A case against mobility work

Let’s start with a couple of quick definitions. First is stretching: stretching is the attempt to add range of motion (ROM) to a specific muscle. The second is mobilizations, or MOBs: MOBs are done to add ROM to a joint. Our goal today is to get you to think twice before doing either. We’ve all seen the guy at the gym who’s ventured too far down the mobility rabbit hole. He’s the poor guy who spends 45 minutes before each workout rolling, stretching, and MOBing. Unfortunately, there’s always something that doesn’t quite feel right, so he keeps trying to loosen up. By the time he feels ready, he’s out of time to work out. He leaves the gym no stronger and will have to loosen it all back up tomorrow before he attempts to work out again. Now the fun part: let’s start asking WHY.

Some guy at the gym just spent 45 minutes stretching tight hamstrings. But why?

They’re over-worked from doing another muscle’s job, which causes them to retain too much tone. But why?

The hips aren’t able to create enough extension so the hamstrings are forced to finish the ROM when walking. But why?

The hip flexors are too tight. But why?

The hip flexors are doing the core’s job and trying to stabilize the pelvis, which means they are perpetually turned on. But why? Why does the body keep sacrificing ROM?

Gray Cooke refers to mobility and stability as opposite sides of the same coin. When dealing with lower extremity dysfunction I find it easier to think of mobility as a symptom of stability. When humans begin to use sub-optimal stabilization patterns, there is always some level of a loss of mobility. If we are doing our jobs as trainers, and constantly asking “why,” most dysfunctional patterns will eventually trace back to a poor stabilization pattern along the spine or at the pelvis. The lost ROM we are seeing is likely just the natural side effect of a secondary (sub-optimal) stabilization pattern. If the MOBs we’re asking our clients to do don’t facilitate re-establishing optimal stabilization patterns, then odds are we’re doing little more then providing a band-aid. The body will tighten back up as it fights to regain stability at the spine or pelvis. If limited mobility is a side effect of poor stability, the LAST thing we want to do is steal stability, faulty or not. But if we switch our focus to regaining optimal stabilization, which will often center around breathing, scapular retraction patterns, and some form of loaded carry or crawl, I’m willing to to bet our clients will stay looser and move better.

A lower extremity loss of mobility is better understood as a failure in stability. The body will, at all costs, create stability at the lumbar spine and pelvis. In the absence of good movement, don’t think in terms of restoring mobility, think in terms of replacing faulty stability patterns.

So the athlete in our video complained of hamstring tightness and could not get fully locked into his deadlift position.  The second video was shot less than 5 minutes later after only two drills (scapular retraction and TA activation) and the athlete said the hamstrings felt fine, and he was feeling it all in his gluts, and the visual evidence matches his perception.  Don’t waste time breaking it loose, help them learn how to lock it in!

Breakthrough Personal Training
Cincinnati’s premier source for intelligent fitness.

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