Friday, September 27, 2013

New research indicates that stretching isn't enough to increase mobility

Ladies and gentlemen, flexibility and mobility are not the same thing.  This is not new news, but there is a new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research which specifically aimed to look at the difference between the two, and what type of work aides in improving each.
First, let me help to distinguish the difference between flexibility and mobility.  Flexibility is the range of motion available in a joint.  It can be inhibited by limitations in the structure of the joint, or by “tight” muscles.  Stretching can help, if the limitation is due to shortened, or “tight,” muscles (I’m ignoring the debates over stretching, and sticking with the simple perspective).
Mobility is the ability to actually utilize the potential for range of motion allowed by flexibility.  This means the full range of motion that actually gets used in exercise and life, and requires control over the involved muscles.  So, if I can fold my hips into a pretzel with the assistance of my hands, while sitting, but I can’t squat my own body weight to full depth, then my flexibility is stellar, but I’m not especially mobile.
Many folks will assume that if a tight muscle is preventing them from getting their full depth squat, then stretching that muscle should help them gain better depth in their squat.  It may, to a degree.  But what this study has identified is that if mobility work is not employed, in addition to stretching, then the improved range of motion (as a result of flexibility) will not be utilized in movement patterns.

This is not entirely new information.  Systems like the FMS and NASM’s CES already employ efforts to reestablish flexibility, and then integrate that flexibility into real movements, in order to increase mobility.  If you want to maximize your performance, and minimize your risk of injury, make sure that your trainer is at least aware of these principles.  If you have a history of injury or chronic pain, then I would suggest seeking out a trainer with training and certifications in Corrective Exercise.  Then you can focus on building stronger performance.