Why Should I Care About Mobility – For Athletes

It can be difficult to discern which fitness trends are fleeting fads, and which ones are important science-based developments.  If you had any doubts about the concept of mobility training, rest assured that it can have a critical effect on your performance, recovery, injury prevention and overall quality of movement.

Depending on your sport/workout environment, mobility training may be an old friend (I’m looking at you, Crossfitters, who have been way ahead of the trend in this area, thanks in no small part to mobility genius Dr. Kelly Starrett).  But for the rest of us, what does mobility and stability training even mean?

Mobility:  the ability of your joints to move through their full range of motion with strength and efficiency.  Your output of muscular strength is inherently limited by your range of motion.

Stability:  the support that your connective tissues give to your joints. Your ability to generate power (safely, symmetrically and efficiently) is dependent on the stability of your joints.

What does that mean for me?

A simplified but demonstrative example:  you could build the world’s strongest hamstring muscles, but if you have tight and sticky hips, your compromised range of motion means that you won’t be able to translate your insane hamstring strength into the movement required for say, a squat.  And if you have instability in your hip or knee joints, you won’t be able to use your insane hamstring strength to generate the power necessary for something like jumping.

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This concept will translate differently into different sports, but the underlying principle is the same:

Cyclists:  tight hips will inhibit the power of your pedal stroke, and asymmetrical hip function will compromise the efficiency of your pedaling.

Runners and Nordic Skiers:  tight hips and ankles can dramatically limit your stride length, thereby compromising your performance in a way that no strength or speed training can fix.

Alpine Skiers:  tight hips will inhibit your ability to get low in your turns, causing poor balance and also back pain (if you can’t flex properly at the hip joint, your body will compromise by bending at the lumbar spine, which is not meant to bear that kind of load).

What should I do about it?

As with any high-performance machine, regular maintenance is your body’s best friend.  Most of us know that we can’t get away with skipping some sort of stretching or myofascial release (foam-rolling) for our hard-working muscles.  And hopefully all of us know we can’t get away with skipping brushing and flossing our teeth.  When it comes to something as important as your joint health and your range of movement, there’s no reason why you should take it any less seriously.

Performing a full-body range of mobility exercises for just 15 minutes every day will work wonders towards achieving optimal joint health.  Remember, mobility work is not stretching, as you can read more about here.  If you’re not able to join me for one of my mobility workshops, I encourage you to check out the books Becoming a Supple Leopard or Deskbound by Dr. Kelly Starrett, or any of his videos.

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