The goal of mobility training is to make each of your joints as resilient, strong and controllable as possible while creating the biggest usable range of motion you can. Today, let’s take a look at how you can use isometrics to increase these ranges of motion which improves athletic performance (big time!).
Isometrics are a muscular contraction where the length of the muscle and the joint angle don’t change at all. You can read more about what they are and why we love them HERE.
There are two concepts I learned with my training through Functional Range Conditioning that utilizes isometric contractions to increase your usable ranges of motion (i.e. mobility). First up, are PAILS/RAILS, which is a simple way to increase your current range of motion (both passive and active). Second, is Passive Range Holds, which allow us to train at a specific angle of our range of motion that needs improvement to develop control at that specific position.
BUILD TRUST, BUILD RANGE
PAILS and RAILS is a concept that utilizes isometric contractions to develop strength and control at your end ranges of motion. PAILS stands for Progressive Angular Isometric Loading and RAILS stands for Regressive Angular Isometric Loading.
How does this give you more range of motion? More range is created because you’ve demonstrated to your nervous system that you can produce force on both sides of your joint at your current end range of motion. This allows the nervous system to trust you and in return, it grants you more range. It’s that simple. You have to get the nervous system’s permission to make any real changes in the body.
To set up PAILS/RAILS, simply place yourself into the biggest stretch possible using whatever external forces you like to make it passive. In the video example below I’m trying to stretch the bottom part of my calf (soleus), increasing dorsi flexion mobility by using my upper body to increase the stretch.
You can do multiple sets of this sequence:
2 minutes of passive stretch at your end range of motion
PAILS for 10 seconds
RAILS for 10 seconds
2 minutes of passive stretch in you new end range of motion
CLOSE THE GAP
Another great way to utilize isometrics for mobility training is Passive Range Holds (PRH). PRH allow us to close the gap between passive and active flexibility. Passive is how much range your joint has but with help, where active is the range that you completely own and don’t need any assistance to go into. If you have a large gap between these two, then big problems are sure to arise. If you get placed into a range you don’t control unexpectedly, then there is no telling what might happen. Usually injuries occur in this range. To learn more about passive vs. active ranges, check out this blog.
With PRH, we start to slowly close this gap. We’ll use hip flexion as our example in the video below.
Guess what??? Your knee will definitely move, but try and keep it still for 10 seconds and then repeat the process 2 more times. So with PRH, we’re simply getting stronger and developing more control of our joint at our end ranges.
If you’ve never done PAILS/RAILS or PRH give them a try and let me know how it feels. They can be used for just about every stretch you can think of so you’re only limited by your creativity. Just remember: if you can move your joint at your end range, then it’s probably not your true end range.
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ABOUT COACH MATT PIPPIN
Matt is a Strength and Mobility Coach with over 15 years experience in his field. He's coached over a thousand professional, collegiate and everyday athletes with the goal to help them move, feel and perform at their highest level. 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