Over the past four years, the missing element I consistently see in training programs is the lack of emphasis on mobility, which is alarming because of how important it is for a healthy and
sustainable training program.
Mobility is being able to move a joint through its full range of movement with control, the way the joint was designed to move. Improving movement capacity should be the number one priority as a trainer, and more importantly, the number one priority for clients who are paying good money and relying on us to ensure they improve.
Let's be honest, it’s easy enough to become or look ‘strong' - heavy bench, deadlifts , some squats and abusing supplements should do the trick, but without healthy joints, this regime isn't sustainable and the client will ultimately get hurt. It’s only very recently that clients and coaches are discussing how to 'move better' and there is a good reason for this!
We all squat, lunge, crawl, twist, jump, climb, walk, run, pick things up and more. These are all movements that are learned as kids, as we played and interacted in our environment. At this point in our lives, our healthy joints were moving in all different directions and we had more body awareness. There's no doubt our ancestors also used these movements in their daily pursuit of food and shelter.
But it's 2016 and as we get older and our lifestyle/habits change, we tend to lose this ability to move freely and end up sitting most of the day. The seated position shortens muscles whilst lengthening other muscles, creating dysfunction in our ability to move efficiently. Picture this - you sit to eat breakfast, sit in your car to drive to work and then sit at a desk for most of the day to come home and sit to watch TV. This lifestyle is the rule, not the exception to the rule!
These typical client comes in with forward head posture, tight chest, tight hip flexors and back problems. A basic assessment to test mobility is to observe how they pick up something up from off the floor and nearly every time, they will fold from their naval. All the movement is coming from the lower back and they have forgotten how to use their hips! This wear and tear of the disks leads to the degeneration and ultimately severe back pain. Not only does this sitting cause postural problems, but organ damage and makes your brain slower!
Let’s dig deeper.. When a joints' range of motion is reduced, it is compromising another joint. Another joint is taking up the slack, creating extra stress and our perfect machine loses its equilibrium. A classic example is when I tore the meniscus in my knee - I was warming up with pistol squats and I tweaked the position of my ankle and my knee buckled. But it’s not always in a related area, so it’s tricky to tell your client their neck pain could be because of the poor mobility in your ankle. If you know your fascial anatomy this might not sound so crazy…
If someone is unable to move their arms above their shoulders you have a serious problem. These people are a ticking time bomb, just waiting to do some damage.
Lately I have also been exploring the neurology side to training. I recommend reading 'The Body Has A Mind Of Its Own' by Mathew Blakeslee, which talks about the body’s own virtual body maps in the brain. Basically every body part has a separate area in the part of the brain called the 'homunculus', which is dedicated to moving and sensing that specific body part, usually based on size, shape and position. It even includes an inanimate object. For example, when you go to box with a pair of 12 oz gloves and you then slap on some 16 oz for some sparring you feel a lot slower even though the gloves are only 4 oz heavier. This is because it’s an unfamiliar body map.
A pianist has an extremely accurate maps of their hands as they have very fine and precise motor skills. If we have poor maps this could be a contributing factor to chronic pain issues, as the body shoots out pain signals if it doesn’t know much about the area. Think about phantom limb pain, this is where people who have an amputated leg or arm still feel pain or sensation in that missing limb because the virtual map still lives on in their brain.
Yes, the two topics are linked!
Movement provides rich sensory input to the brain, improving the body map! A lot of clients I see often have very poor body awareness. If you get them to move their hips or spine segmentally, their body moves in one big chunk. They have been so sedentary that they have forgotten how to move parts of their body. This is the perfect example of 'use it or lose it'. Ultimately poor body awareness will result in poor movement and this is the gateway to injury.
Think about this possible scenario; you are in the kitchen and the floor is wet. You slip over and your knee moves into a position it has never been before and has no control whatsoever. Right in this moment you are likely to do some ligament damage in your knee because it has never moved in that direction. This is from under stimulation not over stimulation. Moral of the story? Start moving your joints!
How you ask?
Instead of going on the treadmill for your warm up, replace it with mobility exercises. Start by creating circles with your joint and moving it in different directions.
A basic example is below:
Shoulder Circles x 15
Hip x 1
Knees x 15
Ankles x 15
Below are some good thoracic mobilizations and a hip flexor stretch to counter balance the consequences of sitting.
By regularly practicing these exercises, you'll experience greater mobility in general and your joints will thank you for it!