Flexibility or mobility, whatever you want to call it, is more of an afterthought for most athletes. Usually they only focus on mobility/ flexibility when they have already picked up an injury. Or they have a recovery day as if doing the pigeon stretch once a week will fix five days of squatting.
Ask a weightlifter about their snatch routine and they will talk forever on the bar path and how important speed under the bar is, however ask them about their mobility routine and you’ll probably struggle to get 10 minutes out of them before they start into the foam rolling.
Ask a dancer or a gymnast the same question and they will fire off their routines without skipping a beat. You will also notice two other things if your listening.
1. They won’t call it mobility. 2. It will be periodised just like strength cycles are.
Let's start with the first point.
What is mobility?
Mobility is a term used to cover all aspects of joint preparation, rom, flexibility and recovery these days. But it's not a new thing, it's been around forever. It may surprise you to know that there was already at term for all of this way before the mobility train left the station. Back when I was in circus school it was called plain old flexibility training.
I can nearly always tell an athlete’s background by the terms the use. Mobility = crossfit/ weightlifting or powerlifting Flexibility = dance/circus or gymnastics.
Proper flexibility training can strengthen and improve joint function, increase your rom and stability at your end range. To train your flexibility/ mobility properly you need to touch on all aspects in the flexibility spectrum. This brings me to the second point.
2. Importance of periodisation in your flexibility training.
Laying there in a pigeon stretch is probably what most people think off when they think of flexibility/ Mobility. To really get any benefits you have to train all aspects of your flexibility and that means planning. If you train your flexibility properly it should be periodised with a shifting focus the same as any other cycle. This will prevent stagnation and reduce the risk of injury. To start structuring your mobility/ flexibility training you need to touch on all aspects in the flexibility spectrum and these are:
Passive flexibility Active flexibility PNF training Dynamic flexibility Controlling end range movement.
This might sound daunting but if you use the four foundations of flexibility training which are, mobilise, lengthen, stabilise and strengthen you can easily cover all bases without having to spend four hours after your session trying to cram it all in!
With a little bit of research a good flexibility program will get you to your end goal a lot quicker than the 50 million foam rolling drills you see on Instagram and the one calf stretch Timothy from the gym down the road showed you.
This is an example of a fifteen minute hamstring routine which adheres to the four foundations of mobilise, lengthen, stabilise and strengthen.
MOBILISE 1. Long lunge knee circles. In a long lunge position with foot flat on the floor. Draw a large circle with your knee allowing your hip socket to inwardly and outwardly rotate freely. Do this in both directions for 3 x 20 on each leg. 2. Long lunge to single leg fold rocks. From a long lunge position shift your hips backwards until the bent lead leg straightens and you feel the beginning of a hamstring stretch. At the point of stretch reverse the action and repeat for 3 x 10 on each leg.
LENGTHEN 3. Laying hamstring extension. Using a band, lift your leg until you feel the stretch. From there bend your knee slightly and straighten. Each time you straighten try to move your leg further into the stretch. Do 10 reps and finish with a 40 second hold. Repeat 3 times on each leg.
4. Pike fold. Sit up tall with legs straight in front. Lean forward as far as possible without rounding the back. Try to pull you belly button to your thighs. Use this compressive force to hold the position for 60 seconds and repeat 3 times.
5. Standing pike fold calf raises. Stand the balls of your feet on a step with the heels free. With straight legs bend forward into a balancing standing pike fold. Relax your heels to the ground and then raise to the start position. Repeat for 20 reps.
6. Single leg deadlift knee bends. Stand in a single leg deadlift position. Make sure the hips are level and the supporting leg is straight. Bend the supporting leg and as you straighten try to keep your upper body as close to the floor as you can. Repeat for 20 reps on both legs. STRENGTHEN 7. Single leg pull to long lunge. From a single leg fold position, dig your heel into the floor and using only the hamstring, pull yourself up into a long lunge position. Do 3 x 5 reps on each leg.
8. Weighted single leg good morning. With an empty barbell stand in a split stance. Keeping your front leg staring bend at the hips onto a good morning position. Lean into the front leg, do not push your hips backwards. Do 3 x 8 on each leg.
Just one final point. Flexibility isn’t about lengthening your muscles that’s impossible. Muscles don’t lengthen. Everyone is already flexible. Look at the unconscious drunk! Super flexible! Why? Because the brain isn’t freaking out and stopping the body from going into those ranges. You see Mobility/ flexibility for the most part is a lot more neurological than physical, its about convincing your CNS that you are capable and safe moving in these ranges. Basically your brain wants to know that if you can get yourself into a position you can get yourself out of it! You need to condition your muscles to work in a range of states of contraction and in varied ranges safely without the CNS slamming on its emergency stop! It also builds the foundations for injury proofing your body so you can keep training for longer. Now I don't care what you call it, just remember, you need to focus on the four foundations of flexibility training to get the real benefits, not just foam roll your lats every other Thursday!