PowerliftingUncategorizedWeightlifting

MOBILITY 101

Preventing an injury isn’t always possible, let’s be real. But mobility work can absolutely help in doing so.

What do I mean by “mobility work”? I use this as a general term, meaning anything that breaks down adhesions, scar tissue, or knots, brings muscles back to their full extension, improves range of motion, decreases pain, and/ or helps to prevent injury.

Why is mobility work so important?

This is essential for all athletes (and humans) because of the strenuous lifts we do in the gym and the hard work we put in, both in and out of the gym, and the repetitive movements we perform on a daily basis. This creates tension in the muscles and can even shorten the muscles over time. Mobility work increases passive range of motion before, during, and after exercise.

The brain will only allow muscles to go to a safe range of motion and by relaxing muscles in what the brain recognizes as a safe environment, you can increase that range.

Mobility work can be corrective, preventative, or simply for a warmup. However, all the methods below will need to be put to use for these.

I’m sure you’ve seen all the many mobility tools… but how do you use them? And when? And why? It can be overwhelming seeing so many different methods if you don’t know too much about them. But allow me to bring some clarity.

So take a look below at all the different mobility methods, how to do them, when and why. (Yes, this is a long one and I’m going to nerd-out on you for a bit. So bear down with me for a little.)

Static stretching

  • What
    •  Static stretching refers to holding a stretch without moving (except further into the stretch) for more than 30 seconds.
  • When
    • Static stretching should only be performed after your exercise has been completed. You need a certain level of tension in your muscles in order for them to fire correctly, and if they have been stretched too much, they can’t do their job.
    • Coach Bartee has a great suggestion for the best time of day to do this.
  • Why
    • Static stretching allows you to take your time in bringing your muscles back  to full extension because you can continue to sink into the stretch more and more.
  • How
    • Easy. Find a tight muscle and stretch it. Gently at first, and over the next few minutes, slowly push it a little bit more with each deep breath.
    • This should be a passive approach to this, meaning you should be as relaxed as you can be and not resisting anything.
    • If you are in a stretch position that’s too much and is becoming painful, place a ball or a pillow under you to support your weight, turning it into a passive stretch once more.
    • An example of a static stretch is the seated straddle. It helps to loosen up the adductors, low back, and hamstrings.

Dynamic stretching

  • What
    • Dynamic stretching is the active movement of a joint or a muscle through a range of motion repeatedly.
  • When 
    • The best time for dynamic stretching is prior to a workout.
  • Why
    • This keeps the tension in your muscles intact enough to power through a workout, but will loosen up the tight muscles enough to reduce injury risk.
  • How
    • Again, easy. Move in and out of a stretch quickly- but not too rapidly. You don’t want to take a tight muscle to full extension too fast. Do not hold the stretch for longer than 30 seconds.
    • Use the rapid motion to increase the range of motion (ROM) with each movement.
    • Example: 10 deep air squats or leg swings to open up your hips prior to back squatting.

Massage

  • What
    • If I really need to explain this to you, I need to have a talk with your significant other because they’re not doing their unspoken-but-essential job.
    • Massage is a myofascial release and can be done on your own or by someone else.
    • A licensed massage therapist can be the most beneficial person to consult in an injury, but massaging out muscles before or after a workout can be helpful in preventing one.
  • When
    • Manual manipulation can benefit ROM at any time in relation to your workout.
  • Why
    • Manual manipulation allows for muscular relaxation, increases blood flow, and improves recovery.
  • How
    • Again, an easy one. Find a sore muscle and massage it to the degree you can tolerate.
    • Massage with long strokes, pushing the blood flow back to the heart. If you find a knot, apply pressure for 30-90 seconds, as long as you can tolerate it without holding your breath or tensing against the pressure.

Foam rollers

  • What
    • Foam rollers are cylindrical rollers. They can be made from a firm foam material or, if you’re brave, a wide PVC pipe. This is similar to massage in that it is a form of myofascial release, but this is what we call self-myofascial release (SMR), meaning you can do it entirely on your own.
  • When
    • You can implement foam rolling at any point of the day. Before or after a workout is a good time to roll out.
  • Why
    • Foam rolling can help to break up adhesions and increase blood flow, helping the recovery process as well as prepare your muscles for lifting.
  • How
    • Now we’re getting trickier. It may seem obvious how to foam roll, but there is a method to maximize the efficiency of this.
    • First, you will need to lay the affected muscle or limb directly on the fIMG_1633oam roller.
      • Not only will the pressure from the foam roller release tension in the muscle, but putting your weight into it will essentially turn it into a deep tissue massage.
        • Second, always go towards the heart.
          • If you’re rolling out your calves, this means starting at the back of your ankle (the Achilles tendon) and working your way up.IMG_1634
        • Third, (the most important), do not rush over the muscle at lightning speed!
          • Go ssslllooowww.
          • Find the tender spots by slowly rolling over the foam roller, and when you do find that tense spot, hold pressure for 30-90 seconds.
          • Only do as much as you can handle. If you are grimacing and holding your breath, your muscles will not relax.IMG_1635 So take a deep breath and only apply as much pressure as you can reasonably tolerate.

Lacrosse balls

  • What
    • You really can use many different kinds of sports balls for this. Baseballs, tennis balls, etc., but the density of the lacrosse ball makes it ideal for breaking up those painful knots.
  • When
    • Any point of the day: before, during, or after your workout.
  • Why
    • Lacrosse balls are great for trigger points and attachment sites.
  • How
    • Apply the same principles to lacrosse ball mobilization as foam rolling, with the exception that these are intended for more localized pains.
    • You can choose to lay on the lacrosse ball, lean against it on the wall, or even use your hands to guide it.
    • Take it slow, pinpoint the knots, and apply pressure for 30-90 seconds.
    • As a general rule, as the density of the mobility tool increases, the time held should decrease. This usually means less time on the lacrosse ball than the foam roller.

