Winds of change
I have lately praised a lot in my blog for mobility training. Even so much that I am excited to host a Workshop on the subject in August this year. Especially because of this, I have received questions from several directions as to what the mobility training is in general, and have I “switched camp” from bodyweight training to mobility training, and also what is the difference between stretching and mobility training?
As these are very good questions, I will try to answer them plainly and also explain why mobility training is something that every average Joe should do.
What is mobility?
Mobility is a rather awkward concept and there are various terms for different types of mobility. In this text, I will consciously simplify the matter and use terms that may not stand up to a more critical examination. When I talk about mobility in this article, I mean mainly active (static and dynamic) stretching and so-called end-range strength.
Mobility is practically all the movement that the body does. Stretching is practically any movement that aims to increase muscle length. I want to simplify the definition of mobility here by comparing it to traditional stretching, as these two things are often confused, and no wonder because they go hand in hand. Although the concepts have many similarities, they still have a significant difference – muscular strength is needed for mobility but not so much for flexibility.
Flexibility refers to the ability of a muscle to stretch passively (no muscle work) while mobility refers to the ability of a muscle to stretch actively (using muscle work through the overall range ). This is probably easiest to illustrate with a simple example: A person with good flexibility can easily access the middle splits but is unable to produce power in this position – meaning he can’t lift his/her ass off the ground. He or she gets into this position with the help of gravity. A person with good mobility can also easily do middle splits but is able to actively lift the ass a few centimeters off the floor and maintain this position – therefore can produce power in the extreme position of stretch. This is called end-range strength and is the thing with mobility.
The difference is therefore significant, although both are needed and flexibility alone is not a bad thing, of course.
Mobility is needed for high-quality and efficient movement. This is especially true in sports, but also in everyday movement – and good mobility makes this everyday movement much easier. Poor mobility can be seen, for example, in the difficulty of tying shoelaces or sitting on the floor. It can also be a major cause of musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain.
From an athlete’s perspective, good mobility prevents injuries and makes movement more efficient. For example, a javelin thrower with restrictions on the mobility of the shoulder joint is directly related to the quality and efficiency of the throw. Shoulder flexibility alone is not the answer, but specific mobility training is – It makes more sense to gain strength over the entire range of motion of the joint as this protects the joint from injuries very effectively. Another example that inevitably comes to mind is Crossfit – especially at the amateur level. Due to the nature of the sport, which involves a lot of mobility-intensive lifting and movement (eg Olympic lifting and handstand-walking), it is extremely important to have good mobility to prevent injuries. How many shoulder or back injuries would have been prevented with better mobility? How much could an amateur triathlete improve his swimming with optimal shoulder mobility? How much would a boulderer benefit from good mobility? How nice it would be for a Gym Joe if he could look to the left without turning his whole body.
From a mundane perspective, there are also many examples. Whether it’s changing car tires or tying shoelaces. All movement requires mobility and good mobility makes it easier and more fun (even the changing tires). Good (or bad) mobility can be seen, for example, when playing with children. It can be quite shitty to move around the playmat with toy cars if you can’t be in a deep squat and it’s not easier to sit on the floor.
For myself, these, too, were everyday realism some time ago. Everyday stuff was often challenging, even I’ve never had the worst mobility. Similarly, my poor mobility at work and in sports has caused unnecessary injuries and sick leaves. The poor mobility of the pelvis in particular has caused me back pain which has made everyday chores even impossible at times. Tying shoelaces has always been more or less a sporting performance and playing on the playmat I mentioned above has usually resulted me having car sales there on one side of the mat. Now with mobility training, my back has never (during my adulthood) been in such good shape and I am really starting to understand the reasons behind my back pains.
Maintaining mobility adds value as we get older. If tying shoes is an accomplishment in your fifties, imagine what it’s like to be seventy or eighty years old. It would certainly be nice to do deep squats and even nicer to be able to play with your potential grandchildren on that play mat.
Changing the camp?
Then to the question: Have I transitioned from bodyweight training to mobility training?
Andwer would be: “Yes I have and No, I have not”.
Yes, in the sense that I have been working hard on my mobility for the past six months. I have consciously left out the actual bodyweight training because the total load would otherwise be too high. I’ve found that now is the time to increase mobility big time, as a result of which I may sometimes be able to achieve bigger steps in bodyweight training – for example, press to handstand. Mobility and bodyweight training still go very closely hand in hand and it is a bit difficult to draw the line between them. From this point of view, the answer to the question is no – I haven’t changed camps, I’ve really just focused more on the mobility side of bodyweight training at this point. Once certain goals in this area have been achieved, there will be less mobility training but it will never leave the training routine again. However, chin-ups, push-ups, and other basic bodyweight drills are constantly present, although they are not currently being done progressively – they are in maintenance mode. Of course, it’s a little annoying when bar muscle-up , for example, doesn’t work right now because I haven’t trained it for a while. However, the time will come again.
You can live your life with poor mobility, but increasing it gives far more than it takes. I am a living example of that. Flexibility is very important and without good flexibility there can be no good mobility so it should also be understood that traditional (static, passive) stretching is also important.
Mobility is needed in everything you do, and as unfortunate as it is, it is easily perishable. For example, the effects of sedentary work are seen in poor mobility today, which has a negative effect on general well-being. Extreme mobility, such as splits, is certainly not needed to feel comfortable in your body, but certain aspects of mobility are important in everyday life – therefore even the slightest increase in mobility is a good thing.
On my own (short) six-month timespan on mobility training, I have had really significant positive effects. At times, I’m even a little upset that I haven’t realized these benefits before. However, it is never too late to start mobility training.
Did I get you assured of the benefits of mobility training?