How and why you should include the three types of mobility practices into your exercise program
Mobility is essential, especially in functional training. The core movements in functional fitness require full functional mobility to be completed safely and with maximum results. If you do not have sufficient mobility in your joints, your movement pattern will be inefficient, you will develop muscle imbalances, and your risk of injury will increase. You most certainly will not perform to your potential.
But what is mobility? It is the ability to move a joint through its full range of motion with control. We are all born with mobility; just watch a toddler move. (Place foot in mouth – no problem!) We all gradually lose this mobility as we grow and age, mostly because we do little to maintain mobility. Our modern lifestyle, for which most of us sit at a desk all day, hastens this loss of mobility and contributes to other muscle imbalances that affect our ability to perform at optimal levels.
What can you do to regain and maintain mobility? First, understand its components so you can implement a program that works for you. Mobility work can be broken down into three different types: warm-up, recovery, and focused mobility. Each of these is done at different times, for different purposes, and utilizes different tools. Performed correctly, they combine to form an effective mobility practice.
Done before the WOD, warm-up mobility is what most people think of as mobility work. It is important to properly prepare your body for the movements required. During your warm-up, you should focus on targeting the muscles to be used for the listed workout. If that includes overhead lifts, then warm up and loosen the shoulders. A lack of functional mobility in your shoulders can prevent you from reaching the overhead position comfortably and safely. For heavier workouts, you should mobilize and dynamically warm up the muscles as opposed to using static stretching. Static stretching elongates the muscles and soft tissue and reduces elastic response, which makes it harder to produce maximum power. Warm-up mobility should be performed just before the WOD for 5-10 minutes.
The emphasis in warm-up mobility should be on self-myofascial release (SMR), so proper tool choice is important. In competitive fitness, the consensus tends to be that harder is better: “If it hurts, it must be working.” In warm-up mobility, however, a harder tool can be counterproductive. Since the goal is to loosen up and become movement ready, you need a tool that allows you to relax into the tissue. A tool that is too hard for the user causes pain and stress. Harder tools can be used effectively for warm-up, but they are an advanced choice.
Optimizing your warm-up to fit your body requires experimentation. For every muscle there are multiple ways to loosen it up. For certain WODs, you will find that different tools and strategies help your body prepare better. Whatever you are doing should feel good and properly prepare your muscles for the WOD.
Recovery mobility is performed for 10-15 minutes after a WOD to help your body jump start the recovery process. This increases circulation through the muscle and tissue and helps the muscles relax. This can help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness and recovery time. Without proper recovery mobility work, you may lose mobility and flexibility, which can lead to long-term muscle imbalance and increased risk of injury.
Tool choice is critical in recovery mobility.
After a workout, your muscles are damaged and inf lamed. Hard mobility tools can aggravate this situation and actually slow the recovery process. You should use softer mobility tools and static stretching to aid your body in recovering. Recovery work is about relaxing the muscles and improving circulation. Intense pain, and tools that cause intense pain, are the enemy of proper recovery.
As in warm-up mobility, there are multiple ways to mobilize your body during recovery. Discover what recovery mobility methods work best for you. You should explore how different tools and stretches affect your recovery time. Recovery mobility work is not about pushing yourself; it’s about helping your body recover more effectively.
Focused mobility work is a workout in its own right: It is done on its own instead of pre- or post-WOD. It is the most important type of mobility work because it addresses the needs of your entire body. You work on your general mobility needs during these sessions, but the focus is on the areas of your body causing you the most trouble. If you sit all day, your focused mobility work will be different from that of someone who stands all day.
To get the most out of focused mobility work, you need to allow 20-30 minutes per session. By devoting this much time, you can effectively address the tightest parts of your body. Making time for this can be difficult, between your work, social life, and fitness commitments, but think of focused mobility as another workout to schedule. To start out, try fitting in a couple sessions a week. Every other day is a great way to start. Done correctly, focused mobility affects your body like any other workout; you need time to recover between workouts. Scheduling your mobility work in the evening, right before bed, is perfect, since the workout will help relax you, relieve stress, and help you sleep better.
In focused mobility work, tool selection is all about personal preference. After all, these sessions are about your body’s specific needs. To achieve the desired effects from your sessions, you need to spend 1-3 minutes on each muscle. This means finding the tool that allows you to do this comfortably. This type of mobility work may be painful, but if the tool you are using causes intense pain or numbness, then it is not the right one. Go as hard as you want, as soft as you want, as big or as small as you want. As long as your tool allows you to mobilize effectively, it is the tool for you.
Everyone’s focused mobility work will be different because each person’s individual lifestyle leads to different areas of tightness and imbalance. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t worry if your sessions are different than others. Find what works for you and makes your body feel good, and focus on that. Remember, if new techniques or tools cause extreme discomfort or numbness, stop.
Putting it all together
Developing your own effective mobility practice requires you to spend time learning about mobility techniques, practicing them, and discovering what works best for you. The first place many of you will start with is the Internet, which is full of information, but it may be misleading. Your box coach is a more reliable source because of their certifications and experience. You may also be fortunate enough to have a mobility coach or classes available at your box. If not, look for courses and seminars in your area. There, you have the opportunity to speak with mobility specialists and find out how best to include it into your own practices. Once you are comfortable in your knowledge, all you have to do is to implement that knowledge into your workout schedule. As you start mobilizing, you will discover which tools and practices work best for your warm-up, recovery, and focused mobility sessions. There is no one correct way to mobilize, but by understanding the basics, you can learn how to fit your mobility practices to your body. Pushing your body to its limit is rewarding; mobility helps you keep pushing.
How to apply the various mobility phases to the overhead position:
Warm-up: A dynamic warm-up will get the muscles warm and heart rate up. Apply rolling and targeted, light mobility on the thoracic back, lats, and pecs — the muscle groups that will make reaching proper overhead position difficult if they are tight. Work on each muscle group for 20-30 seconds to loosen these muscles and increase your mobility.
Recovery: After the WOD, the primary movement muscles will feel the burn and tighten up. Focus on the traps, shoulders, triceps, and lats during recovery to reduce tightness, improve circulation, and minimize the soreness you will experience later. Roll these areas gently to minimize additional aggravation of the muscle tissue. Spend no more than 30 seconds on any tight area or knot during the recovery session.
Focused workout: This is where the bulk of mobility improvements are made. A focused mobility session should be done at least a day after a heavy overhead workout and at least a day before the next heavy overhead workout. Work the thoracic back, pecs, and lats, rolling each area to survey for knots and adhesions. Spend 30-120 seconds on each knot or adhesion found, relaxing onto the roller to get the knot to release. Block out 20-40 minutes to allow a complete mobility session.
About the author:
Eugene Oktyabrskiy earned his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from California State University, Northridge. He has spent five years in the fitness industry as a trainer and is currently director of marketing for KnotOut Enterprises (theknotout.com).
Metcon Media is headquartered in Southern California and is a media company dedicated to promoting a healthy and active lifestyle through functional training and proper nutrition.
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