Let's start by going through a quick checklist:
Do you/Have you...
Feel tight or muscle-bound?
Had injury-prone joints?
Had pain or weakness in certain positions?
Feel like you can't live without a foam roller?
Heard someone say(or have said) "You can't be super strong and mobile"?
If you answered "yes" to any or all of these questions (especially the last one) then this article is for you! (I can't remember a person who answered "no" to all of these)
Don't be the person who sticks to the same routine expecting different results...
Before we dive in, it's important to remember that context matters with flexibility, mobility and training. I challenge you to be open-minded, you have at some point most likely been given some information regarding mobility, flexibility and strength that is not entirely true.
This article will teach you:
The difference between flexibility and mobility
Answers to common questions or debates regarding flexibility
The benefits of increasing your functional range of motion
How to create lasting mobility
How to apply the concepts you will learn to your sport
The difference between flexibility and mobility
I want to start by clearly defining the difference between the two.
Flexibility refers to the ability a muscle has to lengthen. The more a muscle can lengthen, the more flexible the structure is.
Mobility refers to the range of motion of a joint. The more freely a joint can move through its range of motion (ROM), the more mobile the structure is.
In short, flexibility refers to muscles, and mobility refers to joints.
In the world of sports and performance, we want flexible muscles that are explosive and can produce large amounts of power. We want more mobility as it reduces the chance of injury and improves performance.
It should be noted that the flexibility of muscles is 99% neurological. This means that flexibility is not determined by actual physical muscle length, but rather by the central nervous system.
Mobility is enabled from muscles that are strong through their ROM. This takes the pressure off of the joints, allowing them to move freely.
You gain access to mobility through stability in each position. For example; getting lower to the ground during activity. You must earn these positions.
"Should I stretch before or after (or both) activity?"
You might have heard that it is counterproductive to static stretch before a competition. This is true. Current studies today show that static stretching can reduce peak power by up to 30% by stretching before.
I would go as far as saying that static stretching should not only be avoided pre-workout/competition but after as well!
Conventional static stretching can provide temporary relief of feeling of tightness, but you will soon feel tight again.
I am not saying you should never stretch post-competition, but it is important to realize that it should not be used as a means to improve mobility. Intensive static stretching following heavy lifting can lead to muscle damage.
So how does that work?
For this concept to be better understood, I want you to think about your muscles like an elastic band.
Imagine what would happen if we take an elastic band, stretch it out to its full capacity and hold it there for an extended period?
The band will eventually lose some of its strength to recoil or snap. As athletes (or anyone wanting to be stronger) we do not want longer, looser muscles that cannot produce optimal power.
Instead, we want shorter muscles that can produce high amounts of power quickly through their full range of motion.
So what does this mean?
Static stretching is essentially forcing your muscles into positions they do not want to be in. Flexibility without strength can actually increase the chance of catastrophic injury because the athlete will not be able to stabilize their joints.
So, then why is more mobility beneficial?
There are two reasons:
1) Injury Prevention
Having proper mobility within your joints allows your body to properly balance the forces travelling through it.
A common example of this is poor ankle mobility. Having poor ankle mobility does not allow for the structure to absorb the force it needs to. The force is then absorbed through the next closest structure, the knees. This often leads to knee problems such as tendonitis, degenerative tendons, cartilage or sometimes torn ligaments/tendons.
2) Increased Performance
Increased Mobility = Greater Range of Motion = More Functional Range for Power Production
To understand this concept better, let's revisit the elastic band example...
Take one band and stretch it back 10% of how far it can stretch.
Then, take the same band and stretch it back 90%. Which one will fly a greater distance?
The one you stretched further (more potential energy) will 100% of the time.
Take a look at the world record standing box jump. He squats all the way down to produce the most amount of force. He can produce force in his end ranges of motion.
While this is an extreme example, the point is that an athlete can be mobile and powerful at the same time.
You earn positions which require more mobility, through improving stability at that position. You need to earn your positions!
"How do I create lasting mobility?"
The most effective way is to train for Strength through Length.
Train your muscles to be strong at their end ranges of motion. Start with a lightweight, or body weight and control the load on the way down, allowing the load to pull you deeper into the stretch. Then, contract the muscle, lifting the weight back to the original position. These loaded stretches will strengthen the muscles while providing more mobility within the joint.
Why is this the case?
Let's think for a moment...
Your body is an amazing machine that can adapt itself to perform, but also to protect itself.
If you have ever had a pulled muscle, you know that the affected muscle will become tight. This is to protect the structure from further damage.
When muscles are weak in certain ranges, the same thing happens. They tighten up to protect themselves, restricting the range of motion of the joint. Once you create the strength needed to safely control loads in end ranges, you will see your muscles loosen up and your joints will move freely as they are protected by the strengthened muscles.
So what can you do?
Now that you are educated, let's look at four specific exercises that can lead to greater lower body mobility.
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Reverse Step Up - Ankle Strength through Length
ATG Split Squat - Ankle, Knee and Hip Strength through Length
Jefferson Curl - Posterior Chain Strength through Length
Butterfly - Groin Strength through Length
How does all of this transfer to my sport?
Well, this is quite a simple answer. When training for a specific sport, we want to strengthen and lengthen until our body is strong through all the positions our body might end up within your sport.
Therefore, I do not believe that it is beneficial to be able to perform the splits as a basketball player, although a dancer or hockey goalie might need to be able to.
This doesn't mean that it's counterproductive to be able to do splits as a basketball player, as long as that range has been achieved through proper strengthening.
Thank you for taking the time to read until the end. If you know someone who could benefit from this information please share!
As always, questions are encouraged. I recommend you send me videos of you performing the exercises above for me to coach your form!
Let's get to work,
WhatsApp: +1 204 891 6851
The information above is not a substitute for medical advice. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort, it is always better to see your doctor before starting any type of rehabilitation to ensure you are properly diagnosed.