The ABCs of Mobility Training

Published On - 3 November, 2020By Alina Butunoi

In the fitness and rehabilitation world, “mobility training” has become a hot new topic. But what exactly does this unique new technique involve?

Over the past few years, the idea of mobility training has become increasingly popular among health practitioners, coaches, athletes and rehabilitation experts. Unfortunately, there still remains a lot of confusion and misinformation. As someone who’s developed a great deal of experience with this technique, I thought it might be a good idea to define what exactly mobility training is, how you can develop it and how it can help you improve your physical wellbeing and recover from injuries.

What is Mobility Training?

While most people have some idea of what “mobility” means, the fact of the matter is that it’s actually quite difficult to find a single definition of the term. Do a quick Google search for example, and it might surprise you to find that there is little consensus on exactly what mobility means. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to use or improve something you can’t really define!

For the average person “mobility” is probably defined as some form of stretching, moving and physical training. In one sense, this is true. However, mobility encompasses far more than just moving around a space or carrying out a training drill.

If we could combine a few of these definitions and apply them to the human body, one potential definition of mobility might be: A state in which one is capable of moving readily from place to place, able to change quickly from one state or condition to another, and change levels, all with fluid ease.

When you look at mobility using this definition, there are a few keywords that stand out:

Capable

From a physiological standpoint, “capable” means that the body is free of interference from poor movement patterns, musculoskeletal compensations, adhered scar tissue, overactive protective reflexes and any other issue that impacts motion.

Readily

Life is a non-linear activity that requires motion to make things happen. Readily refers to the ability to move on-demand in any direction, at any speed, with precise control.

Change

At its essence, change means moving from one state to another or transitioning from where you are to where you want to be. In humans, transitions are the essence of movement as every activity requires transitioning from flexion to extension, from internal to external rotation and every other combination you can imagine.

Fluid Ease

Movement can easily be characterized by the level of effort required and the coordination with which it is performed. Movement that is performed with fluid ease is maximally efficient; meaning it’s done just the right way, at just the right time, with just the right amount of energy.

How to Utilize Mobility Training

Training journals, books and magazine articles are finally including mobility training as an essential component of fitness. As a result, many well-meaning professionals are using movements like those listed below, plus hundreds more, as mobility drills when in reality, they are simply dynamic stretches and body weight calisthenics. Ask yourself if the following drills develop mobility as it was defined earlier:

  1. Squats
  2. Lunges
  3. Side Bends
  4. Bear Crawls (Crawling with just the hands and feet in contact with the floor)
  5. Pushups/Press ups
  6. Forward Bends (Toe Touch)
  7. Shoulder Blade Reach (Trying to join the arms behind the back)
  8. Torso Twists (Rotating the trunk side to side)
  9. Leg Raises (Kicking the leg in front of the body with the knee locked dynamically)
  10. Cat Stretch (Arching the low back like a cat while on hands and knees)
  11. Jumps in Place (Jumping rope without a rope)

In approximately 98% of people, the answer is a resounding, “No!”

Why? Because each of these drills is too integrated. Each of the above exercises involves total body coordinated movement patterns. You need to learn the ABC of a movement and own it before you make it more complicated.

Remember that true mobility requires us to be capable. As defined above, this means that the body needs to be free of poor movement patterns, musculoskeletal compensations, adhered scar tissue, overactive protective reflexes and other issues that impact motion. When you try to develop mobility via integrated full body motion like the drills above, it is virtually impossible to control or correct these issues. In essence, you develop “mobility” on a compensated body, which leads to long term problems and slowed progress.

So how do you counteract this problem? The answer is to begin with one key step: mobility training with true isolation. This means that mobility should be developed for each and every joint of the body, in all ranges of motion, at all possible speeds. Once you have these “basics” in place, only then should you move on to more integrated drills like those listed above.

Benefits of Isolated Mobility Training

By integrated isolated mobility training into a program, you can expect to see the following results:

  1. Increased joint range of motion
  2. Improved end range of motion coordination and strength
  3. Enhanced joint lubrication
  4. Dramatically improved body awareness, coordination and agility
  5. Increased ligamentous and connective tissue strength
  6. Enhanced proprioception and injury resistance
  7. Dramatic postural improvement
  8. Increased strength and athletic movement skill
  9. Learning how to get unstuck and open joints

These joint mobilizations will be surprisingly challenging to do, and easy to dismiss as unimportant. But don’t underestimate them or just how much they matter to your brain. In fact, here at Align for Performance, we’ve helped some of the world’s best athletes improve performance using specific isolated mobility training drills.

Physiologically, whenever you move a joint through all of its potential ranges of motion in isolation, you maximally stimulate the mechanoreceptors that surround that joint. As a result of this, the body’s proprioceptive awareness and control of that joint is dramatically enhanced. The joint and surrounding tissues are then safely and effectively strengthened and long standing postural problems and poor movement patterns self-correct as the body becomes more “intelligent” about movement.

Putting Mobility Training Into Practice

So now that we have basic understanding of what mobility is and how isolated mobility training works, you’re really faced with three basic questions.

1. Do I have good mobility?

The simple way to assess this for yourself is to note if you are currently in pain. Jammed joints aren’t necessarily painful but may have restricted ranges of motion or have difficulty in performing any activity you attempt. If you answered “yes” to any of these, there’s a high probability that your mobility training needs more attention.

2. Am I developing good mobility with my training program?

How are the joints in the foot moving ? How are the joints in the thoracic spine moving ? Do you have control of that area? Can they turn and twist and lateral glide? Remember that jammed joints create weak muscles, while mobile joints create strength. Active care will always trump passive care. Your body adapts to exactly what you do. If you would answer ”No” to any of the above questions, consider learning more about adding dynamic loaded mobility work into your daily routine.

3. Do I have an assessment process that can quickly identify true mobility problems?

To be useful in the real world, assessments should be fast, reliable and provide you with information you can immediately put to use. Ideally, an assessment should not only tell you what to do, but it should also tell you what NOT to do. This means that in addition to having a strong initial assessment, to really ramp up your results, you need a fast, reliable re-assessment process. Practically speaking, a specialized gait assessment process meets all of these requirements and can be used throughout a training session to tell you if the exercises you are using are working well.

Ultimately, mobility training offers incredible restorative and performance improvements if done correctly. The first step, however, is understanding what mobility really means and how it can be used to help your body achieve its best.

To learn more about our mobility training technique, contact us today.

About Author

Alina Butunoi

Alina Butunoi is one of Ottawa’s most respected massage therapists and exercise therapy coaches. A previous nominee for the Ottawa 40 Under 40 business leaders, she is also a certified Movement Neurology Specialist with Z-Health, a cutting-edge neuro-exercise system that helps improve health, alleviate pain and maximize athletic performance.

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