Mobility and Movement Competency
Your body is designed to move. The American College of Sports Medicine guidelines on exercise prescription (2011) outlined; ‘a program of regular exercise that includes cardiorespiratory, resistance, flexibility, and neuromotor exercise training beyond activities of daily living to improve and maintain physical fitness and health is essential for most adults.’
A lack of movement, known as sedentary behaviour, is a major health challenge facing our society today. While regular bouts of exercise have been associated with major health benefits and reduction in all cause mortality, more recent research has focused on the effects of a lack of physical activity in-between. Prolonged periods of sedentary behaviour have been linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as metabolic, musculoskeletal, and psychological disorders.
One might ask where flexibility and neuromotor training fit into this picture, and it’s a fair question. Both of these terms may grouped under the umbrella of ‘mobility’. Whether you’re the avid band puller, yoga guru or just happy to roll around the floor on a foam roller, we’ve all tried mobility training in one form or another. However, it is often misunderstood and poorly executed.
Everybody learns how to move in a different way. Our ability to contort and control our bodies is grounded on a complex interaction of genetics, age, training history and injuries. This process starts from the moment we are born, and thus most of us fall within a wide spectrum of movement capabilities. The most important thing to understand in this process is that it is completely individual. You move the way you do for do for a reason, and understanding some of the factors that influence how you move is the first step in training mobility.
What works for one does not work for all. If you watch most people train, you can pick out patterns of movement that are advantageous to performance. In order to do so, you need to have the range of movement to get into those positions, and smooth control to move through them. This is where mobility training becomes crucial. If your body lacks the range to get into safe, efficient patterns, you’re likely to develop pain and dysfunction. If you have the range but can’t control it, you’re likely to overload weaker muscle groups in your body and do the same.
Just because you have your own way of moving doesn’t mean its the end of the road, by no means! In fact, exploring your capabilities is exactly what you should aim to do, be it in the gym, at home or on the training ground. Manage your expectations, and be consistent with what you do. Most forms of mobility training are short-term gains. This may include static stretching, peripheral neuromuscular facilitation (PNF stretching), self-myofascial release (or foam rolling), manual therapy and dry needling. Again, without understanding what underpins your mobility goals, you can end up cycling from one strategy to the next without seeing significant, lasting changes. Get screened, get assessed and make sure you know what works for you in your mobility tool kit.
As a general rule of mobility, what you use you don’t lose. Once you have it – load it! None of the techniques mentioned above will lead to progressive improvements without incorporating them into a comprehensive exercise programme. Remember mobility is not just about range, but becoming comfortable moving through it. Your body will adapt as you strengthen it through these ranges, allowing you to take 2 steps forward without taking another back. Once you have built a solid foundation of total body movements, improving mobility is the first step to expanding your training capability to more demanding techniques.
Whether you are an elite level athlete or just looking to get moving, it’s crucial that you make the time to improve your mobility. If you have pain and dysfunction when trying to progress your mobility, or find yourself stuck in a rut, drop in for an assessment to plan a course to make training mobility meaningful.
Here are some ideas and mobility challenges to try screening yourself:
Bulgarian Split Squat: