An athlete’s tendency is to GO GO GO– never really thinking about when to slow down or when to prioritize mobility. And understandably so. Most sports need intensity over movement, not realizing the damage this can do or the way it inhibits athletic performance. Athletes also rarely take into consideration the massive positive effect mobility work can have on athletic performance.
To be an exceptional athlete, you must be making time for corrective work.
If you take a look at my previous blog about injury recurrence, we covered the reasons injuries come back- but now I want to go into more detail about the main reasons why corrective mobility work is important- especially for athletes.
1. Injury prevention
Your body is intended to move in a specific way with the use of certain muscles, but when we move in altered movement patterns, that is what our bodies adapt to.
For example, if we sit all day or spend hours hunched over our phones or laptops, our bodies will conform to that movement: shoulders rounded forward, head down, hips tight, glutes asleep.
This is the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands). This states that our bodies will adapt to whatever demands are placed on it: as we lift more- we get stronger, as we run more- we get faster, etc. This also unfortunately means it will adapt to us sitting all day or if we lift with poor form.
So when you step into the gym and your body moves in these altered movement patterns without doing any corrective work to counteract them, you may be setting yourself up for an injury in the long run.
To correct scenarios such as poor form, sitting all day, or even imbalances from sports, we need corrective mobility and exercise.
The best way I think I can explain this is with the application of real examples. Let’s take the squat, for example. There is a lot that can go wrong in that, so it’s a great example.
Take the photos above into consideration. In the first one we see an example of adductors (inner thighs) being excessively tight and paired with weak glute medius: they cause knee valgus (knees caving in). Over time, this can cause great pain in the knees, ankles, and even hips.
In the second photo, you see a corrected squat.
By releasing the adductors in a corrective manner, you can prevent injuries to the knees, hips, and ankles from poor form from happening.
Most athletes can relate: the problem isn’t putting in the hard work, the problem is the injuries suffered.
Don’t let an easily preventable issue keep you out of the sport you love.
2. Stronger lifts
When you mobilize for correction, you allow the correct muscles to work the way they want to, like mentioned above. Furthermore, an overly tight muscle can inhibit other muscles from functioning to their full ability.
Continuing on the example from above, if you’re experiencing severe knee valgus, you’re reducing the amount of force generated from your glutes and simultaneously “leaking power”, if you will. This means the force you’re using to stand the weight back up is being transferred through your knee valgus rather than through the floor, where it should be, resulting in a less powerful lift.
The back squat should use more glutes than adductors- always- even though the adductors will contribute to the lift. Think about it this way: bigger muscle groups can generate more force for lifts, but if a smaller group is overcompensating and overly tight, that muscle will do the work instead. This leaves you capable of performing a lift, although with a pretty significant muscle inhibition, which results in lifts that are far below your true capacity.
Say you started lifting without a coach or guidance and didn’t know any better- so you developed poor form from hundreds of reps that cemented that movement pattern. While lifting, your body will revert to using the muscles that are strong enough to complete the lift (referred to as a compensation), even if they aren’t the intended muscle groups or the optimal muscles to use.
This often happens with new lifters; they think as long as they can keep getting stronger and increasing the weights, their compensations (movements that aren’t ideal but help you get the weight up) will go away. That’s understandable to think, but it is backwards.
If you correct your compensations and allow the correct muscles to fire- you will get massively stronger. (Can’t complain about that, now can we?)
There’s something called “synergistic dominance” which states that “an inappropriate muscle will take over the function of a weak or inhibited muscle”, and this is what creates the problems that we ultimately remedy with corrective mobility/ exercise. In order for the correct muscle to complete the lift, you will need to release the muscle that is overcompensating for the weak muscle.
Granted, corrective mobility work needs to be paired with activation exercises in order to properly correct the movement. But it needs to begin with mobilizing the tight muscles first and foremost.
Take a look at the pictures below of one of my athletes. The left is ‘before’ and right is ‘after’. This was only one hour of corrective work.
He was a collegiate water polo athlete, which, like many sports, can create altered and imbalances movement patterns. Because of his years, especially at a high level, in the sport, it’s left him with a shoulder impingement that is now causing pain.
We were able to make significant progress in correcting this issue in just one hour, but it is absolutely important to remember it is a constant work in progress and will need to be maintained for best results.
If we take a closer look:
- From the side-facing photos, it’s very evident that his core is now activated, low back has less of an arch, and he’s standing more upright.
- Center of balance
- His hips are farther forward in the ‘before’ pictures, which will throw off center of balance. The ‘after’ photos show a much more efficient center of balance.
- While this is an ongoing issue, his left trap is relaxing slightly more.
- Foot positioning
- Because of his shoulder pain, his body is compensating around it- down to his feet, causing one foot to be farther in front than the other. After spending only an hour correcting it, they are becoming more symmetrical.
Are you unsure if you’re moving optimally or don’t how to maximize your mobility work? Email me below so we can set up an assessment.
-Coach Aly Scrima