Mobility is a word that is becoming increasingly popular in the fitness world but is a term that is commonly misunderstood and is therefore not applied appropriately. On the other side of this movement coin to mobility is stability these are inherently linked together at each articular surface. This article will explain what mobility and stability are, why they are important and a few ideas to help improve these too important components of fitness. Mobility relates to the range of movement we can achieve at each joint, appropriate range of motion is necessary with which to perform many activities in the gym, in sport and in life in general.
What affects mobility
Mobility can be hindered by many factors such as lack of, or too much strength, in muscles in relation to their antagonists (opposite muscle groups, e.g. the antagonist to the biceps are the triceps), this can also be related to disordered muscle activation patterns which can also cause imbalances and poor mobility across the joint. Lack of flexibility is also a key factor for reduced mobility, this can be related to everything from delayed onset muscle soreness, not effectively stretching or warming up the muscles before performing exercise and having neurological issues such as trapped nerves. Mobility can also be affected by injury and therefore appropriate rehabilitation should take place before a return to sport, this is the key reason one of the first steps in the rehabilitation process is returning range of motion at the joint. This means the muscles are being activated through the entire range and do not adapt or unnecessarily shorten or lengthen which can lead to instability, poor movement patterns and further associated injury. This can also lead to problems in other joints, caused by them compensating for poor movement patterns at the previously injured joint. Poor mobility at one joint and pain/tightness within a muscle group is commonly referred from other locations; a classic example of this is people with ‘tight’ hamstrings when the problem is commonly lack of mobility through the hip flexors and/or lower back. If you have recurrent tightness or lack of mobility and targeting that muscle doesn’t alleviate this, then the best advice is to go and see a relevant health professional to assess the other points in the kinetic chain. Mobility can be improved by increasing flexibility using a combination of static and dynamic stretching, loosening of muscles through massage of the use of foam rollers and there are many corrective exercises that can be performed that can address the timing and activation issues of muscles around each joint, and of course proper weight lifting form.
Stability is important too
As well as a muscle being mobile we also, rather counter-intuitively want it to be stable. This means that in one plane we want the joint to have a good and appropriate range of motion to perform the task safely and effectively, but in other planes of motion we want the joint to remain relatively stable, through the use of muscular control combined with ligaments in order to prevent damage to the joint. Stability can be influenced by lack of mobility, which will put excessive loading on other structures trying to compensate such as the ligaments, tendons, bones and muscles causing both acute and chronic injury.
How to improve stability
Stability can be improved again through performing activities with appropriate weightlifting or exercise technique, we use the term exercise because even with activities like running lack of attention to running technique, having appropriate mobility and stability throughout the body will lead to chronic injuries which are commonly the result of many cycles of motion at each joint, where even small deficits in mobility and stability can have a cumulative effect and cause problems. A common issue in weight training is the neglect of the eccentric (lowering the weight and lengthening the muscle under load) part of the movement in weight training activities, which focus more on the concentric contractions (Shortening the muscle under load), that is important for muscle controls, the eccentric portion of the movement is very important for joint stability and control, so a simple way to improve stability is to really concentrate on the eccentric portion of movements. This is particularly important for those who sprint during exercise as it is the eccentric contraction of the hamstrings that provides control at the knee for the most part.
This is also massively important around the shoulder, because we use benches for a majority of pressing movements this means we do not have to control the scapula as it is pinned into the bench, this is great for stabilising the shoulder joint for this exercise allowing us to be more stable and strong for that movement, however this also leads to a lack of scapula control and causes them to ‘wing’ this can lead to poor shoulder stability away from the bench meaning predisposition to injury in other movements and activities.
What do we suggest?
We suggest pressing at least one shoulder pressing movement per week concentrating on the eccentric movement and without using a bench for support, a great way to do this is to use a machine shoulder press but facing into the machine. Unfortunately for some people mobility and stability are usually at the bottom of the list when it comes to their training programs, usually because time for exercise in our busy lives is short so we have a predisposition to want to get on with the activity, be that weight training or our chosen sport, without consideration for these factors. Taking 10 minutes at the start of each session to warm up the joints, use appropriate mobility and stability exercises and the use of foam rollers and massage balls are a great way to really get deep into the tissues for self-massage to help prevent injury and improve performance. For most people dropping one training session per week in favour of a mobility session, could in the long term reduce injury risk and improve performance. [Tweet ""self-massage to help prevent injury and improve performance""] Thanks again for reading, Peace, weights and Protein Shakes, Paul Rimmer (BSc, MSc). [wpsr_socialbts]