How to Create Long-Lasting Mobility and Flexibility Changes: A Comprehensive Guide
Maintaining mobility and flexibility are not only essential for athletes and fitness enthusiasts but for everyone’s overall well-being and injury prevention. However, despite various attempts, many individuals struggle to achieve long-lasting changes in these areas. This blog aims to provide a comprehensive guide on how to create sustainable improvements in mobility and flexibility through effective training methods. We will delve deeper into the similarities between mobility training and strength training and explore the significance of loading tissues under length. By following these principles, you can unlock your body’s potential and achieve lasting improvements in mobility and flexibility.
If this continues, running efficiency breaks down and the forces then become too much for the muscles and joints to take on which in many cases can lead to pain, stress fractures, meniscus injuries in the knee, and labral injuries in the hip.
So, how do we reduce the amount of impact our legs take when we run? How do I prevent pain and running-related injuries? Luckily, there are a few ways to prevent pain and running-related injuries.
Section 1: Understanding Mobility Training
1.1 The Role of Mobility in Everyday Life
Mobility is the ability of a joint or a combination of joints to move through a full range of motion. It plays a crucial role in our daily activities such as walking, sitting, reaching, and even engaging in physical activities like sports or exercise. Lack of mobility can lead to stiffness, limited range of motion, and increased risk of injuries, affecting not just athletic performance but also the quality of life. It’s essential to understand that mobility and flexibility, although often used interchangeably, have distinct differences.
Flexibility refers to a tissue’s ability to stretch passively, meaning it can be lengthened with external force, like a partner stretching your hamstrings. On the other hand, mobility often refers to the ability of a tissue to move through a range of motion actively, meaning you have control over that range without relying on external force. To put it simply, someone who is very flexible can be described as “bendy,” whereas someone with great mobility can not only achieve a wide range of motion but also control it effectively.
1.2 Similarities Between Mobility and Strength Training
Contrary to popular belief, mobility training and strength training share fundamental principles. Just like strength training, mobility training requires progressive overload. This means that you gradually increase the intensity of exercises to challenge the body and encourage adaptation. By progressively pushing the boundaries of your mobility, you can improve your range of motion over time.
Additionally, both forms of training benefit from proper warm-ups and cooldowns. Warm-ups prepare your muscles and joints for movement, increasing blood flow and raising body temperature, which can enhance the effectiveness of your mobility training. Similarly, cooldowns help your body recover and reduce the risk of post-training soreness or injuries. The incorporation of dynamic warm-up routines can specifically improve the pliability of tissues, enhancing your body’s readiness for more intense mobility exercises due to increased temperature and tissue viscosity. With a good warm up we are also causing a sympathetic response (think fight or flight). This response prepares the body for activity, reducing our risk of injury due to tissues being unprepared for loading.
Section 2: Building a Foundation for Mobility and Flexibility
2.1 Assessing Current Mobility
Before embarking on a mobility and flexibility program, it’s essential to assess your current limitations accurately. Identifying areas of restriction and reduced mobility will help tailor your training routine to address specific needs. Seeking the guidance of a skilled physical therapist, like the professionals at Iron Health, can provide valuable insights into whether the restrictions are due to soft tissue limitations, joint-related issues, or other factors that need to be addressed.
2.2 Incorporating Warm-Ups
As mentioned earlier, warm-ups are crucial before engaging in mobility training. While some individuals may opt for static stretching as part of their warm-up, dynamic warm-ups tend to be more effective for preparing the body for movement. A dynamic warm-up may include movements such as leg swings, arm circles, bodyweight squats, lunges, and gentle hopping on the bike for a few minutes. The goal is to engage the muscles and joints in a way that mimics the movements you’ll perform during your mobility exercises, improving tissue pliability and reducing the risk of injury.
