The Most Important Mobility Article You'll Ever Read

Yesterday we released Episode 5 of Next Level PT TV, where we discussed the 3 classifications of mobility dysfunctions, and where most people miss the boat with their mobility work.

 

If you missed it, here's the video…

 

To review...if you lack motion in an area of your body, that restriction can fall into one of three buckets. (might not be the best way to say it because one restriction can encompass multiple buckets)

 

Those buckets are:

 

#1)  Tissue Extensibility Dysfunction = muscle trigger points, neural tension, myofascial adhesions

 

#2  Joint Mobility Dysfunction = adhesions affecting the joint capsule and limiting movement between two bones (arthrokinematic movement)

 

[When looking at what most people do in the gym, about 85-90% of mobility work is aimed towards Tissue Extensibility Dysfunction…static stretches, foam rolling, self-myofascial work, etc. In knowledgeable fitness enthusiasts, the other 10-15% is aimed towards Joint Mobility Dysfunction…power band mobilization techniques, active ROM exercises, etc.]

 

Unless you’ve worked with a great trainer or rehab professional, you’ve likely spent 0% of your time in bucket #3…

 

#3  Stability Dysfunction Masking Itself as Mobility Restriction

 

***If you want to create authentic, permanent changes in your mobility…this is where the money is***  And the rest of this article is going to be geared towards helping you understand this concept.

 

 

FREQUENTLY MUSCLE "TIGHTNESS" ISN’T TIGHTNESS AT ALL…

To most people, “tightness” = “shortened muscle”.

 

In most cases, “tightness” really = “inadequate synchronization”.

 

What you feel as “tightness” is really the wrong muscle, kicking in at the wrong time during a certain movement, in an attempt to create stability.

 

^^^ Read that again ^^^

 

Classic example (as you saw in the video)…tight hamstrings.

 

If you bend down to touch your toes and feel “tightness” in the back of your leg, it’s logical to conclude that your hamstrings are short and that you need to elongate them or “loosen them up” to improve that mobility.

 

If it were that simple, the 15 minute stretching and foam rolling routine you’ve done before every leg workout for the past 10 years would’ve worked by now.

 

 

HOW IT WORKS

To go through a proper toe touch pattern, there are a lot of switches your brain needs to hit in a certain order to allow you to move freely. These “switches” tend to be deeper stabilizing muscles in your hips and core that rely far more on timing than strength to produce stability.

 

If the synchronization of these “switches” is off, your body will put the brakes on at a certain point to prevent you from entering what the brain perceives to be a dangerous range of motion.

 

The “brakes” in this instance are your hamstrings. And when the brakes go on, you perceive “tightness”.

 

It’s protective.

 

And the same thing happens with hip flexors, groins, glutes, back muscles, upper traps, calves (just in different ways).

 

So when we do a goofy exercise that looks like the furthest thing from a hamstring stretch, and you stand up and are able to touch your toes for the first time in 10 years, it's not magic...we just re-establish proper synchronization.

 

 

SO I SHOULD JUST DO MORE YOGA THEN, RIGHT?

Nooooo! That’s not what I’m saying. You won’t find a bigger fan of yoga then me…there are so many benefits to it…but yoga was not designed to correct the specific muscle synchronization deficits that drive most chronic mobility problems. If you’re serious about ending your tightness, you need to get more specific.

 

 

EXAMPLES

What I want to do for you, is outline 5 of the simpler mobility restrictions we tend to see people “stretch to death”.

 

These are all mobility problems that can typically be corrected in a few minutes with properly prescribed exercises (and I’ve included some of the exercises we use for each restriction).

 

#1)  Shoulder Internal Rotation (IR):

I see a lot of baseball players in my practice and we frequently see limitations in shoulder range of motion (ROM) (see below). Most people will go sleeper stretch to fix this problem, but stretching a shoulder with restricted IR usually just adds dysfunction to dysfunction.

 

 

What’s Really Going On:  Shoulder IR ROM is frequently a reflection of how much air your moving through your lungs on that side. Most people tend to have restricted right shoulder IR ROM because we (as humans) naturally have a harder time getting air in on the right side.

 

So to address shoulder IR ROM deficits, we’ll typically go to one of the following exercises (these exercises also tend to be great for neck/upper trap tightness as well):

 

Right Sidelying Apical Expansion with Left Arm Reach:

 

90/90 Hip Lift with Right UE Reach and Balloon:

 

 

#2)  Hamstring Mobility:

We pretty much covered this one above. Here’s a common exercise we’ll use to re-establish proper synchronization of the deeper core structures, including the diaphragm (which is why we use the balloon):

 

90/90 Alternating Crossover Reach with Balloon:

 

**If you want more in depth info on why stretching is the worst way to fix tight hamstrings, check out a previous post we dedicated to that topic by clicking here!

 

#3)  Hip Flexor Mobility: 

Hip flexor tightness is usually the product of gross overextension. When the pelvis is driven forward (as pictured below), the hip flexors lose the ability to function through a full ROM and become overactive in assisting pelvic stability.

 

 

 

Since this is generally the result of a larger body pattern (overextension), the solution usually involves re-establishing control in a more flexed posture.  

 

90/90 Hip Lift Breathing:

 

 

#4)  Thoracic Mobility: 

Thoracic mobility work has become somewhat of a sexy trend in the rehab and fitness worlds…and rightfully so. You’ll see a lot of people preaching thoracic extension and rotation mobilizations, and I think these certainly have their place.

 

However, one area that gets neglected is the ability to coordinate good rib movement during breathing and get air into the mid back. Doing this authentically improves thoracic mobility, and usually does it much quicker than the sexy thoracic mobs.

 

Here’s one way to do it:

 

Posterior Mediastinum Inhibition:

 

 

#5) Ankle Dorsiflexion: 

Tight calves and limited ankle mobility are common problems. This a restriction that will fall into buckets 1 and 2 more frequently (especially if you’ve had a previous ankle sprain/injury), but there is a large number of people with bilateral (both sides) calf tightness.

 

Similar to hip flexor tightness, this develops commonly because of a gross overextension posture. When everything is driven forward, the calves frequently start acting like glutes and thus develop tightness.

 

We’ll cover more specific interventions for this in next week’s post on Achilles’ Tendonitis in runners.

 

 

BOTTOM LINE

There is a time and a place for everything. Stretching and foam rolling are great. Yoga is unbelievable. And I love power band mobs for joint mobility work.

 

But too often, we bring these interventions to problems that they are not designed to solve.

 

If you struggle with tight muscles/restricted mobility in any area of your body, I challenge you to rethink the way you are attacking it and open your mind to the idea that there likely is a solution that can PERMANENTLY correct the mobility restriction that is limiting. 

 

This is a difficult concept to grasp and apply, and usually takes the assistance of a therapist or trainer who understands this concept on a deeper level. If you have any specific questions, please comment below so we can help you out!

 

 

Dr. Mike

 

 

 

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