The fastest way to boost your performance and increase strength is with mobility. Learn how mobility can make you stronger.
What does mobility mean?
Mobility is a joint’s ability to actively move through it’s range of motion. And the key words are “joint” and “active.” I want you to think of mobility as the muscles moving the joint rather than the joint moving the muscle. That is because I want you to know the difference between flexibility and mobility. Flexibility is often thought of as a synonym or interchangeable with mobility, when it’s not. Flexibilty is the muscle’s ability to (passively) be taken through a range of motion. Mobility is about activation and flexibilty is about relaxation. If a muscle is too tight, it will hinder the length it can reach, which will limit your flexibility. However, if a muscle is too relaxed and has a hard time activating, your range of motion can be limited.
That means you can stretch all day long and still never reach a full range of motion. Why is that? Because when we move a joint through a range of motion, there are opposing muscles that give and take to do so. One muscle may be lengthening while the opposite is firing. Take a reverse fly for example. The muscles in the front of the body need to stretch and lengthen while the back muscles are engaging. That allows our arms, and therefore shoulders, to move through a lateral range of motion. So flexibilty supports mobility but it is not the only factor than determines your range of motion. Activation is necessary to open the joint without an outside force.
How does mobility training increase strength?
When we work in controlled and coordinated movements, our nervous systems becomes more efficient at calling on our motor units. When we are efficient at activating more motor units, the more force a muscle or muscle group can produce, and the stronger it will get. It is like that saying that practice makes perfect. If we have muscles that are not regularly activated, or activated in a specific pattern, the weaker they will be.
Just like your babies! Their movements are weak, awkward, and choppy until they get used to using their muscles. Once they do they slowly get stronger and able to perform more challenging movements from sitting to crawling to walking to running and climbing.
That’s why it is so important to do mobility training. So we can take our muscles and joints through full ranges of motion in controlled and coordinated patterns. The better we get at these movements, the more force/strength we can apply to our exercises.
The best ways to train mobility
There are different ways to mobility train. And there are multiple elements that are involved as well. For starters, we still want to train our flexibility. You can do that by stretching statically, with long holds, and dynamically, through a range of motion. Remember that stretching uses an outside force. For example, if you want to stretch your hip flexors, you can hold a runner’s lunge or slowly rock in an out of the position.
Next you want to spend time activating your muscles. You can do this with isotonic contractions. This is when you hold a contraction at one length. For example, a wall sit! We all love and know those. The best way to use isotonic contraction is by contracting your muscle to a joint’s end range of motion and holding there. Then doing the same at the other end by contracting the opposing muscle.
Using resistance bands is another great way to do this. They are one of my favorite tools because they provide unstable resistance They require control as you lengthen a contracted muscle, or move eccentrically. Not that other forms of resistance, like dumbbells or machine, do not. But again, they are more unstable and require greater control in my experience. Plus, you can use a resistance band in any direction.
One of my favorite methods of training that improves mobility is corrective exercise. Corrective exercise helps inactive muscles improve at firing. So if your muscles can fire better, they can improve your range of motion. It also works at relaxing overactive muscles to improve muscular balance. Sounds like mobility training to me!
(I go into depth about corrective exercise in another blog post here)
Mobility workouts that increase strength
Another form of exercise that increases strength with mobility training are yoga workouts. And I have a fantastic, 35 minute one for you! It focuses on the shoulder joint with a lot of chest openers and activation of the surrounding muscle groups. I switch it up with holds and slow contractions. BONUS! You will get some great core work out of it too! Join me here!