I recently posted about the importance of mobility on my Instagram page. It seemed to have sparked interest in my followers so I figured I would dive a little deeper in the subject for my Fitness Fusion members!
What is Mobility?
A simple question with a complex answer in the world of strength and conditioning! When it comes to the human body and strength and conditioning, this term can no longer be defined by one sentence as it is found in a dictionary. It becomes a term applied to the functionality of multiple forms of tissue found throughout the body and how they work alongside each other. In this blog, I will be covering topics such as (1) proper functionality, (2) what aspects cause poor mobility, (3) the common locations of poor mobility, (4) issues in posture, (5) benefits of proper mobility, and (6) the process of screening and correcting mobility.
The human body is a complex system of levers and corresponding tissues when discussing structural and locomotive functionality. In order for this system to operate properly (and pain free), many elements need to be working accordingly. The first and most important aspect is the core. The core and all its abdominal musculature provide structural stability to align and protect the spine. This stability is provided through proper activation of the musculature. Once this is achieved and proper alignment is established, individuals then support the spine via intra-abdominal pressure. With a proper breathing pattern, air is pulled into the lunges using the diaphragm creating a pressured vault within the walls of the abdomen. This assists the spinal column by forcibly locking it into proper alignment.
Not only is the core the center of stability, but it’s also the ‘epicenter of functionality’. That is, the body works under a system of alternating stable and mobile joints. From there, at the beginning of each limb you find a mobile joint. The first major ones found are our ball and socket joints, the hip and shoulder, where we should find the most mobility. If you think of a ball and socket, mobility should be capable of being achieved in all directions with no structural limitations by the bone. This is an area that almost everyone finds trouble. If these mobile joints are improperly functioning, it can create an inability to have a full range of motion while maintaining core stability. In these cases, we often see a break in the alignment of the spine in order to achieve the demanded range of motion. And once the alignment of the spine is lost, the chances of injury are exponentially increased.
The next concept I want you to consider is that pain isn’t always found in the location of fault. The body reacts as a chain. For example, if I was approached by a client with low back pain, I would first assess their posture. If I found them in a position of extension in their lumbar region, I would then look down the chain at their pelvic alignment. I would then most likely find that they had an anterior tilt of their pelvis. To provide a visual, this is the swayed back you often see in gymnasts. This misalignment of the hips can often be attributed to tight quadriceps, weak anterior abdominal muscles, and weak hamstrings. This is one of the more common errors in functionality where the pain (low back) is not the location that needs focus. Here, we would need to work with the other areas to diminish the pain found elsewhere.
Common Areas of Poor Mobility
As I stated above, two of the areas I often see poor mobility in are the hip and the shoulder. These should be two of the main areas of focus with mobility training. Another area found “down the chain” from the hip is the ankle. Once functionality in the hip is restored, proper mobility of the ankle can then be addressed. Issues with ankle mobility are often attributed to tight musculature of the lower leg. With poor mobility of the hip and ankle, pain can often be found in the medial portion of the knee. Another common point of poor mobility is found in the center of “the chain,” at the location of the thoracic vertebrae. This region needs to be able to reach into extension (a curve backwards) and poor mobility can result in poor functionality of the shoulders or over-extension of the lumbar region resulting in low back pain under load.
Common Postural Issues
Poor mobility in joints can also lead to poor posture and pain throughout the body. One of the most common areas of fault in posture is anterior tilt of the pelvis (in the example above). This tilt can be the result of tightness and weakness in multiple regions, which results in misalignment and poor functionality (and low back pain!). Another common issue is a kyphotic curve of the thoracic vertebrae and protracted scapulae (AKA that forward head and forward pulled shoulder position you see in young men that bench all day, every day). This misalignment is the result of an imbalance of strength between the pectorals and the muscles responsible for stabilizing the scapulae. Finally, another common area of fault in posture due to poor mobility is a valgus position of the knee: This is when the knees collapse in, resulting in a collapse of the arches in the foot. A number of tight muscles, limited activation of muscles, and weakness in muscles can result in this issue. Individuals that experience a valgus position of their knees can experience a number of problems such as ACL tears, MCL sprains, meniscus damage, plantar fasciitis, and medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints).
How to Screen Mobility
A screening for mobility always starts with a discussion of pain and tightness. This gives the point of origin for analysis in order to investigate “the chain” for faults in functionality. Another area of discussion can be lifestyle habits, such as desk time at work, postural positioning while texting, and position of sleep. All these things we do while not focusing on our postural positioning have negative effects on the functionality and mobility of our bodies. Think about how much time we spend doing these things! In addition to time spent training, postural awareness needs to be maintained throughout the day in order to keep us healthy and mobile. That’s why I always give my clients cues to think about during daily activities outside of training, to maximize their progress!
After this discussion, a number of functionality tests are performed. Starting with overall mobility, tests can be performed up and down “the chain” to locate areas of fault. Once the areas are located, then it is a matter of assessing the associated musculotendinous tissue and creating a plan with your trainer. This plan will include proper exercise technique, muscular activation work, myofascial release and stretching, and imbalance correction.
Benefits of Mobility Restoration
The benefits of restoring mobility and overall functionality can be seen throughout the entire body! Without proper mobility, building strength can be damaging and result in a number of injuries. Unless a fault in “the chain” is corrected, strength is only being built around the problem, creating a weak point, and making the chances and severity of injury even greater. Awareness is another benefit. With knowledge from a mobility assessment and training, an individual can then apply these concepts to daily life and prevent future issues. For example, thirty-second contractions in the right areas throughout a day can make all the difference in avoiding shoulder pain, back pain, etc.
Functionality and mobility are some of the most important aspects of a healthy body and lifestyle. With them, health and well-being are achievable!
Contact me today for your FREE mobility screening and let's get straight to the core (pun intended) of your issues!
Jared Bean; BS, CSCS
Fitness Fusion Head Strength and Conditioning Coach