Kettlebells

  • What
    • Most people are familiar with kettlebells, but not with the fact that they can be used for mobility, as well. A kettlebell is a dense metal bell with a handle (horns) on it.
  • When
    • Again, at any point of the day. This is also a form of self-myofascial release, so it’s okay to do at any time.
  • Why
    • The weight of the kettlebell allows you to passively attain range of motion because you can simply lay down as you place the kettlebell on your knots rather than holding your weight over a lacrosse ball or foam roller.
    • This is not an ideal method for any back pain manipulation, keep that in mind. Due to the sensitive nature of the back and spine, you need to be very careful with applying pressure to it. Therefore, no kettlebells on the back.
    • Some examples of muscles this can be great for include hip flexors, psoas, quads, and calves.
    • Keep the kettlebell on muscles that you can hold the kettlebell over or control the movement over.
  • How
    • Identify the knots, first. Then place the horn of the kettlebell on it for 30-90 seconds at a time. Again, because this is more dense than any other form of mobility tool, be mindful of the amount of time spent on it.
    • This is because too much pressure for too long can actually counteract the mobilization.

Theracane

  • What
    • A theracane is a cane shaped mobility tool with pegs and knobs on it that help you to loosen up
  • When
    • This is another form of SMR, so anytime is okay to use this.
  • Why
    • This is great for those hard-to-reach places, like your back. Or if you need a more dense object to work out a difficult knot.
  • How
    • Simply locate the knot and apply pressure with the theracane.
    • Remember the rules of SMR, hold it for long enough, but not too long. Apply enough pressure, but not too much. Goldilocks principle.IMG_1659

Muscle stick

  • What
    • A muscle stick is essentially just a stick with beads on it that roll over your muscles in a smooth, fluid way to help stimulate blood flow, muscular relaxation, and recovery.
  • When
    • Anytime.
  • Why
    • I fear being repetitive at this point, so just read all the “why’s” for SMR work above.
  • How
    • This is ideal for muscles that have more mass, such as quads.
    • Start at the bottom of the muscle and work your way towards the heart using firm pressure and long strokes.
    • Apply pressure for an extended period of time to particularly tender knots.

Voodoo floss

  • What
    • This is a band that can be used on extremities and joints. It is a form of blood flow restriction intervention.
  • When
    • This is great for prior to a workout because of the blood flow stimulus, although it can be implemented at any point.
  • Why
    • Flossing creates a “distraction” that leads to a brief and minimized interruption of the blood flow in the area of attention. It can be used on both injuries and general recovery. Joint compression leads to decreased pain, improved strength, increased ROM, and overall better movement.
  • How
    • Simply wrap the joint or extremity causing pain tightly (pulling the band to only 50% stretch) and tuck the end of the band into one of the wraps.
    • Take the area of focus through an active range of motion after this, flexion, extension, adduction, abduction, and triplanar.
    • Example, if you wrapped your elbow because you forearm has been painful, perform several pushups.

Graston/ Traction/ Cupping

You should always seek a licensed practitioner when looking for these methods, with traction being the one exception. Coming from someone who has spent most of her life as an injury-prone athlete and has tried all these methods, they are all fantastic, but require a more extensive knowledge base in order to do them properly.

They break up scar tissue better than most methods. I would recommend these modalities if you’ve been experiencing some pain for several weeks or longer or have recently had an acute injury. These shouldn’t always be the first method of injury prevention and mobility.

All the techniques discussed above are appropriate to use at any time in relation to injury, as well. They can help with general recovery, recovering an injury, or correcting a faulty movement pattern.

These techniques talked about below are all ones you should use sparingly or in recovering a specific injury and under the guidance of someone licensed for that specific practice.

Graston is a handheld object that looks similar to a very dull blade that a professional will rapidly move over the muscle to break up scar tissue. In the process of doing so, it tends to break the blood vessels, leaving some intense-looking bruising. This doesn’t feel good and the amount of pressure needed to be applied can really only be done by someone else. It is ideal for a long-term injury that has developed a significant amount of scar tissue.

Banded traction is a way of decompressing the joints by creating a “distraction”. This helps to open up the joints and create more mobility. It creates space between the joints to allow for better movement. To know how to and how often this is recommended can be advised from a fitness or healthcare professional.

IMG_1664

Cupping is the thing Michael Phelps does that looks like an octopus attacked you. It’s beneficial for far more than just looking, like, *really cool*. Cupping uses small cups that create a vacuum effect on your skin and muscles, essentially creating a massage from within the muscle. It helps to stimulate blood flow, thus improving recovery.

RECAP

Mobility work is crucial to maintaining a healthy body and preventing injury. However, the method, duration, and time of day will vary according to your needs. If you need anymore guidance, hit that email button below.

And remember to apply the Goldilocks principle to mobility work. Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.

Happy 2019!

Yours in health,

Coach Scrima

aly@trainironfire.com

REFERENCES

-https://www.rehband.com/blog/understand-mobility-prevent-injury/

-https://www.bikejames.com/strength/banded-traction-the-best-joint-stress-relie

f-method-that-you-arent-using/

-https://www.massagemag.com/science-floss-bands-mobility-88142/

-https://www.spine-health.com/treatment/chiropractic/how-graston-technique-works

-https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5808004/

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