Jessica Bento, Physical Therapist, Education Director for DVRT (Creator of Restoration Certification, Pelvic Control, Knee, and Shoulder Courses)
There is just something so ingrained in fitness no matter what aspect we are talking about that the more extreme and painful something is, the more we tend to think it is working. We see that A LOT when it comes to mobility training because we still take what we used to do decades ago with stretching and use the same ideas. That means if something is difficult we think it is effective, the more we grimace and find something uncomfortable the better it has to be for us, and we should just try to move the area that is “locked up”. In reality, these 3 ideas is what makes a lot of mobility training really terrible. Why? Let me explain…
If Our Mobility Training Is REALLY Difficult Then It Is Effective
So, I’m not aware of any educational program in fitness that teaches fitness coaches how to measure a joint’s stability and mobility. Sure, there are plenty of screens that look at ranges of motion, but because getting to hands on techniques is outside the scope of the fitness professional, we are left with a very general view of what is happening in the body. A screen is only used to give us an idea of patterns of issues we should be aware of in our training. More so, a screen is often about telling us what not to do, not in any form helping us diagnose what is causing the issue.
That leads to people selling a lot of mobility training programs to try to convince you that if a movement is really difficult, then it must be an exercise you must be good at. Of course this negates so many things such as…
-Is the person demonstrating the drill naturally mobile?
-Do they have a body structure that makes them able to do these demonstrations of mobility?
-Is there any evidence that doing these drills actually carries over to mobility used in functional movements?
As you can imagine, most never ask these questions so we are left to see extreme demonstrations of mobility training sold as a solution to how to improve our movement. The reality is fitness professionals should look at mobility restrictions first and foremost as neurological issues.
For the majority of people, sometimes even those that even suffer joint injuries, the body has perceived instability when we move so in order to protect itself the nervous system puts on the brakes. Why WOULD the body allow us to move in ways that could result in injury if we have means in which to reduce our risks right?
I’ve wondered why people tend to think a joint is dysfunctional if we know first and foremost, that we have a society largely that is not active. Where would these people have suffered joint problems if they basically don’t move very much right? True joint dysfunction would also often be associated with some form of pain or discomfort, but many times people we evaluate to have poor mobility don’t have such issues. They just don’t move very well, but they don’t have any pain in these areas. So, the idea that our issues are primarily joint related doesn’t make a lot of sense, they are far more often neurologically related, but so many people use the body isolated approach to movement which is why they fail to see the more obvious answers.
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If we do follow the path that most of our mobility training is going to be helping the nervous system reduce those brakes, then we have to realize a few things…
-We don’t want things to be extremely uncomfortable! Doing so actually sends signals to our nervous system that we are in danger once again and we often see that very response of the CNS by people going into spasm during certain mobility training exercises.
-If we see great discomfort in one’s face, if we see their body tensing up, these are all signs that we are doing something that will most likely cause the body to move worse.
-The CNS gets fatigued far faster than our muscles, therefore, we should aim for a few slow and pristine reps than a lot of work done in a particular area or drill.
Using screens for simple information and to connect patterns is a good thing, but using to diagnose, not so much. What we do want to learn is WHERE we should start people with mobility training that’s right for themselves!
Trying To Move Something That Isn’t Moving
I have to admit, I never understood the idea that if a joint is not moving all we have to do is move it. Especially if the joint isn’t able to move in certain ranges of motion we just try to, that doesn’t seem to anyone that would just lead to major compensations or over stressing certain structures because the area can not move? Yea, doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think about it.
The idea if your hip or shoulders don’t move well so we should try to move your hips and shoulders is something that will probably always be out there because it is an oversimplification of what is actually occurring. In fact, I show below how we can get really FALSE information about your mobility training if we don’t understand the positions we are placing people in for these movements.
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What I show below is a combination of ways we build stability. At great place to always start when it comes to helping hips or shoulders is to makes sure we get that core stability as part of what we are doing. Good mobility isn’t magic, it just takes knowing some of the actual science of movement to provide better strategies.
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