Episode 303 – How Mobility Training Makes You StrongerPosted on September 18, 2017
In order to get stronger you have to progressively lift heavier weight, there’s no way around it, however lifting progressively heavier weight has it’s limits, as in you can only become so strong before you will start to become injured or your strength will plateau, if these types of things didn’t happen people would be able to become infinitely stronger, but we know this isn’t the case because even after years of training everyone still has their limits and world records are often held for years, sometimes decades before being broken.
Which brings us to this question and the one we’re answering today,
How can improving your mobility help you become stronger and how do you improve your mobility?
Let’s start with the first question, how mobility helps you become stronger. When I talk about mobility, I’m talking about how well your joints move through their range of motion or how many degrees of freedom your joints have, for example if you do a squat how low can your bum get to the floor well maintaining a neutral spine and following all the proper squat mechanics, the lower you can get the more mobility you have in that direction through your hips. Or how high can you raise your arms above your head? Now if you were to put your whole back flat against a wall could you keep your hands and elbows against the wall and raise your hands all the way above your head, the higher you can lift your arms the better your shoulder mobility in that direction.
These are examples of mobility in your body, I’m using them specifically, because they’re the ones most people have trouble with, now how does this translate into helping you become stronger, let’s use shoulder mobility as an example, most people have slightly or even aggressively internally rotated shoulders, meaning they come forward and down a little bit. This sometimes forms a slight kyphosis or kind of a hunchback look in their upper back, which usually means the muscles in the front of their shoulders are tight and shortened and their upper back muscles are long and often weaker. Not always there are lots of nuances here, for lots of people, but this is a good common example.
Your body is designed like this, on one side of your body or a joint there is one muscle group to perform an action and on the other side of your body there are opposing muscles to the group that act against the other muscles or in opposition. Together they act synergistically with each other to form movement. In the shoulder example, whenever you use the muscles on the front of the shoulder, the muscles on the back of your shoulder work to slow it down, this limits your range of motion in the forward direction preventing you from pushing your arms right out of your shoulder joint, if any of you have ever done some kind of a push-up workout where your upper back was sore the next day, then you’ve experienced this in action.
If you have muscles imbalances they are going to limit your mobility in a couple of ways, if the muscle is tight it won’t let you go through the full potential of your full range of motion, if you’re trying to strengthen your upper back muscles, but they’re being pulled forward by tight muscles in the front of your shoulder then they will never be able to go as far back as they could meaning they won’t get full activation and never become fully developed. In some cases muscles can be so tight, they can pull or set the joint in a way that makes it structurally impossible for you to move your joint through its full range potential. In our shoulder example this would be an inability for you to lift up your arm above your head without bringing your hands forward, in other words some people have to move their arms in front in order for them to lift their hands above their head. If you stood against the wall with your back totally against the wall and were unable to keep your hands and elbows against the wall as you lifted your arms overhead, you’re definitely one of these people and should work on your shoulder mobility. If this is happening you will always be limited in the amount of weight you can lift above your head, because you won’t have access to the full strength of the muscles in your body that could contribute to the lift and structurally it’s going to be impossible for you to move your joint in a way that you should, which is probably going to lead to you becoming injured again limiting your strength. This is how improving your mobility can help you improve your strength.
How do you go about doing this, there are 5 different ways and this might get a little confusing so I put links to videos in the show notes.
Assisted or passive movement – this is movement where someone else moves you through your ROM while being totally relaxed or you put yourself in a position that allows you to go through a bigger range of motion and then you use other parts of your body to move back to your starting position, the assisted squat is the best self-directed example I can think of where you drop down into a squat and then use a counter weight or a post of some sort to help pull you back up.
Massage techniques – where you massage the muscles around the joint to help loosen them up and improve their mobility either with, fingers, a massage ball, roller or some other massage tool. A good example of this is using a lacrosse ball against a wall to massage your upper back.
Static Stretches – This is where you hold a muscle at length for a set period of time and is what most people think of when doing stretches, if you think about touching your toes and holding it that’s a type of static stretch. Not a great though which is why I linked to a better one in the show notes. (this has dynamic stretches as well)
Dynamic stretches – This is where you actively stretch a muscle and use it or activate it through it’s range of motion. A good example of this for your shoulders is taking an exercise band and pulling it down and back behind your head to help stretch and work your shoulder muscles at the same time.
Strength exercises – Having stronger muscles can help you pull your joints through their range of motion, on top of this, help keep your joints in the right position once they are there, this is especially effective when you consistently train opposing muscles groups and continue to do mobility work.
I realize this is a podcast and those descriptions of how to improve your mobility are a bit general and vague which is why I put some links in the show notes, if you’re especially interested in seeing how to improve your shoulder mobility I created a blog post with videos showing you exercises and stretches that take you from a frozen shoulder all the way to a fully functioning and mobile shoulder, if that doesn’t interest you I also linked to our youtube playlist of a variety of exercises and follow along programs you can do to help improve your mobility for various body parts, hips, ankles, wrists all kinds.