Sunday, September 30, 2012

Late to the Mobility Party...

By Andrew McGunagle

Last week I was talking to my friend, who happens to be a very strong and very smart lifter, about mobility when I had a sudden realization: I suck at mobility work. Actually, to be honest, this realization was not exactly sudden; I had been growing dissatisfied with my knowledge of (not to mention my results from) mobility work over the past few months.

Ever since I learned about the joint-by-joint approach to the body in early 2009, I have regularly employed a variety of mobility drills before every training session. Additionally, I was an early adopter of foam rolling, and I have rolled on soft foams, denser foams, and eventually PVC pipes in order to improve the quality of my tissues. Early in my quest for better mobility, I was able to get rid of nagging knee pain that had made the last few years of my high school sports career quite painful. I did this by improving my ankle mobility, and I was instantly sold on the usefulness of mobility work.

Three years of anterior knee pain......gone in a week.
  My mobility has gotten good, but not great, and I have not been able to make significant improvements in my joint mobility for quite some time. I have used a standard mobility routine before all of my lifting sessions, and this routine often requires 30+ minutes to complete. Every time I do this warm-up, I notice that I am continually fighting against the same restrictions in the same joints. I am able to make slight mobility improvements that allow me to adopt correct lifting positions, but these improvements are history by the time my next session rolls around.

If insanity is, in fact, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then I have been crazy for a couple of years now. I have been able to get by with what I know and, up until this point, I have not felt the need to make drastic alterations to my mobility practices. However, this complacency disintegrated when the friend I was discussing mobility with told me he was close to being able to squat with his toes forward, a feat that requires tremendous ankle and hip mobility. My friend informed me that he had identified some mobilizations on Kelly Starrett's MobilityWOD that he found helpful, and has been doing a few of these mobilizations nearly every day.

Now, before talking to my friend, I had checked out MobilityWOD and cherry-picked a couple of mobilizations that I liked and added them to my warm-up routine. However, I had never spent a lot of time trying to identify and understand the main principles of Kelly's teachings. With renewed motivation stemming from my brief chat, I finally got around to immersing myself in Kelly's website and all I can say is......I am an idiot.

The Mobility Man.
I spent nearly half a day watching MobilityWOD videos, reading the accompanying blog posts, and practicing a number of mobilizations, and I started making some notable progress in my joint mobility. After not seeing significant mobility improvements in a few years, a few hours of research allowed me to explore ranges of motion that I had never experienced.

If you have been following MobilityWOD for a few years, then you probably think I am a fool for failing to recognize the power of K-Star's teachings (which I think is a fair judgement). If you have never checked out MobilityWOD, then you are probably wondering what all the fuss is about. For those of you in the second camp, I urge you to spend some time on Kelly Starrett's site. Additionally, be sure to adhere to the following tenets that I list, as they detail realizations I had about what Kelly is doing right and what I was doing wrong.                

1. Do a little every day: MobilityWOD literally means Mobility Workout Of the Day, and there is a reason for that. In our day and age, most people have a number of mobility deficiencies they need to address, as sitting and inactivity characterize the majority of individuals' daily lives. If you are determined to counteract years of bad habits and trauma, then you must commit to years of good habits and restoration. When you are getting ready for a lifting session, dedicate at least 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning of the session to mobility drills that are specific to the lifts you will be doing that day. Think about the bottom and top positions of the lifts you have planned, and figure out which mobilizations will enable you to improve your positioning. Conversely, on days that you are not lifting, devote some time to your problem areas. Everyone should be able to find at least 10 to 15 free minutes in the morning or before bed, and few activities can make for a more productive use of a quarter hour in terms of health and well-being. So, mobilize! Finish this article, then get to it! 

2. Time it: You will never realize how long two minutes of stretching is until you put two minutes on a timer and wait for the relief of the alarm. Why two minutes? Well, Kelly says that is about how long it takes to tap into the viscoelastic properties of tissues and start to make changes. This makes sense, and it really seems to work. If you have been mobilizing without regard for time, then you will probably be struck by how little time you actually spend on each individual mobilization. Most people spend about a minute on ten mobility drills, when they could spend four minutes on a single drill and make far more significant changes. It is worth mentioning, however, that two minutes is not a cure-all, magic number for everybody. Kelly likes to say that you should stick with a drill until you make change and continue until you stop making change. How do you measure change? This is where testing and retesting come into play...     

3. Test-retest: Testing before and retesting after each mobility drill is crucial, as determining whether or not the mobilizations you are using are actually working is too logical to be left undone. Before you start mobilizing, you need to gauge where your movement capacity is at before the intervention. This drill can be a simple, single-joint mobility test, but using a relevant movement is a better approach. So, if you are trying to improve your hip flexion and external rotation in order to squat better, then squat before you do the stretch and after you do the stretch. The flexion and external rotation stretch that you do should translate to improved flexion and external rotation while squatting. You will not know if this is the case unless you test then retest. Don't be lazy and skip these steps!

4. Stop kidding yourself: One of the primary reasons I did not feel the need to expand my knowledge of mobility and make changes to my warm-up routine was that I didn't think my joint mobility was all that bad. However, my mobility is not all that good, either. I have the movement capacity to do all of the lifts I want to do, but I always need to spend a lot of time recovering this capacity before every session. I am always on the verge of poor positioning, bad technique, and unproductive training sessions and, while I have largely been able to stay in control of my mobility and my training, I can no longer justify this risk. I have realized that I need to stop kidding myself; I need to get better, and I believe the time I have spent (and will spend) learning from the MobilityWOD videos and working to improve my mobility will greatly benefit my lifting. If you are in a similar situation, then I urge you to do the same. Start here:

Thanks for reading! 

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