“Everyone wants mobility, but no one wants to own it!” –Dr. Andreo Spina
(Creator of Functional Range Release/Assessment and Conditioning)
I have had the pleasure of getting certified in Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) and being taught by Dr. Andreo Spina. His concepts and movements have been applied to a number of professional organizations including (but not restricted to) the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NCAA and CrossFit worldwide. I will be speaking about some of his concepts and how to apply mobility the right way to access and own your movement.
Through my time as an athlete and certainly through my time as a manual therapist, I have noticed people seem to use the terms mobility and flexibility interchangeably. Even worse, people tend to apply them to their routines interchangeably as well. I will be discussing in today’s blog post about themain differences between the two and how to use and apply both flexibility and mobility to your lifestyle!
What is Range of Motion?
To start let’s talk about range of motion (ROM). ROM is the amount a joint or tissue can move. ROM is influenced by 3 main things, the joint interface itself (bone on bone/cartilage) the soft tissues (muscles/tendons, joint capsules, ligaments etc) and the nervous system. By attacking these 3 aspects (be it with physical therapy or at home care/maintenance) we can achieve an increase in ROM and therefore be on our way to changing our flexibility and our mobility!
Flexibility is defined as our ability to move a joint through a range of motion. The way most people try to increase their flexibility is by using static stretches (no movement) over time that eventually allows the tissues to adapt and lengthen through both a physiological and neurological response. An even better way range can be improved is with manual therapy from a physiotherapist, chiropractor ormassage therapist using a variety of different techniques (soft tissue therapy, acupuncture, trigger point therapy, pain tolerance techniques etc). Regardless of how this flexibility is gained this is where people start to make mistakes. Just because you have a better ROM does not ensure your body knows how to use it. At this point you have not been strengthened, stabilized or done any motor patterning in this new position and because of this you now have a new danger zone inside your range, one of which is much more susceptible to injury. Lastly, just because you have gained flexibility in the short term, does NOTmean you are automatically able to use it dynamically.
“Most people don’t define the difference between usable and unusable. They have this idea that when you’re flexible, or bendable, your nervous system will automatically be able to use that flexibility when it produces movement. What the neurology tells us is that that’s not exactly true; unless you train the body to access your flexibility, it’ll never be able to use it in movement production.
Take that hockey player who wants to play more dynamically, to display more motion or more range of motion. What he needs is to get to these ranges of motion and maximally create neurological control of them. If someone’s going to skate past you and you want to reach back and grab onto them, and you’ve only trained to hold very low intensity postures like in a yoga class, that doesn’t translate into the ability for you to be able to maintain a high amount of neurological output in order to generate a lot of force in those ranges of motion. It’s just not specific for the outcome you require, and that’s a very fundamental physiological law: you have to train for the outcome you desire."
– Dr. Andreo Spina
Mobility on the other hand is defined by how well a joint can move, control and access a range of motion or tissue compliance and it encompasses 3 main steps:
1. Mobility development: The amount of active, usable motion that one possesses (flexibility).
2. Joint Strength: Strengthening this new ROM gained by mobility development IN the new ranges acquired. This is gained with strength training protocols starting with isometric contractions (contraction without change in length or position under tension) and progressing to concentric/eccentric contractions (contraction with shortening or lengthening under tension).
3. Body Control: By using these new ranges of motion daily you aid in retaining the new ranges of motion, overall joint health and neurological/muscular control. Steps 2 and 3 are essential to turn your danger zone into an asset.
Where Do I Fit Mobility and Flexibility Into My Routine?
There is certainly research to support many different types of stretching at different times, however when applying the same concepts as FRC my personal recommendations are as follows:
Before: Activity specific dynamic stretching (movement) and cardio (getting warmed up) should always be done prior to any physical activity. This applies to anything from going for a run/gym to playing a sport. Dynamic stretching and warm up allows tissues and joints to prepare for activity in a low impact within your normal range. Some examples of dynamic stretching are arm circles and leg swings.
After: After the workout is when I generally recommend static stretching (no movement) and foam rolling. For the same reasons I mentioned above, stretching before a workout can increase a range your body doesn’t “own”. That being said, static stretches and foam rolling does have its place! It can help with flushing inflammation, aid in recovery and even help avoid the dreaded DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) following a workout!
For newbies to mobility work I always recommend it either at the end of a workout or its own separate day. Often times in the early stages of trying to gain mobility, you will notice compensations and weaknesses you didn’t even know you had. By strengthening in a new range, you can fatigue these weaknesses before larger lifts when they are needed for stability/proper technique. Therefore, in my opinion, even if it is a weak muscle working at 80% capacity, that will still work better than a weak and fatigued muscle working at a 60% capacity. That being said, if you “own” a movement already and you don’t find the mobility work fatiguing, doing mobility routines before training is perfectly acceptable much the same way dynamic stretching is.
In summary, mobility and flexibility are not the same but flexibility is definitely a component of mobility. Mobility is achieved when strength/control is gained and the danger zone is turned into an asset and is available to be used dynamically. Lastly, if there is one thing I want you to take away from this blog post it is this: just because you have increased your range doesn’t mean you “own” that range. Adapt to owning it and you will be on a path to less injury and a better moving body!
For more information on the FRC protocol for gaining/accessing mobility, avoiding your new danger zone and accessing your flexibility gains contact Dr. Ryan Trueman, DC or one of our other FRC certified Chiropractors or Physiotherapists. To book an appointment call 902-404-3668.