What’s all the fuss about mobility? Why do we need it? When do we need it? These are some of the questions you may run into during or even outside of your classes.
We often hear the terms mobility, flexibility, stretching and know that we need to work on these, but what are we really working on? Mobility refers to how freely a joint can move in space. If there is restriction in or around the joint, the joint may not be able to obtain the desired range of motion. This can be due to decreased joint space or decreased flexibility of the surrounding musculature.
Now, not every athlete that walks into the gym will have mobility issues, but I dare say the majority are likely restricted in some way. It is also possible that instead of having restrictions in movement, you may have athletes that have too much mobility, but I’ll save that for another talk.
Unfortunately, through most of the day we are naturally in positions that decrease mobility. Whether we are sitting, typing or on our phones, we are in critically vulnerable positions. Over time, if we continue to stay in these positions without addressing the restrictions, our bodies will adapt to those postures we spend most of our time in.
Our central nervous system (CNS) controls the body and how it functions. The CNS takes in information, decides what to do with that information and then responds to that information. The CNS decides which muscles contract and which muscles extend. If the CNS feels “threatened” by the speed or range of movement, it will hold that movement range back. As the body continues to use poor posture, the CNS will try to protect the body from going outside that range of motion. Now, there are a lot of other factors affecting range of motion – pain, previous injury, biomechanics – but for now, we will focus on the central nervous system. In order to “fix” this damage we have done, we must “retrain” our central nervous system.
No one body is the same, and no one thing will work for every person. Training stimulus, volume, and experience will all affect past and future movement patterns.
For example, let’s talk about sitting at a desk, doing paperwork or working at a computer. We might potentially start off with great posture, shoulders back, core engage and anterior shoulder opened in the morning. By the middle of the day, our shoulders may be hunched, core disengaged and our head has likely gravitated closer to the computer screen.
Moving past the upper body, because we are sitting for hours on end, our hip flexors are shortened and there is more stress on our low back. As our shoulders and head move forward, our pecs, scalenes and sternocleidomastoid become shortened while we lengthen our rhomboids, levator scapulae and traps – known as upper crossed syndrome.
To take this one step farther, let’s talk about our rotator cuff muscles. If our shoulders have gravitated to an incorrect position, our rotator cuff muscles cannot properly protect and stabilize our shoulder joint. If we continue to maintain this posture and strengthen these muscles while in this incorrect posture, our shoulder joint will not be stabilized in the position it needs to be in in order to handle loads and overhead movements.
This however holds the same for being on our feet. When coaching a class, or better yet, multiple classes in a row, the last thing we are thinking about is how we are standing. All of these incorrect movement patterns will lead to pain and potential injury. One fault in the kinetic chain will have an impact on the rest of the chain. A restriction in the upper body will have dramatic consequences to the rest of the body. During an overhead movement, if the body cannot gain the desired range of motion from the shoulder it will try to get it from somewhere else.
Unfortunately, if we have forward head and shoulder posture, our core is likely weak and disengaged, our hip flexors are tight and shortened while our glutes and hamstring are likely disengaged, lengthened and weak – known as lower crossed syndrome.
Now the question is: how do we fix this? Unfortunately, there is not a quick fix when it comes to retraining the CNS. It is going to take time and commitment.
First things first: let’s focus on the upper body. Time can be spent before or even during the warm-up dedicated to soft tissue mobilization to help “retrain” the CNS. Before we start strengthening our RTC or our rhomboids, we have to open our anterior shoulder. If we don’t first create the mobility, we will continue to lack the desired mobility and strengthen muscles in poor positions, exacerbating the problem.
To open up our anterior shoulder, we will have to target our pecs, pectoralis major and minor. Becoming good friends with a lacrosse ball or trigger point ball will be key. You can use the floor, the rack, a foam block, anything you can apply pressure with to trigger point for pecs.
The important part is to produce force perpendicular to the muscle. You want to target the muscle belly as well as the insertion point. If using a foam block, place it over the lacrosse ball and apply the pressure as you oscillate over the ball, providing a transverse manipulation of tissues. This replicates the technique a massage therapist would use. After spending time over the entire muscle, you want to stretch the area for two minutes. To create change, you must hold the position for a long period of time.
After the pecs, you’ll want to target the rhomboids. Place the same trigger point ball between the spine and the scapula while lying on your back. Maintain pressure over one spot for a few seconds before you start moving the ball up and down and side to side. Begin to raise your arm up overhead and then again out to the side, alternating movements for 10 reps. Work all the way up your spine until you can’t work anymore. After doing this to both sides, it will be extremely important to do some thoracic spine (t-spine) openers.
Now after these, don’t forget your latissimus dorsi. Your lats will also pull your shoulders forward making it harder to get your shoulder into external rotation. To trigger point your lats, lay on your side placing the lacrosse ball into the bulk of muscle under your armpit. To be fair, this is just scratching the surface, but the good news is just by adding this in will make a noticeable difference. If consistent, your members will notice a difference when trigger pointing after just a couple of sessions.
Next time we will begin to delve more into other upper body trigger point releases and some good t-spine openers.