Originally published at FLzine.com
You’d think that with me being a “mobility guy,” I’d lead this off with a quote alluding to the fact that mobility is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’d then write an entire article supporting that fact, and follow it up with a slick sales pitch to make some extra dough.
While I do think that mobility is absolutely critical, like all things in life, it never hurts to step back and examine the big picture. Most things in life represent a bell curve. There’s too much, there’s too little, and then there’s that sweet-spot that is optimal. Training for mobility is no different.
In the case of mobility, too often we think that more is better. But is that always the case? Or are their exceptions to the rule?
Before we get into the nuts and bolts, let’s go back to Anatomy 101.
Mobility versus Stability
If we remember our initial anatomy courses, we remember that every joint in our body has a certain degree of both mobility and stability. This is best thought of as a continuum, and I actually wrote an article entitled “The Mobility-Stability Continuum” a while back. With any joint the more mobility you gain, the more you sacrifice stability. The opposite is also true: The more stability you gain, the more mobility you lose.
One of the keys to understanding body-wide mobility is to look at the architecture of the individual joints. You have ball-and-socket joints like the hip and shoulder, which have tons of freedom of movement. You have condyloid/hinge joints like the knees and elbows, which have very limited mobility. In between those far ends of the spectrum, you have joints which are a little bit more balanced in their needs for mobility and stability.
The issue herein lies when one of two things happen:
1 – You start to sacrifice stability in lieu of more mobility
2 – You start to sacrifice mobility in lieu of more stability
In this article, I want to examine some basic differences between males and females, as I feel this is of the utmost importance when developing training programming. IN order to do this I will obviously have to generalize a bit, so understand that each and every case should be evaluated on an individual basis.
When it comes to women, many have at least adequate mobility from day one. It may not be optimal yet, but rarely is it the case where a lack of mobility is a limiting factor in their exercise performance. Instead, it’s quite often the opposite that’s the case.
Many of the women that we evaluate at the IFAST facility exhibit good mobility through their hips, thoracic spine and ankles, but they also tend to be excessively mobile through their lumbar spines as well. This is especially true, it seems, in clients who have performed Yoga and/or Pilates for any extended periods of time.
The lumbar spine should be a stable joint. It has very limited movement capacity on its own. As well, it’s wedged in between two joints (the hips and thoracic spine) which are suited perfectly for mobility.In this case, it’s not an issue of not having enough mobility in the right places. Instead, it’s a case of having too much mobility in the wrong places!
To rectify the situation, we will put a heavy emphasis on lumbar/core stability early on in training, coupled with reinforcing mobility via the hips and thoracic spine. This goes a long way to keeping back pain at bay.
Men are a little bit more challenging than women when it comes to mobility. Many of the guys we evaluate lack mobility at not one, not two, but three of the major joints! The ankles, hips and thoracic spine all are limited, which leads to a whole host of issues.
This lack of mobility is caused by two primary factors:
1 – Terrible training programs. Lack of structural balance and a focus on the “showy” muscles like the pecs, quads, and calves leads to poor posture, alignment, and movement capacity.
2 – Repetitive postures throughout the day. It may sound simple, but too much time sitting hunched over a computer, playing WOW, or watching Battlestar Galactica re-runs will do that, ya know?
Women generally need less overall refining then men do, and as such they get better more quickly. Many guys will need a total overhaul to their programming.
With guys, the first one, two or even three months will be heavily skewed towards mobility, foam rolling, and correcting flawed motor patterns. It’s hard to re-program 10 years worth of Monday chest workouts, but we do our best.
Beyond the basic corrective stuff, there’s a heavy emphasis on working the back side of the body as well. Generally the upper back, hamstrings, glutes and rotator cuff are all weak and need strength.
As you can see, it’s not as simple as blindly recommending that someone do more mobility work and sending them on their way. While I’ve had to generalize a bit to get that point across, I hope it makes sense.
Ladies, most of you are doing all right. Instead of getting a lot more mobility, instead, focus on getting it in the right areas and getting the lumbar/core stability up to snuff.
Guys, if you’ve been training like a bonehead for years, now’s the time to stop! Improving your mobility will not only keep you healthy, but will improve range of motion on big lifts like squats, deadlifts, and the like. More range of motion and better technique will lead to bigger lifts and bigger muscles. A win-win!
As the saying goes, “More (mobility) is better.”
Unless, of course, it’s not.