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.


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.

How Mobility Training Differs From Stretching

Let’s say you drove your car this morning, and the engine started sputtering and shuddering, causing you to bounce along the road, ending up in a ditch with a flat tire.  Would you fix the tire and continue along your merry way?  I hope not.
But this is essentially what so many of us do when we decide to “treat” our back or neck pain by just stretching our back or neck muscles.  In many instances, our aches and pains originate from something gone haywire in our joints—whether it’s compromised mechanical function or an impingement or other restriction that limits our range of motion and/or the stability of the joint.
Stretching alone will not address this type of issue, because stretching focuses exclusively on muscles.  Specifically, the goal and result of stretching is to elongate tight and shortened muscles.  In contrast, mobility training uses movement to free up restrictions in not only muscles, but also ligaments, joint capsules and any related tissue restrictions.  To relate back to the car analogy, mobility training is doing the work on the underlying mechanical engine issue, rather than just fixing the resulting flat tire.
Let’s say your lower back hurts.  You decide to lie down and do some spine stretches you remember from yoga class, and maybe you even do a couple hamstring stretches, because you read somewhere that tight hamstrings can lead to back pain (true!).  Maybe you achieve temporary relief, but the next day the same cycle repeats.  It’s likely that you’re dealing with some impingement in your hip joint.  (There are endless reasons why our hips get tight, but perhaps the biggest culprit is one that none of us can avoid—sitting.)
Your hip joint is designed for mobility, while your lumbar spine (lower back) is designed for stability.  Obviously, your lower back is capable of being mobile, but it doesn’t respond well to being used as a primary mover.  It simply wasn’t built for that.  But because our bodies are endlessly adaptable, if a tight hip is rendering you unable to move into a particular position, your lower back will pick up the slack and move instead.  You might not even notice this movement compensation at first, but over time your lower back will find a way to let you know that it doesn’t like having to take over the work of your hip joints (hello, pain!).
To this end, your spine and hamstring stretches are unlikely to remedy a hip impingement, leaving you wondering why you’re still in pain after continuing a diligent stretching practice.  What you need in this instance is a daily regimen of hip mobility exercises which will bring back range of motion and loosen up any tissue restrictions.
To read more about what compromised mobility can mean for your body, click here.

Why Should I Care About Mobility?

Do you brush your teeth every day?  It’s not especially exciting, but I’d wager you do it because you know it will prevent disease and decay.  What if I told you that investing 10-15 min/day in mobility training could eventually mean the difference between your basic independence or relying on help to get out of bed, dress, and perform simple tasks?

What is mobility?

In a nutshell, your “mobility” refers to the range of motion of your joints, and your ability to move through your full range of motion with strength and efficiency.  Most of us are lucky enough to be born with optimal range of motion (remember sitting in a deep squat position when you were a kid, or being able to run and jump all day with no pain?).


Over time, our joints have become tight, inhibited or “sticky” as a result of environmental stressors, poor posture, compromised movement and time spent sitting. The tissues of your body actually adapt to the position in which you spend most of your time.  So, for example, if you spend hours every day sitting, the likely result is tight and shortened hip flexors, elongated glutes and weakened hamstrings.  Add to the mix a slightly hunched position that most of us slip into when we’re focused on a computer or phone screen, and the eventual result is tight, shortened chest muscles and elongated, weakened upper back muscles.

What can I do about it?

The good news is that we can use our body’s incredible adaptive ability to our advantage.  A regular routine of mobility exercises can undo years of damage.  You know the old saying “use it or lose it”?  We all could benefit from thinking about our mobility, or ability to move, in that way.  Perhaps “move it or lose it” would be more appropriate.  If you spend most of your days only using 60% of your hip joint’s full range of motion, that joint will gradually develop a stiffness in function anytime you try to move it beyond its accustomed 60%.

A regular practice of mobility work (just 10-15 minutes per day) is all you need to start restoring optimal function to your joints.  (Please note, mobility work is different from stretching. Keep an eye out for the next post, which will explain the difference.)  Our workshops teach the simple, effective and therapeutic movements proven to open up your range of motion, thereby resolving pain, preventing injury, and increasing performance.  If you’re eager to start on some serious hip, knee and ankle mobility right now, give the deep squat a try.  Position yourself in front of a doorframe, countertop, pillar, or other sturdy structure that you can hold onto as you sink your butt towards the ground.  Keep your heels flat on the floor and track your knees back above your ankles (not dipping forward and inward).  Shift your weight back onto your heels (not the balls of your feet) and make sure your spine isn’t rounded forward.  You can use whatever you’re holding onto to keep your spine in a neutral position.  Take some deep breaths and try to relax into the position.  Stick with it and your body will thank you!

Processed Foods: the Real Story

Headlines are declaring that our country is full of people who are overweight yet malnourished.  How is this possible?  In a nutshell, an increasing majority of the food found in our stores and restaurants is not true, whole food, but rather “food product” created in laboratories and injected with preservatives, fillers, dyes, and other synthetic materials.  This is one instance in which technology is not doing us any favors.  There are little to no nutrients in these food products!