Section 3: Understanding the Role of Load and Tension
3.1 Loading Tissues Under Length
One of the key principles in achieving long-lasting mobility and flexibility changes is the concept of loading tissues under length. This involves stretching muscles and connective tissues while adding resistance or weight, creating tension in the targeted areas. The idea is to challenge the body in a controlled manner, encouraging it to adapt by lengthening the tissues at the cellular level, leading to lasting changes in mobility and flexibility. Current research shows that prolonged stretching or time under length/tension can increase muscle hypertrophy (increase in size) with sufficient intensity applied. In basic terms, the more you load tissues at length, the easier it is to get into that lengthened position due to physiologic adaptation, increasing your mobility.
3.2 3 Basic Techniques for Loaded Stretching
Below are three fundamental techniques for incorporating loaded stretching into your routine. These methods can be scaled appropriately, allowing you to see significant improvements in flexibility over weeks, months, and years.
Eccentric Training: Focus on eccentric muscle contractions, where the muscle lengthens while under tension. For example, when performing a deep squat, emphasize the lowering (eccentric) portion of the movement. This approach can help improve overall squat position. Similarly, controlled calf raises with emphasis on the lowering phase can help improve dorsiflexion range of motion (ROM).
PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation): PNF techniques involve contracting and relaxing specific muscles to increase ROM following a contraction. For example, during a dorsiflexion stretch, contract the calf muscle, then relax and sink even lower. The post isometric relaxation effect can significantly improve your range of motion.
Prolonged Holds: Prolonged holds at the end of the range of motion can still provide increases in flexibility. However, it’s essential to hold with enough intensity. Just as in strength training, think of the level of discomfort during these passive holds as the equivalent of lifting a heavy weight. Aim for a discomfort level of 6-8/10 on the intensity scale during these holds, lasting between 30 to 90 seconds.
Section 4: Incorporating Mobility Training into Your Routine
4.1 Consistency is Key
Like any strength and conditioning program, consistency is crucial for achieving long-lasting changes in mobility and flexibility. Aim for regular training sessions, gradually increasing the intensity as you progress. While individual frequency may vary based on specific goals and fitness levels, a good baseline is to incorporate mobility training 2-3 times per week. If you are doing other forms of training, be sure to balance your total workload so you aren’t doing too many things at once and unable to devote the required focus to each one, yielding no results in any domain.
4.2 Addressing Weaknesses
Identifying areas of weakness and muscular imbalances that might contribute to limited mobility is vital. Strengthening these areas through targeted exercises will support your mobility training and help prevent injuries. A personalized approach to address your specific weaknesses can be developed with the assistance of a qualified physical therapist or fitness professional. These individuals will look at your specific movement patterns and current ability and determine what, if anything, needs to improve!
4.3 Listen to Your Body
Mobility training can be intense, especially when incorporating loaded stretching techniques. While it’s essential to challenge yourself to see progress, it’s equally important to pay attention to your body’s signals. Avoid pushing yourself to the point of sharp pain, as this could indicate potential injury. Discomfort during loaded stretches may be normal, but listen to your body and modify your approach if needed. If you are a beginner, remember to start slow! Even adding in 1 day/week of mobility training can yield results, especially if it’s a new stimulus. For experienced lifters/fitness enthusiasts, feel free to try 2 days/week to start, and up to 3 days if needed. The frequency depends on multiple recovery variables, so remember if you are getting results, there is no need to try and change things up to get results even faster.
Section 5: Recovery and Maintenance
As with any fitness domain, the body needs time to recover between bouts of intense effort. In order to force adaptation, adequate stimulus must be presented to the body to disrupt homeostasis. However, too much training without sufficient rest or recovery can lead to overuse injuries or hinder progress.
Therefore, ensuring adequate recovery between days of intense mobility work, similar to strength training, is necessary to prevent injury and allow sufficient time for physiological changes to occur. Incorporate rest days into your training schedule, and consider complementary recovery techniques like foam rolling, stretching, and even active recovery exercises like swimming or yoga. Anything that increases local blood flow and gets your heart pumping (albeit not too intense) usually is a net positive for recovery rather than a negative!
Creating long-lasting mobility and flexibility changes requires a well-rounded approach, similar to strength training. By incorporating proper warm-ups, various stretching techniques, and maintaining consistency, you can unlock your body’s potential for improved mobility and the freedom to move how you like, when you like!