Having the freedom to move without the fear of busting your shoulder or popping an ankle is something I think we all strive for, especially if you enjoy being active. Things like…
Going for a run
Having one of those really good days in the gym where you feel unstoppable
Getting in the zone while you’re on your bike and feeling the power as you pedal
Being dialed in and strong in a yoga class
Crushing the ball down the course with a perfect golf swing
All of that starts and ends with having control and strength at your joints…otherwise known as mobility training.
After years (and I mean yeaaaars) looking for solutions to my own nagging injuries, I feel incredibly lucky to have stumbled on a style of training from the brilliant minds at Functional Range Conditioning, that has not only fixed my own issues, but so many of my clients.
My hope is that by the end of this you’ll walk away with not only knowing what mobility training is but have a better understanding for how your body works so you can take control of your self care.
Let’s dive into the basics.
WHAT IS MOBILITY TRAINING?
Mobility training is joint training and it improves the way you move aka how mobile you are.
It’s the most simple and effective way to:
Relieve aches, pains, and tightness
Reduce severity and frequency of future injuries
Increase flexibility and range of motion
Improve sports performance
Break through training plateaus
Just like you have strength training to build muscle, and cardiovascular training to strengthen your heart, you have mobility training to create stronger, healthier joints.
Anything you want to do physically requires proper joint function. Make them Rockstars and your nervous system calms down and all those knots and pain go away.
A lot of people think mobility training is stretching, yoga “flows”, or using gadgets like foam rollers or massage guns, but it’s not. And it’s not a warmup, or something you only do at night before you got to bed.
WHY IS MOBILITY TRAINING SO POWERFUL?
Mobility training is incredibly powerful because it attacks things at the most basic level…the joints. All movement and all aches pains, tightness, or injury stems from your joints.
And yes, even if you feel like you have a muscle problem like knots, tightness or strains for example, it was put there because your joints aren’t functioning the way they were meant to.
Unfortunately, when you stretch, foam roll or use a massage gun, you’re only reaching the surface level and aren’t getting to the root of where the problem is coming from…the joints.
Have you ever spent countless hours with these modalities to wake up the next day and feel the same nagging issues? That’s because you were only working on the surface. You might instantly experience that “it hurts so good” feeling we’re all familiar with and it might feel like you instantly feel relief but it’s only temporary.
Mobility training at your joints gets long lasting results.
Think of it like this….
Healthy joints support your muscles, which move your bones and allow you to safely run, take a long ride on your bike and hit the gym hard…all without pain.
And the best part? You don’t have to spend more time doing it than your favorite activities. 10-15 minutes a day is all it takes and you can do it from the comfort of your own home.
WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM MOBILITY TRAINING
While mobility training can literally benefit every single person on this planet, I think those that get the most out of it are what I like to call “the everyday athlete”. This just means you enjoy being active, whether that’s playing a sport, lifting weights, or playing with your grandkids outside. All you need for success is the desire to move, feel and perform better.
Newsflash though: The “cool stuff” you see coaches doing on social media isn’t something anyone new to mobility training should be doing. Just like anything, you have to lay a foundation for quality movement before going crazy.
You wouldn’t put a beginner in the ring with a black belt would you? I hope not.
The same goes for mobility training. The good news is if you’re consistent with your training, you’ll be well on your way to doing stupid human tricks in no time.
HOW MOBILITY TRAINING WORKS
We can easily go down a rabbit whole with this but I’ll try and keep it as short and sweet as I can. To answer this question, we first need to understand why pain or injury gets there in the first place.
How Problems Start
You first need to understand that your nervous system is the one calling the shots. It controls all of our movement and pain responses, and all of your body’s protective mechanisms. Anything you want to do requires the “ok” from this guy.
I like to think of the nervous system as an over protective older brother who won’t let you go out to parties when you’re a teenager. He just doesn’t trust you to be safe, right?
If a joint doesn’t work properly or is weak, you might not even notice there’s a problem at first but your nervous system will. It’s always there trying to protect you when it doesn’t feel safe with you going in a position that requires that particular joint.
