You NEED more mobility - Myth Bust Mondays
The fields of rehab and performance are inundated with many myths - beliefs that we hold to be true, passed down from the ages and rarely questioned. A new series that we are going to be running on The Strength Therapist blog and social media will be looking to address this: Myth Bust Mondays. Going forward we are planning to have a new post each week on a different myth within these fields. We’ll be having lots of guest features of friends and colleagues joining us to help challenge these and spur thought. We hope you enjoy, learn something new, and feel free to share!
You NEED more mobility
In our growing age of social media it is easy to become overloaded with information. Before social media, it was commonly believed that flexibility was beneficial to reduce injuries, improve performance, and just about everything else. Given time and exposure, more narratives were created and things shifted away from flexibility to mobility. Today you can type in mobility on instagram and get flooded with passive treatments, exercises, and much more to work on your mobility.
When we examining the utility of something, it is important to critically appraise the subject, understanding the why to the what. For this myth busting session, we are going to work our way through critically appraise the value of greater mobility.
What is mobility?
You ask this question to most people and you’ll get a perplexed look as if the answer is obvious - however the answer you get usually differs significantly!
I recently polled a mixture of my clients and followers on instagram on what their definition was for mobility and here are a few answers:
“It’s like flexibility, but flexibility is your muscles and mobility is your joints”
“Mobility is how much motion you have at your joint”
“Mobility is being able to control range of motion”
“Flexibility is passive and mobility is active”
We can see in this small sampling of people, we can get quite a range of answers. That’s where things can be quite complicated as we are often speaking with the same words, but not the same meaning of these words.
Right now I want to try and level the field and outline a few operational definitions that are not known usually unless you are trained in rehab:
Passive Range of Motion - the ability for a joint to go through a range passively (such as when someone moves the joint for you)
Active Range of Motion - the ability for someone to actively move their joint through a range
Motor Control - systemic regulation of motion through the nervous system
Flexibility - quality of being able to contort without breaking
With these in place, I think we can notice that when many people refer to mobility, they are actually referring to either passive range of motion, active range of motion, or motor control. Going forward, we will want to keep these varying terms in mind.
Do you need more of it?
The answer here heavily depends on how you define it.
My starting question when examining this is: can you get into the positions required for your goal? If you can, then I’m not sure why you’d want to do more mobility. With any intervention, we have to know the return on investment for our time spent doing it. Spending time with the intent to increase range of motion, but you already have enough seems like a poor investment decision.
If in contrast you are unable to attain the positions required for your goal, then perhaps you do need more mobility. For example, if your goal is to complete an overhead squat but you cannot get through to full depth. From here we need to figure out why you cannot get into these positions.
Are you able to get into the positions required for your goal passively?
Using our prior example, if you check our ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder range of motion each, can you get through the range of motion necessary to complete the task? If yes, we return back to the investing analogy.
In contrast, if the answer is no, well then perhaps you do need more mobility.
Before we jump to that though, we probably want to examine a few more important questions.
Are you training your goal task sufficiently? For most people you can develop the range of motion for your task by training that task in varying formats. As well, depending upon what task we are talking about, there are typically multiple avenues to develop positions. With the prior example, if someone is trying to perform the overhead squat but doesn’t have sufficient ankle “mobility” then they could try to alter foot position such as rotating outwards - defeating the need for it.
Are you strong enough for your goal task and the range of motion? This is one I see often and am often asked about. People will say that they are able to do an overhead squat with X weight, but as they move up they aren’t able to get through the full range of motion any longer. They’ll often request for different kinds of “mobility” moves, but in reality this is a strength and control issue, not a range of motion issue.
This leads us back to the starting question - do you need more of it? In most cases, probably not. Most people should work their way through these questions to decide if the return on investment is there for “mobility” work.
How will you get it, if you need it?
This is one we are going to save for next week where we will dig into the literature on the topic.
The goal for today was to challenge the idea that you need to do more mobility. Hopefully using this systematic approach helps people work their way through and actually decide that. However, we don’t want to give the perception that we think there isn’t value in any exercise or movement. In contrast, performing any exercise as a whole is beneficial, but people have limited time opportunity and energy, which we need to decide wisely to use. Be smart with your interventions!