I think the strength and fitness industry is changing its opinion on mobility work to be much more positive and inclusive, which is fantastic. With so much information out there it’s hard to say that any one person is wrong or right. A few years down the line a lot of us will definitely say that we tried things and they just weren’t as effective as we’d hoped. One day, you may get to a point when you’re on the roller for 10 minutes at the start of every session and you ask yourself, “Why am I not training yet?”
I think the main issues are when it comes to the relationship between mobility and training are:
- How much mobility do we need?
- Is too much mobility work at the start of the session actually compromising our stability?
- Have we become injury paranoid?
- Is there an end goal to all this mobility work?
The Quantity of Mobility
How much mobility do we need? Well, it depends.
I think it comes down to assessing your own personal practice and where you see yourself in 5+ years. You need to take your goals into consideration.
If you want to break deadlift world records and be the strongest you possibly can be, then doing stretches that will make you able to do the splits is counterproductive. Of course, it’s possible that people that can maintain a high level of both flexibility and strength but, for the majority of us, people who are stiffer can create more torque and tension, which is handy for big lifts.
I work predominantly with CrossFit athletes, many of who have some of the most hilarious “injury” reputations out there. Why is that? Well, the amount of mobility and strength that is required to be able to become any good at CrossFit is quite high, and people are very reluctant to put in the level of work required to make sure their bodies can cope with the demand. That is what scaling was invented for—it doesn’t just mean weight, there are certain movements that people just shouldn’t be doing at a beginner level. If you look at someone who has been doing your sport for many years and has stayed relatively injury free, see if you can move like them, find out where you come up short, and start to work on your shortcomings. If in doubt always ask your coach, or if you know a good physiotherapist, see what their recommendation would be and if they can help you at all.
Don’t Exhaust Yourself Doing Mobility Drills
Is too much mobility work at the start of the session actually compromising our stability? Again, it depends.
Coming back to the foam roller, if you’re going for a one rep max deadlift, do you really want to be chilling out on a roller and “loosening up” your muscles? Surely that time is better spent practicing bracing and doing some lighter deadlifts. On top of this, exhausting yourself doing end range mobility drills might inhibit your ability to call on that stability later on throughout the session.
You have to consider what the focus of your session is. Are you really going to make drastic improvements to your mobility as a ten minute warm up?
The 90/90 drill and squatting is a great example:
This drill is a phenomenal way to work on your internal and external hip rotation and stability. Integrated with squats it can be absolute magic. However, if my session was planned to be very heavy I would put in around 5-10 minutes the evening before, then only do a few reps as a warm up when it came to my training session.
You can quite clearly see that the intensity of the drill will have a direct effect on how the session goes. If you overdo it and completely exhaust your hips at the start of your session you won’t be shifting a lot of weight. If you use it as a short warm up and cool down then you’ll have a nice combo of strength and mobility and hopefully feel more “switched on.”
The most common things I am asked when I give someone a drill are what rep schemes they should use and when to do things. As you may have guessed, my answer is that it depends.
Some things to ask yourself are:
- Do you feel like you’ve made a difference?
- Do you feel stronger for it?
- Did your warm up affect your main session?
- How tired are you in general? Should you focus on only mobility today?
Injury Paranoia: The Endless Warm Up
Have we become injury paranoid? Yes, actually, I believe we have.
What’s the first thing you do when you get hurt? Research. Oh dear, what a bad idea that can be. When you start to look into how much you can get hurt and see the crazy injuries out there in every sport, you start to notice just how easy it is to pick up an injury. People then tend to forget to look up how crazy strong you can get post injury.
When your warm ups start looking like they wouldn’t be out of place in a bondage evening, you need to re-evaluate your thought process. You can’t mobilize everything, there are no perfect warm ups, and the biggest factor here, I’ll give you the technical term, is shit happens.
When people were riding into battle centuries ago, I’m sure the thought process wasn’t “Ooooh, I hope we win and that I don’t hurt my knees.” Why should training be any different? Your body language is a direct mirror of your thought process. If you think strong you’ll be strong, if you’re mobilizing your quadratus lumborum for twenty minutes before Olympic weightlifting so you don’t hurt your back, you’re in the wrong frame of mind (and you’re in the wrong training session).
If you honestly say to yourself that you’ve done your homework and you know your body has the capabilities to complete whatever a session will throw at you, you’ve done enough and should just enjoy the training. Don’t skip whatever drills or exercises work for you, but do try to avoid the defensive route. In my experience, the people that are the most paranoid are the ones that get hurt the most because their fear causes them to make silly mistakes when they wouldn’t have otherwise.
When an injury does happen, as long as you rehab it correctly and take care of any compensation that may have happened, there is no reason you wouldn’t be stronger than before and have more awareness and appreciation. Living in fear of a second injury is no different than imagining your favorite celebrity busting through your bedroom door and having their wicked way with you. It would be nice, but you can’t obsess and live in hope that it might happen one day. You have to get on with your life regardless.
Is there an end goal? Honestly, it depends.
It’s scary that I see some people become so wrapped up in doing mobility and making their joints work better that it’s all they do, no other practice, that’s it. You have to ask what the motivation factor is there, and how sustainable it is. I think I am quite lucky/unlucky to realize we won’t be doing what we’re doing now forever. Your training will change as you get older, and eventually, you will become one of those people who say “I used to do that.”
If you have decided you want your body to have a freedom of physicality then that is absolutely awesome, but I can imagine you will regret not doing other things alongside that. I try to sneak mobility work into people sideways, bribing them with advanced skills if they work on it, which is a better way to motivate yourself. Stretching your wrists so you can do muscle ups is far more appealing than stretching your wrists just in case your elbows hurt, possibly, one day, five years in the future.
You need to ask yourself: what do you want your body to do for you? How best can you support it in your endeavors? Without an end goal, you can end up just drifting. Are you really making any progress? Or just wasting time?