Guest Post by Paula Jager, CSCS
Mobility, flexibility, range of motion–no matter what you call it most of us do not even think about it. If you are an athlete, the more mobility you have the better you will be at your chosen sport. If you are a businessman, busy mom or senior your activities of daily living and play will be better if you have adequate mobility.
People have been known to throw their backs out with even the simplest things such as picking a child’s toy up off the ground or reaching in the back seat to get their briefcase. Most people have lost the mobility they were born with through inactivity, sitting too much and poor ergonomics in daily situations. Regaining and then maintaining your mobility is a process but one that will improve many areas of your life.
The first step is to move. We all sit too much which shortens up the front of the body (quads, abdominals, pectorals) leaving weak overstretched back muscles and even weaker and rarely used hamstrings and glutes. That in itself creates a huge imbalance in the body along with aches and pains. Combine that with a big belly and it is no wonder we have lower back pain. We were not meant to sit all day. By incorporating movement (metabolic activity and resistance training) we begin to reverse this imbalance. These activities are only part of the solution; they are the “doing”. They will, if properly balanced with some type of “undoing” correct the imbalance.
Some excellent paths to improving mobility are yoga, Pilates, PNF stretching, mobility drills/exercises and foam rolling. Let’s look at each of these a little more closely. . .
Yoga: Most everyone is familiar with yoga; it’s been around almost since time began. There are many different types of yoga ranging from power yoga which is a workout in itself to more “stretching” or meditative types of yoga. Pick one to match your needs and balance out the rest of your activities.
Pilates: Another great mode for improving the range of motion of your joints as well as building core strength.
PNF Stretching: Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation; an excellent way of rehabilitating, improving flexibility and injury prevention.
Mobility Drills: Basic movements/exercises which will improve the range of motion in a particular joint making sport and activities of daily living better. Check this link for improving hip mobility: http://stronglifts.com/7-dynamic-stretches-to-improve-your-hip-mobility/
Foam Rolling: This is really big right now and an excellent tool to be used as a warm up before exercising or after a workout to keep muscles loose and supple as well as reducing pain and tension. http://www.performbetter.com/catalog/matriarch/MultiPiecePage.asp_Q_PageID_E_91_A_PageName_E_ArticleMyofacialRelease
My Struggle with Balance
Flexibility has always been a weak link in my fitness chain. Some of that stems from genetics but also from spending the majority of my fitness life on building strength and power while neglecting mobility work. I have personally tried all of the above and I have found something good in each of the methods while some have worked better for me than others. I did not like Pilates; there is nothing wrong with it, many people have gotten excellent results it was just not for me. After getting only minimal results with yoga for years I tried CrossFit only for 9 months. When I went back to yoga I was dramatically better at it simply because of the improved core strength and range of motion I had been obtained from performing the foundational lifts in CrossFit. After stalling on my lifts rather than accept the fact I had reached my ceiling I added in mobility drills and foam rolling, consistently. The changes were dramatic!! Within a few weeks I noticed increases in my lifts, range of motion and when I again returned to yoga I was able to better perform the postures thus getting more out it and being able to better focus on the breath and finding a calm. It has brought me full circle.
It is a process of experimenting with the various methods and programs, finding what you like and what works for you. It will not happen overnight, it will not be easy and you must be consistent with your efforts. You must also have the right mix of metabolic conditioning, strength training and mobility work to avoid creating imbalances.
At age 50 with a 20 year background in health & fitness I struggled most of my life with limited flexibility holding me back from many things. By adding this in, I was able to move past self limiting plateaus and continue improvement in areas of my life that are important to me. Because of that I am more balanced; when one is more balanced one is more at peace and happier. Another thing I have learned through my maturity is that it is not always how fast you are or how heavy you can lift but whatever floats your boat–you will be better at it by being more mobile–so seek your balance.