In the late 90’s I was introduced to the idea of functional training. It made SO much sense to train the body as it is designed to move. After all, who would try to improve anything by not developing it the way it was meant to function?
That led me to going to a lot of different courses and that was when fitness education was still relatively new especially in the area of functional fitness. One of the first concepts that was taught by every program was the need to build the ability of the body to move in the ways that we wanted. Many people would think of this as joint mobility training today, but this went through many different versions.
I went to some programs that emphasized stretching muscles of our body that will fix our posture. Others said it was your vestibular system and you had to move your eyes and head in all sorts of direction to fix your movement. It went on and on with different solutions and promises, while there might be a few moments of better movement, very often it felt like it wouldn’t be too long until I was right back there myself or with clients with their mobility training issues.
Trying to improve our mobility training shouldn’t be a struggle though.
It would take me some time to connect the dots from a lot of different literature to realize that the “secret” to mobility training really began at the core. This may sound weird when your shoulders, hips, and other places on your body feel “tight” but that is because we often ask the wrong questions. For instance, why are you tight?
Sure, there are a host of reasons we could see someone’s mobility being impacted. Any of these can be the case and it could be multiple issues…
-Poor Lifting Technique
-Unbalanced Workout Programs
You get the point! So, while investigating lifestyle and training is necessary, the biggest and fastest change we can help achieve comes from increasing core stability. How does that work?
We can start to gain a better understanding if we appreciate the work of neuro physical therapists that developed a movement system in the 1940’s known as Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF). Some people know this method as contract-relax methods of stretching, which is a part of the system, but bigger to the PNF system is the use diagonal patterns to stimulate greater core control.
As this 2012 study explains,”The only noted difference between the three stretching protocols has been PNF’s ability to cause a larger magnitude of gains within subjects’ range of motion, both active and passive flexibility.” (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF): Its Mechanisms and Effects on Range of Motion and Muscular Function). We have known for a long time that PNF is one of the most effective means of improving flexibility and mobility training so why don’t we focus on it more? Because it rarely focuses on an individual muscle and more how the brain controls our movement. In a bodybuilding dominant world, realizing the impact of the nervous system on movement doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.
Renown physical therapist, Lee Burton explains, “PNF uses the body’s proprioceptive system to facilitate or inhibit muscle contraction. One of the pioneers in the use of PNF, Dorothy Voss, defined it as a method of promoting or hastening the response of the neuromuscular mechanism through the stimulation of proprioceptors. The muscles must work synergistically in order for movement to occur. This requires the muscles to have the reflexive ability to contract and relax in order to perform basic movements. Fundamental movements such as squatting, lunging and stepping are PNF patterns that all rely on the body’s ability to effectively create and control mobility and stability. When these movements become dysfunctional it can often be traced to a disruption in the body’s proprioceptive system, leading muscles to either be inhibited or not facilitated at the right moments. This causes an inability to create the balance of mobility and stability, improving this balance is the basis of functional training.”
So, what does this look like? Cory Cripe and John Rhodes helps us shows some great examples of better mobility training by using these principles that are a big part of our DVRT system. Even though these don’t look like mobility training exercises if we understand the most common causes of restricted mobility then we can also use superior results. This becomes even more impactful when we use decades worth of science to direct us how to train smarter in the gym so we can have better mobility training and that gives us so many solutions!
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