I want to take a moment to remember why we work out. Is it the mental break from the hustle and bustle of our busy lives? Or is it general fitness that we are trying to gain so that we can live a healthy lifestyle, take care of our kids, and do the things we want to do? For some it may be to increase performance in a sport, or activity like running, intermural activities or CrossFit. In any case we want to be as efficient as possible in our efforts. If we are going to be efficient then we need to make sure and hit all components of fitness. Nutrition, cardiovascular endurance, strength, flexibility, mobility, and proprioception (body awareness) are the key components to fitness. Everyone has his or her own list of things that make up a “fit or healthy” individual. I have comprised mine using my experience in the medical field as a Physical Therapist for 9 years and being in the fitness industry for now 17 years. These are all pieces of a pie that when put together as whole make up a fit, healthy body.
I want to draw your attention today to mobility and flexibility as they relate to one another. Mobility is the ability of a tissue, muscle, tendon, or joint capsule, to move and be moved through a full range of motion (ROM) in a pain free manor. Flexibility is the quality of bending easily without breaking. In our case we are referring to muscle tissue.
Realize that our body adapts to the forces that we put on it. Its pretty amazing machine we are given right? If we lift weights we get stronger. If we write a lot we get a callus. And when we sit all day every day we get tight. Our bodies are not made to sit at a desk. We are made to hunt and forage and move around. Also realize that everything we do is in front of us. We type, we drive, and we eat. All things that, along with our good friend gravity, will pull our shoulders forward, push our chin out, shorten our upper traps and hamstrings (along with about nine thousand other muscles), and lead to lower back and cervical (neck) pain.
What we don’t realize is that this static positioning leads to restrictions in myofacia, and muscle. Myofacia is a tissue that surrounds, contains and helps our muscles glide upon one another. These restrictions, much like scar tissue, are laid down in an unorganized fashion. When tissue is unorganized it is rigid and sticky. We need it to be mobile just like our muscles.
In order to counter act the effects that this has on us, we need to mobilize and stretch to increase our flexibility and movability.
Preferably we need to do some type of dynamic warm up to increase circulation to the muscles which increases heat and pliability of the tissue. Just give me two to tree minutes of movement. You can mobilize and stretch a cold muscle but is it the most effective thing to do? I think not!! Once we have gotten our blood flow going we want to use foam rollers, lacrosse balls, or what ever your choice of mobility tools may be. Breaking up restrictions prior to stretching is key in maximizing efforts to gain ROM and flexibility. Ideally we mobilize a muscle for two to three minutes then we follow up by stretching that muscle for at least 30 seconds three times per muscle group. So now we are breaking up unorganized tissue and lining it back up so that, if it is a muscle we are talking about, it can contract and relax, which in turn increases strength. This will also allow the muscle to circulate blood and nutrients more efficiently, which increases healing, and recovery.
Is it easy to just stretch or roll a bit because someone somewhere told you to and you are just checking a box? Yes, but if we want to make real change in our tissue we will make a little extra effort and do the things we need to do to stay fit and healthy. Just to recap, mobility before stretching will increase pliability in the tissue, which increases blood flow and nutrient delivery, as well as realigning muscle fibers to make it more efficient at contracting and relaxing. This in turn will help increase the strength and effectiveness of that muscle.
So what your saying is that mobility will increase strength as well as flexibility? YES!!!!