In our last 2 blogs, we talked a lot about the importance of strength balance and what it means for you. While it is important, you also need to consider a couple of other factors: flexibility and mobility.
Having the strength balance to perform a movement perfectly can’t be done without having the proper mobility and flexibility to do so.
Consider this pyramid below.
This is what we call the hierarchy of needs when it comes to a movement. In order to perform movements, you must have efficiency in each block of the pyramid, starting at the bottom. Not having the flexibility to do something will then affect your mobility, which in turn will affect your strength balance and so on.
Proficiency within each block will lead to proficient movement.
A person with impairments in any one of these blocks will have a greater likelihood of joint pain and lesser ability to build skill and motor control. You can think of motor control as your ability to initiate and direct your muscle function and voluntary movement.
You can’t blatantly blame a poorly moving joint on a person’s motor control though. A joint that displays decreased range of motion, likely has overdeveloped capacity in certain movements, while being underdeveloped in others.
Adding too much volume or intensity will make it even worse.
At the same time, having a good active range of motion, balanced force development across ranges of movements, and maintaining proper work and recovery won’t get you far if you are lacking motor control.
When a person experiences pain, we like to refer to this pyramid to help evaluate what the underlying issue is.
Most issues a person experiences occur in the bottom two sections of the pyramid. We are going to talk about both in more detail.
Definition: the ability for a joint to passively (assisted by gravity or load from an external force) reach a full range of motion.
A good example of flexibility is laying on your back and extending your arm over your head. In this example, gravity is passively allowing you to reach your range of motion.
What can limit a person’s flexibility?
Bony anatomy: examples of this are bony blockages or bone spurs.
Muscle Spasms: these can also be called muscle cramps. They are painful contractions or tightening in your muscles.
Let’s talk about and differentiate between the sensations you might feel in your joints and tissues.
Tightness is how something feels. It is the stretching sensation you will feel at your end range of motion, even when that range is full. Having a full range of motion along with tightness at the end range is normal and okay!
Shortness is the state of being: lacking a full range of motion. It is objective. It is measurable. Compare this to tightness which is subjective. Shortness means you physically can not get into a certain position.
Stiffness is a decreased rate of change in a joint angle. You may find that you do have full flexibility of a joint but it takes some time or force to reach that end range.
Consider these few terms next time you are trying to describe how your muscles feel as you might be saying the wrong thing.
Definition: active range of motion.
Don’t confuse it with how flexible you are. It’s how actively flexible you are. Flexibility is the potential for an active range of motion. Mobility is the actual active range of motion.
A good example of mobility is performing the same test from above for flexibility, except you do it standing with your back against a wall. This will give you a good idea of how good your overhead should mobility is.
The root causes of mobility issues are the lack of flexibility, weakness at the end range of motion, or inability to stabilize.
I’m sure a lot of you find that you have a hard time getting into certain positions and aren’t sure what to do to make it feel better or more comfortable. What should you do you ask?
Spend more time in those positions.
Can’t get into a full squat? Sit into a full squat but use the rig or a door frame to help prop yourself into the correct position. We (humans) spend a lot of our days sitting. This causes your hip flexors to feel stiff, which in turn can affect your ability to squat. By spending time in these positions, your body will in turn feel more comfortable doing them.
It’s very easy to ignore working on your flexibility and mobility. (I should know, I’m very good at not doing them!) But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ignore them yourselves.
Having good flexibility and mobility is something that should be just as important to you as improving your fitness and strength. I know most of your goals revolve around losing weight and getting stronger, but if you aren’t working on your flexibility and mobility, it will take a lot longer for you to reach those goals.
This is why it’s important to take the time to properly warm-up and cool down during your workouts. Your body will suffer the consequences if you don’t take them seriously or avoid them. Take the extra few minutes and stretch things out or work on mobilizing the joints that give you issues.
If you are interested in learning more about possible limitations you have, consider talking to a coach and having them do our mobility assessment on you. This will give you a good idea if you indeed are lacking flexibility and mobility in certain areas. In doing the assessment, it will also allow us to better help you and properly address the limitations you may have. We have protocols we can give you that will help with your issues and get you on the proper track to better movement!