Don’t Just Stretch- Mobilize!
I want you to picture the last time you saw a baby squatting down to play with a toy. If you can’t seem to picture it, I want you to Google an image of a baby squatting. A healthy baby has incredible mobility of their body. They have very few limits to their range of motion, can sit in comfortable positions for extended periods of time, and are able to move their bodies in ways that many adults would deem impossible. The truth is, our adult bodies should be able to move in the same way.
So why aren’t they? Over time, our bodies develop, our careers develop and our immobility also begins to develop. Unfortunately, our daily activities as adults have come to involve more sitting in poor body positions over and over again. Over time, our bodies have adapted to being in restricted positions even though they are not meant to be that way. The human body is designed to move, to be limber, to run, to jump, and to bend in ways that many people simply cannot do based on their limited range of motion. This, being a huge factor to why injuries are so prevalent.
Perhaps you are on the opposite end of the spectrum. You walk around all day, and you exercise 5 times (or more) a week, you feel pretty “in shape” and you can lift heavier weights that you ever thought possible. But every time you get to that back squat day, you can’t seem to figure out why you can only squat down half-way without feeling like you need to come up on your toes. How about lifting your arms up over your head? Have you ever felt like you had something restraining your range of motion (ROM) and your arms just won’t go up over your head? Or your coach demonstrates something and you think you are putting your body in the same position only to find out what you think is full ROM, is actually not even close.
This is where mobility comes in. Typically, we get mobility confused with flexibility, but it is so much more than that. When thinking about mobilizing before or after a workout people picture doing a few hamstring stretches, grabbing a foot and “loosening up” that quad or some venture to cross that right arm over the chest and “stretch out” those arms. If you’re really feeling courageous, you grab a foam roller and sit on it for just long enough to tell your friend the latest gossip from work.
While these efforts to “mobilize” are good at heart, the truth is, you may be missing the point. Mobilization is meant to be taken just as seriously as eating a balanced diet, exercising all or most days of the week, and resting a solid 7-9 hours a night. The problem is, mobilization has not been taught to the vast majority of exercisers, so why would we even bother to do something we don’t understand? (I am also venturing to guess that before reading this, many of you had never even heard of mobilizing. Am I right?)
Let’s put it simply: Your body is designed to move. It is created to get into positions as comfortable as you did when you were a 12 month old. So what happens to that mobility? Do we grow out of it? Does it just naturally decline as we get older? For many yes, but the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. It isn’t something that is lost and never found again. So there is hope!
The purpose of mobility is to take full advantage of what your body is designed to do. You are not meant to be in pain every time you stand up from the toilet. Your entire body is not supposed to be in pain (not to be confused with fatigue) after you do 1 set of overhead walking lunges. Mobilizing and getting your body into a good position allows you to lift heavier weights, stand up and down from your office chair with ease and sit in the bottom of a heavy squat without feeling like you are going to tear something. So what can we do about it?
Mobilizing benefits your range of motion, flexibility, and limits your risk of injury. There are several ways to mobilize the body and create a more comfortable movement within the body. Dr. Kelley Starrett, founder of MobilityWOD, explains the seven rules of mobility in his book, Becoming a Supple Leopard. The rules are as follows:
1. Test and Retest
In order to know just how effective mobility work on your body is you must test your body and see what it can do. Try a mobility move out and see if it starts making a difference in your movement.
2. If It Feels Sketchy, It’s Sketchy
Dr. Starrett explains, “Stand at the entrance of the pain cave, but do not enter the pain cave. (By far one of my favorite things to say as we mobilize before and after class at Edge Body.) Mobility should be uncomfortable but not unbearable.” When you mobilize, it should be uncomfortable, but never to the point of injury.
3. No Days Off
Just as one workout or one good meal will not change your entire diet, mobilizing for one day will not make an effective change in your range of motion. So we must stick with it! Remember, nothing changes if nothing changes.
4. Make Mobility Realistic
Mobilizing in positions that you are not particularly mobile in is the best way to get better at those positions. The more we can be in positions that we are trying to change, the better.
5. Always Mobilize in a Good Position
When you are mobilizing, if your body is out of alignment or your knees are knocking inward while your back is rounded, we must take time to reset our initial alignment and mobilize from a good position. We want to lift or exercise in a good position, so we must stick to this rule when working on our mobility too.
Whether you grab a lacrosse ball to smash your glutes, a foam roller to smash your back muscles or a band to loosen up your shoulders, the truth is, any effort to mobilize is going to put you one step closer to being more mobile and able to move about in your daily life or in the gym. If you are holding back from mobilizing because you feel that you just are flexible enough or your injury is holding you back, be patient with it. A little bit every day will add up to immense differences in your daily lives. Hoepfully this blog gets you one step closer to adding mobility movements into your exercise routine!
Here are a few things you can do today to analyze your mobility and work toward being more mobile:
- See how long you can sit in the bottom of a squat (heels flat, back flat, knees out) without falling over. If you fell over in fewer than 1 minute, it’s safe to say you have restricted mobility.
- Spend 10 minutes a day mobilizing. I mean mobilize. I don’t mean stand still and stretch your arm with cold muscles that are just waiting to be injured. Grab a lacrosse ball, a foam roller, a band, or a PVC pipe and spend a few moments putting your body in positions that will counteract your daily lack of movement. AND we can help you learn these moves during class at Edge Body.
- Breathe. Breathing is often overlooked in the world of mobilization. You don’t need to spend time in deep breathing sequences (similar to yoga or meditation) but you need to breath intentionally while you are mobilizing.
- Come to our mobility clinics at Edge Body!! Join us for our next one on Saturday, 2/11/17 @ 10:30am. We will be teaching common mobility exercises, common mobility issues and helping you become more familiar with equipment used for mobilization. FREE for current Edge Body members ($15 for non-members)