Thursday, 09 December 2021 13:02

The Second Foundation of Fitness: Mobility

By Robert Rehberger PT, DPT, OCS | Families Today
The Second Foundation of Fitness: Mobility

Today is the third article in our series exploring the foundations of fitness. 

My last article reviewed the principle of stability. Improving stability will help you sharpen your ability to adapt to new activities, maintain balance, and react to new movements. Today, we will look at mobility and why it may be important to your fitness.

Mobility is our body’s ability to move freely, efficiently, and under control. Mobility allows us to move correctly and effectively with minimal restriction or difficulty. It is a crucial part of our fitness affecting all individuals and activities. 

A mobile joint taken through its full range of motion daily will be a healthier joint. We must incorporate it into our daily activities or sport, like the person who has to get down to play with grandkids and then reach overhead into the cupboard. If we don’t perform our mobility positions daily, it won’t be easy to do those movements when the time comes, basically, “use it or lose it.”

Over the last few years, mobility and stretching have been controversial in the fitness world—claims about what works and what doesn’t seem to change week to week. 

This controversy raises the questions:
What stretching or mobility routine is the best? 
How long should I hold a stretch for? 
Should I stretch before or after participating in an activity? 
Do I even need to stretch? 
Does stretching help prevent injury?

Unfortunately, there is no one right answer, and there is no one-size-fits-all program.

Three myths about your mobility:

1. Stretching Reduces injury
The evidence for stretching reducing injury is inconclusive. Prepping your body with some active movements/stretches can only be a good thing. 

2. Stretching Improves Athletic Performance
Dynamic stretching and sport-specific warmup movements are ideal. Try to keep your warmup around 5-15 minutes.

Static stretching (i.e., stretching held for more than 30 seconds) has been shown to reduce strength, power, and performance! 

3. Stretching Improves Body Composition
Stretching does not make muscles appear longer and leaner. Lean-looking muscles come from diet and activity...NOT stretching. 

There are no detrimental or harmful effects of stretching. 

Taking our joints through their entire available range of motion helps lubricate them and move the surrounding tissue and joint fluid. 
You will improve your range of motion after stretching, but it will be temporary. Stretching simply does change the physical length of tissue.
There is a strong mind-body connection and stress-relieving properties achieved with some forms of mobility/stretch training. 
Mobility work with specific injuries or post-surgery can be helpful to decrease pain and sensitivity. 
Particular movements or athletic positions that require a specific amount of joint motion can benefit from targeted mobility work.

How do we train mobility efficiently and effectively?

Remember, there isn’t a one size fits all program. But what I call “strength stretching” and dynamic warmups will serve you best in the most time-efficient manner. Strength stretching (aka loaded stretching) is a method to help simultaneously lengthen tissue (muscle, joints, ligaments) while developing strength and control through the full range of motion. 

This way of performing mobility differs from traditional stretching by incorporating a weight over a more extended period. Strength stretching provides the benefits of strengthening and stretching at the same time! 

Below are a couple of examples of ‘strength stretches’ you can perform. 

Calf raises to heel drop: 
Stand tall with your knees straight and heels hanging off of a bottom stair or a solid piece of wood. Hold onto the wall or railing for support. Start with your heels below the surface you’re standing on. Rise up, pushing your toes into the object that you are standing on. 

Slowly lower yourself (over 5-10 seconds) until your heels feel tight or restricted. Perform 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps three times per week. 

You can make this less challenging by standing on a shorter surface or with more hand support. To make this harder, try on one foot or hold a weight in one hand.

Deep chair squats:
Find a chair, sofa, or stool that is relatively low. Load up a backpack with several weights/books. (Start with 5-20 pounds). 

Next, drive your heels into the ground, lean slightly forward, and quickly rise out of the chair. You may need to use your hands a bit to help yourself up. After coming to a tall standing posture, slowly, with control, lower yourself down into the chair over 5 seconds. 

Repeat 2-3 sets of 8-12 more repetitions per session three times per week. 

Remember to always perform the movements in a range that you feel under control over and go slowly. Also, it is normal to have some post-stretch soreness. 

Mobility is a vital component of long-term fitness that helps you freely and efficiently for an active, healthy life. Any movement is better than no movement, so find a routine you like and stick with it! 

In my following two articles, we will be looking at power and strength and how you can participate and improve in each area!

Dr. Robert Rehberger PT, DPT, OCS, is a physical therapist at Goodemote Physical Therapy. He is a Board-Certified Orthopedic Specialist and a Board Certified Spine Fellow. 

Call 518-306-6894 to set up an appointment with one of our highly trained PTs. 

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