This protection comes in the form of things like knots, spasms or tightness that leads to aches and pains. Or it will restrict your movement which limits your sports performance and can create training plateaus.
How To Make These Problems Go Away
Now, we know that if the nervous system doesn’t feel safe and secure, it’ll throw the breaks down. You have to build trust with the nervous system before it’ll ease up. So how do we do it?
Are you ready for this? You’re already on the right path.
It’s by using mobility training to develop strength and control in your movement at the joint level.
When this happens, your nervous system begins to trust you and feel safe. Before you know it, your issues become a thing of the past.
It really is that simple folks.
If you’re feeling aches, pains, or tightness…no matter where they are, or you’re experiencing plateaus in your training, it’s because your nervous system detects that your joints aren’t working properly and is putting these issues there to protect you.
Mobility training is the tool we use to develop strength and control at your joints, which then signals to your nervous system that it’s safe for you to move freely.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MOBILITY AND FLEXIBILITY
I wanted to include this in this beginner’s guide to mobility training because it’s a common questions I’m asked from those just starting out and there are important differences to understand.
These phrases are often used interchangeably as if they’re the same, but I can assure you they’re not. Here’s a quick example:
When we talk about flexibility think of someone reaching down to touch their toes to stretch their hamstrings. The truth is, most of that range of motion is passive meaning there’s an external force, in this case, like gravity to help pull them into that stretch.
Now take that same stretch and look at it a little differently. If I’m standing and pull my leg up towards me, I’m still stretching my hamstring, but now I’m using all of the tissue to get that stretch. This is an example of mobility and in this stretch, we call this active range of motion because nothing is helping me get into this position.
Another example is down dog in yoga. Your flexibility is being able to push your head through your arms to feel a stretch in your lats. The external force is gravity and the leverage you can produce through the floor with your hands.
Mobility would be can you raise both of your arms up over your head in a standing position. My guess is that for most you won’t be able to pull them as far back as you would if you were in down dog.
See the difference?
Flexibility is a component of mobility but they are not the same.
Don’t get me wrong. We need flexibility to hep us move but we need to be able to control it and that’s what mobility training is for.
Now that you have a basic understanding for what mobility training is, why it matters and how it works, let’s take a look at how it can help the most common (and annoying) problems for those of us who enjoy being active.
HOW TO RELIEVE ACHES, PAIN AND TIGHTNESS
Let’s look at tight glutes, which at one point or another has been a problem for us all. The standard protocol would be to stretch or jam a lacrosse ball on it and don’t get me wrong, you might temporarily feel better, but what happens the next day? As we know all too well…It comes back and you go through the whole process again, day after day after day!
The actual cause of those tight glutes, is your hip joint. If it can’t perform at least one of the functions it’s supposed to like flex, extend, abduct, adduct, internally, and externally rotate, your nervous system will put movement restrictions, tightness or knots in your muscles to prevent you from going in unsafe positions.
The solution is to first identify what actions your hip joint is limited in, and then work to improve that action with mobility training.
It really is that simple.
HOW TO REDUCE THE SEVERITY AND FREQUENCY OF INJURIES
We’ve all dealt with injuries of some magnitude. They’re a part of life however, that doesn’t mean we can’t reduce the chance and severity of them. Injuries happen when you ask a joint to do an action it’s not capable of performing.
Take the squat exercise for example. It requires a mobile ankle, knee, hip, and spine. If any of these joints aren’t functioning optimally, (meaning they lack movements that they’re supposed to have), they’ll eventually start breaking down.
For this squat example, let’s say your hip lacks flexion, (the ability to pull your knee toward your chest). When you go to squat, your lower back will step in and pick up the slack. What a nice guy!
The problem is that the low back isn’t meant to perform this action so inevitably pain will set in. I call this “the victim and the culprit.” The low back is the victim and where you feel the pain but the hip is the culprit, and his lack of function is what’s causing all of the problems.
