functional training is that we focus on how the body uses the nervous system to organize and coordinate muscles to work better to allow complex motions to appear seamless. 

As Dr. Stuart McGill puts it, functional training is about “linkage”. That is connecting these chains of the body that the nervous system WANTS to use. That means, if we see lack of mobility in somewhere like the hip or shoulder, we can’t automatically assume that the joint is the cause by itself. Mobility training that is truly effective combines creating this linkage of the body with moving in smart ways. 

Why this alternating concept by Mike Boyle and Gray Cook is so important. 

If we look at how we move, force enters our foot, travels up the backside of our leg, through our hamstring, glutes, and then does something really interesting. It crosses over to the other side of our body ALL the way up to our shoulder and even neck! You can quickly see that mobility training that focuses on isolating a joint is really missing the big picture. Is the foot, is the lower body, are the glutes, or the core impacting our mobility? Only when we are willing to look at the big picture are we able to really think about mobility training in smarter and more effective ways!

Key #2: Hands & Feet, Hands & Feet

The job of any teacher is to make the complex digestible. Especially as a fitness professional we are often trying to relay complicated ideas in ways that our clients can appreciate the value and see that we have great intent with our training. That is why we could get off on HUGE tangents talking about the connections of all the chains of the body, but the REAL key is knowing how can we connect them in the first place?

I’ve said it a million times in the past 15 years writing these DVRT blogs. Start at the obvious and then go to the obscure, sadly fitness usually goes the other way. In the case of building better mobility training and establishing these connections, the simplicity goes to where everything starts. As many of you know, that means our hands and our feet. 

Force enters our feet and hands to travel through the rest of our body. 

Yes, where over half the bones of our body reside, where force enters our body, how our body starts to build connection throughout is where we begin. This means how we grip a weight, how we hold a weight, the handles we use, the position of our feet, how we use our feet, ALL of these variables are essential in building connections that start to make our mobility training so much more effective! It is how we begin teaching people what functional training actually means. 

Key #3: More Than Circles & Planks

I’m all for moving the body. Statistically, the BIGGEST problem in our society is that we don’t move enough. Not exercise, we simply  are not physically active enough! That makes discouraging any form of movement difficult for me because moving is important. 

However, so is being time efficient and really understanding the issues that are facing us in mobility training. Unless you are highly trained (I’m lucky, I steal my very smart physical therapist wife for this!) it can be difficult to know if lack of mobility is being stunted by soft-tissue, joint issues, structural abnormalities, or even the nervous system. It becomes even more difficult as the movement of a joint can change depending upon how we position the segment. 

That is why most fitness professionals and performance coaches are best served in addressing mobility training from principles, rather than trying to diagnose. Like what? 

-The body works in diagonals. In my Cliff’s Notes version of how force enters our body you see how our opposite arms and legs actually work with one another. This is why drills like our lifts/chops and often overlooked Around the Worlds are so important. 

glutes and core

-We have to teach how to create tension then we learn to create optimal tension. Due to lack of movement, we have many  people with stability compensations all over the place. Teaching simple tools and “tricks” to get people to develop stability with their hands and feet is our starting point. Understanding how to use the ground and external resistance to build better movement is essential. 

-Breathing! Oh I might hate myself for bringing this up now (we will create a whole blog later about breathe) because we have really made breathing confusing. Why is breathing part of our mobility training discussion? Our deep core stabilizers (like the diaphragm for example) are key in helping our stability training but they can’t be activated by more familiar methods like flexing. Instead, breathing patterns that are specific to turning these muscles on are required. 

Why would I hate myself about this? For many coaches they are starting with breathe and that makes teaching movement SO much more difficult. Let’s face it, there are a lot of things being asked of the people we are working with, making things more complicated isn’t usually better. So, what do we do? 

Spending time on building understanding of movement, how to use our body more efficiently, becoming familiar with our tools, and THEN teaching breathe is so much easier. Trying to do it the other way doesn’t work nearly as well. How do I know? I’ve made the mistake!

What you see is that mobility training is important, but how we approach it and the issues we are trying to address are more important. It is far too simple to say we are trying to improve the range of motion of a joint. It may not be the joint that needs the most help! It could be some weak link in our chain or even our nervous system that is trying to protect us and reduces our range of motion. That is why having strategies where we can simply test and re-test become the best measures of if we are truly on the right path!

We believe so strongly in these concepts because we live them ourselves. Mobility training that helps our workouts make us move better, not just more tired, is key to our success!

mobility training