Mo'bility, mo' problems?

Mo’bility, mo problems? The when -  and why - mobility can be detrimental to your goals.

First off, right off the bat: let’s get something crystal clear, here.

It’s a mistake commonly made to assume mobility and flexibility are one of the same; this isn’t strictly true.

 In other words, when people feel that they’re “bendy” or flexible, they make the conclusion that their joints boast ample mobility. Alas, if only life were that simple.

Simply put.

Mobility : how a joint moves through its pathway.

Flexibility: the ability to flex. But also, the overall length of a muscle at a given point.

In essence, in order to improve mobility, general motion and movement is required. Kinetic chain problems, for instance, tend to stem from a refusal to let the ankles budge and flow like the elegant feet-levers they were born to be - instead, it’s common to see athletes and general population clients alike ‘tape up or shut up’, and create more problems - and knee pain - than originally intended.

On average - and please note my use of generalised statistics, here - most, if not all, general population clients who face the inevitabilities of a 9-5 sedentary lifestyle should engage in some semblance of mobility or movement correction, sensibly peppered throughout their training. 

Movement patterns, such as the lunge and squat, for example, tend to be hindered by excessive hip flexion and in optimal gait patterns. A few hip drills may be just the ticket for you or your client to start achieving a decent range of motion - and in turn, smarter movement, a happier, more nimble body, and overall volume due to improved lifting.

Sounds the dream, right? So everyone should start doing shoulder dislocates to their heart’s content prior to every session?

Not so fast, buddy.

Mobility has been infiltrated by the “functional fitness” camp, and clambered its way to be the biggest buzzword in the fitness industry today. 

I see it daily on social media: videos of new mobility drills, stretches, funky mobility stick dances, and foam rolling warm-ups so vigorous that only a masochist would voluntarily undergo them. 

And this is overall exceptionally positive stuff - I am genuinely happy to see the overall trend of the industry veer away from bro-style, isolation training, and take into consideration better movement for a happier way of living.

But, we run the risk of creating detriment where there was none to begin with.

If your shoulders are already running engine-smooth, is it necessary to perform mobility drills prior to every upper body session? No - and, in actual fact it might be worth examining your rotator cuff stability, instead.

If you’re an active dancer, already benefiting from the joys of mobility, slick kicks and oiled-up joints? No - and again, it might be worth toying with the idea to add in more stability-based exercises, as opposed to adding even more motion to your smooth, jello-like movement patterns.

If you suspect that your body enjoys a bout of hyper mobility (and please, always refer to an expert if in doubt) then it might be wise to orientate your warm ups, sessions, and general activity around this knowledge.

For example, excessive joint laxity can interfere with proprioception - potentially problematic when trying to improve movement patterns and your big lifts.

Thankfully, we can create a safe environment where we increase confidence in body movement, and thereby improve our proprioception.

Attaining a better neuromuscular connection can be one way of going about it. You have to think of your brain as your best friend, looking after you (your body) when you get a bit tipsy, and walking becomes a bit of a problem after a big night. despite the lack of sensory information from the ligaments, we can get the same feedback from the muscles - it just requires a little more work. So, your old drinking buddy the brain works hard to ensure we get this feedback to protect the joints from excessive movement.

The shoulder is a prime example of a site in the body which already harbours some degrees of freedom in its movement - and is thus a great example for improving mind-muscle connection right off the bat. Training the stabilisers before going in for the deep movers is a great way of combating this. These little muscles that support the joint are deep, and tell the brain where the joints are, and how the arm is moving.

The brain can then stop your shoulder joint from performing the drunk text equivalent of hyperextension. 

Amongst evoking a stronger neuromuscular connection, there are plenty of approaches you can take that doesn’t involve contorting yourself into an over-stretched pretzel; physical therapy, general S&C, isometric training, and proprioceptive practice can all tame the simultaneous blessing/curse that is joint laxity.

Right now, if you’re hypermobile, your body and your brain are in a complicated relationship.

And, like any relationship, it’s the trust that truly builds the foundations to something great and profound.

Slowly building that trust - to emphasise control and gradual strength increases - can result in your brain suddenly relinquishing its distrust a little bit, and allowing more resiliency in its overall movement patterns.

Couples counselling for your joint movements aside - If you are hypermobile, make strength and movement control a priority.

Recognise both of these within your movement, and learn how to isolate moving at this given joint whilst keeping the rest of your body stable. 

It’s tempting to dive into the world of fancy shoulder groovin’, and sexy hip swingin’. 

But before you go full dancing car wash balloon on us - firstly, see if you can find a way to tap into strength instead. 

Because strength, after all, is what keeps your joints happy and secure. In a loving, trusting relationship with your neural connectivity, one could say.

And, increases your flexibility: the ability to flex.