Another example is the thought that running is bad for you knees. Running isn’t bad for your knees if you have good functioning ankles and hips. However, if either your ankles or your hips don’t function well (the culprit), the knees will pay the price (the victim).
Once your joints start getting stronger and moving the way they’re meant to with mobility training, your joints become bulletproof and you can avoid injury while you focus on setting your next PR in your squat or that race!
HOW TO INCREASE FLEXIBILITY AND RANGE OF MOTION
Earlier I mentioned the nervous system and how it’s the key to relieving aches, pain and tightness. But guess what? It’s also the key to increasing flexibility and range of motion.
When your nervous system feels safe, it lets you move in larger ranges, which equals improved flexibility.
You may be wondering,”Why do we stretch then?” Stretching has its purpose but is only part of the equation to increasing flexibility. If you stretch day in and day out and still can’t touch your toes, it’s the mobility training you need to add to your routine.
Stretching and flexibility training is mostly passive, meaning an external force (gravity, the floor, a wall, another person) is helping you into that position. This is called passive range of motion and will only get you so far.
Tight hamstrings anyone? If you’re trying to stretch them by bending over and reaching down to your toes but can’t get your fingertips past your knees, it's because your nervous system doesn’t trust that if you go into a deeper range of motion as you try and touch your toes, that you’re going to be safe down there.
When you build strength and control at your joints with mobility training, you build that oh-so-important trust with the nervous system and you’ll be touching your toes in no time. I have clients in their 50’s who have been chasing the flexibility game for years and once they started mobility training they’ve said they’re the most flexible they’ve ever been in their life. That’s what a coach likes to hear!
HOW TO IMPROVE SPORTS PERFORMANCE
When working with everyday athletes, something pretty awesome starts to happen shortly after they’ve started mobility training. At first, they can’t quite seem to put their finger on it but they feel something different with how they move. All of the actions required in their sport are now easier, more efficient and even more powerful.
If you take a step back and look at what mobility training is actually doing, it makes perfect sense. If we make our joints stronger and more resilient, than we’re essentially making our hardware better.
Think of it like a race car. Would you rather race with Ferrari parts or busted old Pinto parts. Of course, you want the Ferrari parts!
Want a bigger squat or deadlift……build better hip joints.
Want that huge bench or overhead press….. build better shoulder joints.
With mobility training, we’re building better hardware (joints) so you can move more efficiently and go perform at your highest level.
HOW TO BREAK THROUGH TRAINING PLATEAUS
Have you ever gotten stuck at the bottom of the deadlift, squat or bench and although you tried accessory work, bands, or other training methods you just couldn’t seem to make any gains?
This is the land of a training plateau my friend and it's where no lifter ever wants to be. Fortunately, there’s a tool in your arsenal with mobility training that you can use to eliminate this weakness so you can blast through that sticking point.
Mobility training allows you to target these areas and create more range of motion you have control over. When this happens, you build more musculature and hence the more force and power you can produce.
When you’re more comfortable bringing the bar down to your chest with mobile shoulders, elbows and wrists, you can slingshot that puppy right off of you with that big boy weight.
HOW YOU CAN GET STARTED
Now that you understand the benefits of mobility training and are looking at your movement through a different lens, it’s time to put it to the test and see for yourself!
I’ve put together my 3 must-have mobility moves where we’ll target the areas of the body that take the most use and abuse; the hip, shoulder, and spine. You can use these before, during, and after you train to bulletproof your body.
ABOUT COACH MATT PIPPIN
Matt is a Strength and Mobility Coach with over 15 years experience in his field and has coached over a thousand professional, collegiate and everyday athletes with the goal to help them move, feel and perform at their highest level. He's incredibly passionate about bringing simple and effective online mobility training programs to everyone who wants to take control of their self care and make lasting change. CLICK HERE to learn more.
NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
Level 3: Fascial Stretch Specialist
Level 1: Institute of Motion Health Coach
Certified FRC Mobility Specialist (FRCms)
Level 1 Kinstretch Instructor
Weck Method Qualified