It’s easy for us to forget the biological reason for eating:  to fuel our bodies with nutrients needed to survive and thrive.  Your stomach feeling full is only one means of appetite regulation.  In addition, if your body has not received sufficient nutrients from what you’re feeding it, your brain will continue to tell you to eat more.  We’ve all had the experience of enjoying the greasy, heavy McDonald’s meal — only to be starving an hour later, right?  This is why.

Many nutritionists refer to processed foods as empty calories.  Your body will never get enough of these, and it will continue craving food until it receives the nutrients it needs.  One of the most important things you can do — not only for weight loss, but also for your overall health, longevity, and wellbeing — is to make as much of your diet as possible consist of nutrient-dense foods.  What is a nutrient-dense food?  The closer it is to its original form, the better.  As soon as food has been processed and packaged and preserved in some way, it is moving away from its ideal nutrient density.


Drink More Water

It’s impossible to overstate how important water is, not only for fat loss, but also for healthy joints, immune function, hormone regulation, cell rejuvenation, and overall health and vitality.

What you think is hunger could really just be thirst!

Research has shown that confusing thirst for hunger is a contributing factor to obesity.  If you think you’re hungry, grab some water!  And if you let your body get to the point of feeling thirsty, you are already dehydrated.  Your body cannot absorb water as quickly as you ingest it.  So, if you wait to drink until your mouth is dry when you’re 5 minutes into your workout, your body is still going to stay dehydrated for awhile.

Think dehydration is no big deal?  Dehydration results in your body burning muscle while hoarding fat, it contributes to metabolic problems and increased moodiness, and it can cause your body to suffer from slow digestion, waste build-up, slow brain function, muscle cramps . . . the list goes on.  Few things are as important to your overall health as drinking enough water — and it’s easy!

You should always start your day by drinking at least 2 glasses upon waking.  If you suffer from slow digestion, I highly recommend drinking a full 32 ounces of warm water within ten minutes of waking up.  This trick alone can alleviate certain kinds of constipation.

Lemon Water:

One great and easy thing you can do for your body every morning is to add some lemon to your water.  Lemon is a natural energizer for your body, and it also assists in detoxification.  Here are just a few demonstrated benefits of drinking lemon water:

  • Boosts your immune system
  • Balances pH levels (important for minimizing inflammation in the body)
  • Purifies the blood
  • Assists in weight loss
  • Flushes toxins
  • Decreases wrinkles and blemishes
  • Reduces fever

The Science of Meditation

Below is a link to a fantastic article about the scientifically proven health benefits of meditation.  I highly recommend taking a closer look at these studies, even if you already make time to meditate, or if you are among those who have decided it’s not your thing.  Whether it’s yoga, traditional meditation, or your own individual way of finding a few moments of peace and quiet (i.e. a walk on the beach withOUT your cell phone), the salient effects of deep relaxation have been documented by researchers at Harvard Medical School, among others.

“Harvard researchers asked the control group to start practising relaxation methods every day,” says Jake Toby, hypnotherapist at London’s BodyMind Medicine Centre, who teaches clients how to induce the relaxation effect. “After two months, their bodies began to change: the genes that help fight inflammation, kill diseased cells and protect the body from cancer all began to switch on.’

Here are just 7 of the scientifically proven health benefits of deep relaxation:

1.  Improved immune system

2.  Emotional balance

3.  Increased fertility

4.  Relieves IBS

5.  Lowers blood pressure

6.  Anti-inflammatory

7.  Calmness

Read more here!

Give Your Feet a Break

High-heeled shoes.  Sigh.  This is one of those topics no woman wants to discuss.  “Don’t take my heels away from me!”  I know, I know . . . WAIT!  Don’t stop reading yet, please, just take a second to look at this picture. 


If that makes you stop for a second, please read on to learn how wearing heels on a daily basis could be doing irreparable damage – not only to the bones and muscles of your feet and legs – but also to your posture, your gait, your back and your hips.

Heels give us the impression that our feet look  more dainty, our legs look longer and our glutes look more shapely.  I get it, I really do.  But at what cost?  The information below is what caused me to reevaluate and add some really cute ballet flats to my shoe collection.  My body has never been happier.

Effect on Feet, Ankles, and Knees:

The most obvious repercussion of wearing heels is the compression of the bones in the feet.   Increased pressure is caused by the unnatural downward angle of the foot and the additional weight that your foot bones have to bear (weight they were not designed to bear!).  This increased pressure can lead to pain and issues such as bunions, hammer toes and neuromas.   The higher the heel, the worse the pressure!  If you’re not willing to give up heels completely, consider the difference that  lower height can make.  Wearing a 3 1/4 inch heel increases the pressure on the bottom of the forefoot by 76%!

