MOBILITY, STRENGTH IN LENGTH & "STRUCTURAL BALANCE
EXPLAINED FOR THE ATHLETE
For an Athlete, mobility is strength and strength is mobility…
Confused? I will explain this concept further: The relationship between strength and mobility is deeply intertwined.
Strength is gained by increasing the range of motion (ROM ) in a joint and then further strengthening the joint by strengthening the entire length of the muscles that support that joint. (We call this “Strength through Length” or “Long Range” strength training).
Strengthening the entire length of all supporting muscles of a joint is needed in order for that joint to have the greatest and strongest range of motion (ROM). If you rarely use the full potential ROM of a joint (use the entire muscle length and move the joint in its greatest range of motion) when moving or exercising, then you weaken that joint and only strengthen the supporting muscles in the existing, limited range of motion being frequently used.
In other words, you only strengthen part of the muscle, the part that is needed for that limited range of movement.
A sport often requires strength in only specific (and often shortened) ranges of motion. On-court or field training practices in a sport often neglect training techniques that strengthen joints into greater ranges of motion that might be needed or required to perform optimally or even perform those “over the top” efforts, “big” moves, or amazing maneuvers of injury avoidance in competition.
For example, a basketball player uses her shoulders to do lots and lots of passing in practice. As a result, she gets strong in her shoulders for that movement (pushing). But, rebounding, and snatching the ball with fully extended arms directly above the head, while combating opposition forces is experienced and repeated to a much lesser extent than passing.
So, strengthening the shoulders through full ROM for rebounding doesn’t happen easily in on-court training. Once the athlete gets into a game, she risks shoulder injury when battling for a rebound in that extended raised arm position and/or will rebound poorly because of weakness (poor mobility) in that extended raised arm position.
Specifically targeted mobility strength programming incorporated into an athlete's training is important for ensuring an athlete moves strongly and safely in all athletic maneuvers.
Without specialized focused “strength through length” strengthening exercises, an athlete’s range of motion remains limited, their joint strength remains weak, their chance of injury increases with every competition and their potential for progress and optimal performance is stifled.
Imagine how just lacking a strong “end” range of motion in your ankles, knees, hips and shoulders can limit top performance results. Athletes move bigger, stronger, faster and with more power, finesse and fluidity when they have a full range of motion.
Also, consider the structures at the end range of the muscles. Tendons of course! If you don’t strengthen the end ranges of your muscles, your tendons will remain weak.
A muscle that only continues to get stronger in short range can exert damaging forces on the attached weaker tendon. Simply put, as the strengthening muscle tolerates increasing load, the weaker tendon cannot. Injury and/or pain is inevitable.
Examples of “increasing loads” for an athlete are increased striking power, quicker de-acceleration or stopping, increased acceleration speed (power), changing direction quicker, increased jumping power, increased need for stability & control in landing from a jump, as well as increased tolerance of athlete to athlete contact loads (bumping & pushing) that happen in team sports.
The strongest and most “athletic” athletes are those who have strength in their fullest potential range of motion; athletes who are strong through their mobility will have greater potential for optimal performance and protection from injury.
Joints with a limited range of motion are often tight and crowded with tissue (fascial) adhesions and inflammation, have weak ligaments and tendons and are slow to “warm up” for movement.
For an athlete, this would translate to frequent or chronic soreness and regular stiffness and fatigue, which, contrary to what many athletes believe, is NOT how an athlete is supposed to feel and is a sign of worse things to come.
An athlete’s joints should be strong and fully mobile. This means all supporting muscles are strong in full range with good responsiveness and joints are not compressed with space to move and function freely. There are also no fascial adhesions, inflammation or pain, and there is good circulation providing nutrition for the health of strong tendons and ligaments.
The only thing an athlete should feel after a hard practice or competition is a bit of short-term fatigue, the joy and happiness of having played, and the satisfaction of a job well done.
The job of your musculoskeletal system is to move the body most efficiently (using minimal energy) as it combats the forces of gravity. The more access to strength through greater ranges of motion, the stronger and more efficiently the body can move.
With full ROM across all joints, efficient stacking, ordering and balancing of your muscles and bones can naturally occur; structural balance can exist, allowing optimal movement to be arranged and performed while battling the forces of gravity.
The body is smart! With free access to move any way it needs, it works out the best movement solution, using the least amount of energy. For the athlete, this is a HUGE advantage! Imagine having so much more energy for your sport because your body is moving so effortlessly; more energy for explosive and powerful movement, more energy for cardio output, more energy for quality and intentional training (instead of dragging your butt and just going through the motions), more energy for the big competitions and big end of game moments; more energy for high performance.
In addition, with no movement restrictions, the body (brain) has access to endless movement solutions! The result is an exceptional mover; an exceptional athlete!
With mobility limitations (poor or weak ROM), an athlete’s body will still figure out how to move as efficiently and as effectively as it can, however, the result is often the development of compensating inefficient movement patterns and structural imbalances that costs energy, leading to tissue wear and tear, pain and/or injury, chronic fatigue and burnout and sub-optimal performance.
Unfortunately, a large number of athletes go through their (often short) athletic careers seeing this state as normal, when they could have better performance, greater longevity and be happier and healthier if they had a little more knowledge, understanding and practice in mobility training.
With hard work, almost anyone can be a good basketball player, a very good soccer player or an excellent volleyball player. But, for one to be an exceptional athlete, one must be the best mover they can be and be able to perform at the highest level of their sport with resilience and assurance of longevity. The understanding and realization of the importance of strong mobility and training properly for strong mobility gains will help you become the best athlete you can be.
Thank you for reading!
Sara Gillis – Alliance Coach
For more information on this topic and how to train to be an exceptional mover, reach out to any of the Alliance Coaches through our online community