Improve Performance With Mobility Training
There are several factors in our modern lifestyles that can affect our physical well-being and leave us feeling aged beyond our years. Sitting for extended hours throughout the day at a desk, overall lack of movement, or even repetitive movements that comprise our range of motion can leave our bodies feeling stiff and tight. For participants of physical activity, this can also take a toll on performance. While past research has lead us to stretching as a solution, recent studies have found the benefits of mobility training to surpass those of a static stretch, particularly for those engaging in physical activity.
Static stretching primarily focuses on lengthening a muscle until either a stretch sensation (Cronin et al. 2008) or the point of discomfort is reached (Behm et al. 2004) and then holding the muscle in a lengthened position for a prescribed period of time (Ebben et al. 2004). For example, think 30 seconds of holding a standing quadricep stretch or sitting and holding a forward bend to engage the hamstrings. Although stretching is known to improve flexibility, recent studies have found that it does not necessarily improve performance when it comes to those engaging in physical activity.
A 2014 study found that endurance runners were on average thirteen seconds slower when they performed static stretching immediately prior to a one mile run at a five percent uphill grade. The researchers measured more than just the time it took to complete the mile. If there was a difference in performance, they wanted to know why. They examined the ground contact time and also muscle activation via electromyography (EMG). The researchers found that muscle activity and ground contact both increased after stretching, indicating it took more effort to complete the run which resulted in the slower times. Researchers concluded that endurance runners may be at risk for decreased performance after static stretching and static stretching should be avoided before a short endurance bout (Lowery et al. 2014).
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Mobility training, according to physical therapist and mobility expert Kelly Starrett, is a “a movement-based integrated full-body approach that addresses all the elements that limit movement and performance including short and tight muscles, soft tissue restriction, joint capsule restriction, motor control problems, joint range of motion dysfunction, and neural dynamic issues (Mobility vs. Flexibility, 2015).” A person with great mobility is ultimately able to perform exercises or day-to-day movements with no restrictions in the range of motion. A flexible person however, may or may not have the strength, balance, or coordination to perform the same movements.
A study done by researchers from the University of Luton in the UK examined 97 union rugby players to determine the effects of mobile, dynamic stretches vs. static stretches prior to a 20-m sprint. The main finding from this study was a significantly faster sprint time when mobile, dynamic stretching was incorporated into a warm-up, with significantly slower sprint times observed for subjects employing either static active or passive stretching regimes. Researchers concluded that for the majority of sports performers needing to optimize sprint performance over a relatively short distance, a mobile, dynamic stretch was advisable (Fletcher et al. 2004).
Conclusively, mobility training is a beneficial tool to help improve our overall well-being and performance regardless of age or varying fitness regimens. Try the following routine as your next warm up for exercise, prior to bed, or even during the lunch hour to break the monotony of being in the same posture for an extended period of time.
Leg Swings (Groin/Hip): Stand 2-3 feet from a wall with palms flat against wall at shoulder height. While keeping the right foot pointing straight ahead, swing the left leg in a pendulum motion from side to side. Gradually increase the range of comfortable motion. Perform this drill for ten repetitions, three times on each leg.
Scapular Wall Slides (Back/Shoulders): Begin by standing with your back against a wall with correct posture. Raise arms out to your sides so that your forearms rest vertically against the wall. Maintain this contact throughout the exercise. Slide your arms up until your arms are straight and then back down all the time focusing on pulling your shoulder blades together and down. At the bottom of the movement bring your elbows into your body and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Perform this drill for eight to ten repetitions.
Rocking Ankle Mobilization: Begin on all fours, and pike your hips so your torso is relatively straight. Place your feet relatively close to your body to start. Position one foot flat on the ground, with the second foot gently resting on top of the planted foot’s ankle. Gently rock forward and backward so your heel touches the floor and then raises off of it. Slowly walk your feet backwards if you feel comfortable with the stretch and your mobility improves. Perform this drill for eight repetitions on each side.
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(Source: Mobility drills adapted from Eric Cressey, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association)
Cronin J, Nash M, Whatman C. 2008. The acute effects of hamstring stretching and vibration on dynamic knee joint range of motion and jump performance. Phys. Ther. Sport 9: 89-96 CrossRef, Medline.
Behm DG, Bambury A, Cahill F, Power K. 2004. Effect of acute static stretching on force, balance, reaction time, and movement time. Med. Sci. Sports. 36: 1397-1402 Medline.
Ebben WP, Carroll RM, Simenz CJ. 2004. Strength and conditioning practices of National Hockey League strength and conditioning coaches. J. Strength Cond. Res. 18: 889-897 CrossRef, Medline.
Ryan Lowery, et. al. 2014. Effects of static stretching on 1-mile uphill run performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(1).
“Mobility vs. Flexibility.” Invictus | Redefining Fitness. CrossFit Journal, 2015. Web. 15 Jan. 2017.
Fletcher I, Jones B. 2004. The effect of different warm-up stretch protocols on 20 meter sprint performance in trained rugby union players. J Strength Cond Res 18: 885–888.
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