 The ankles are also at risk, because of the way in which heels limit the motion of the ankle joint. Regularly wearing heels can cause a shortening of the Achilles tendon, which in turn can lead to tendinitis of the Achilles.  And your knees aren’t immune either.  While in heels, your knee stays bent, and your tibia (shin) turns inward. This puts unnatural pressure on the inside of the knee, which is where many women start to experience osteoarthritis.  In fact, knee osteoarthritis is twice as common in women as in men! Coincidence?

Effect on back, hips, and posture

Back pain is one of the most common physical complaints in our society, and those heels are not helping.  Your spine has a natural curve in the lower back.  When you wear heels, your upper body naturally leans forward slightly in order to keep you balanced.  This lean pulls the natural curve of the lower back too straight, which in turn pulls the rest of the spine out of alignment and can lead to back pain.  Your hip flexors can also start to experience pain for similar reasons.  Because of the unnatural angle of your feet in heels, your leg muscles aren’t able to exert the normal amount of force in moving you forwards as you walk.  Accordingly, your hip flexors have to step in and do more work.  Over time, overused hip flexors start to shorten/contract, which can also lead to flattening of the lower spine =  back pain.  Finally, the negative effect that heels can have on your posture and gait should be clear by now.  The above-mentioned need for your body to lean forward in order to stay balanced in heels can cause long-term problems with the alignment of your spine.  It all boils down to the fact that the position your body is in while you wear heels is not the natural position your body was meant to be in. 

Please keep these things in mind when you’re choosing your shoes for the day!  No, it’s not realistic to expect women to give up their heels completely.  But consider supplementing your sky-high stilettos with some lower heels and some great ballet flats.  Rotate them around so you’re not subjecting your body to heels every day.  Trust me, your body will thank you!

HIIT Your Cardio to Hit Your Goals

Read on to learn more about High Intensity Interval Training, and whether it’s right for you.

Getting bored with your cardio routine?  Trying to push through a weight loss plateau or get a little leaner to show off those hard-earned muscles?  Maybe you’re looking for a more efficient way to make the most out of a time-crunched workout?  High intensity interval training (referred to as “HIIT”) just might be the answer you’ve been looking for.

How is HIIT different?

In a nutshell, a HIIT workout alternates between short intervals of maximum intensity and longer intervals of moderate intensity.  Yes, you’ve probably seen the generic interval modes on cardio machines and may even have tried them out—this is different.  The standard interval training you’ve done before simply involves alternating lower heart rate exercise with higher heart rate exercise.  HIIT, however, is distinguished by the fact that the high intervals are done at maximum intensity—not merely an elevated intensity.

What are the benefits of HIIT?

Because HIIT incorporates maximum intensity effort, it conditions both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.  This will lead to an increase in your VO2 max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen you can take in while exercising.  In other words, your overall cardio endurance will improve.  Also, research has shown that, due to the amount of time it takes your body to recover after a HIIT session, the number of calories burned both during and after a 20-minute HIIT session can equal or even far outweigh the number burned during and after a steady 50-minute cardio session.  Finally, research has also demonstrated that HIIT sessions appear to be an effective means of reducing body fat while still preserving muscle mass—as opposed to long, steady cardio sessions which can deplete muscle stores.[1]

How do I do a HIIT workout?

Imagine your personal scale of exertion, ranging from 1 to 10.  Let’s say a 1 represents the energy it takes to roll over in bed, while a 10 would be something like running for your life from a zombie, flying cockroach, etc…  Keeping that in mind, start your cardio workout with a 5-minute warm up.  The duration of intervals used for a HIIT session can vary, but this basic principle always applies:  after the warm up, start alternating between an interval at a 9 and an interval at a 6 (based on that 1-10 scale mentioned above).  A good place to start is 30-second intervals at a 9, and 90 second intervals at a 6.  30 seconds may not sound like much, but if you are really working at a 9, it will feel like the longest 30 seconds of your life.  As you get the hang of HIIT workouts, you can vary your intervals (20 seconds at a 9, 40 seconds at a 6, etc…).  Because these workouts are intense, you shouldn’t do them more than 2 to 3 times per week.  Also, they are not meant to fully replace longer cardio sessions, especially if your goal is fat loss.  For example, you may want to start with 2 days of HIIT per week, but alternate them with 2 days per week of traditional steady-state cardio exercise.

Who should use HIIT?

Because HIIT workouts are physically demanding, they are not for everyone.  If you are new to exercising, are not already in moderately good shape, or have any cardiovascular or health concerns that could be affected by intense aerobic effort, you should not try HIIT without first consulting your doctor.  If, however, you are already capable of completing a 20 minute workout at roughly 75% of your estimated maximum heart rate, you should be ready to give HIIT a try.
[1] Physiological adaptations to low-volume, high-intensity interval training in health and disease, The Journal of Physiology, 2012 Mar 1; 590 (Pt 5): 1077-84.