Mobility and flexibility are different terms describing similar attributes.
Flexibility – Total range of motion. Most obvious example of flexibility being the splits.
Splits – Van Damme style!
Mobility – Control of the joint as it moves through it’s full range of motion.
Van Damme showing control of his flexibility
Mobility requires flexibility but also needs strength and coordination to back it up.
Instead of the splits, lets take a squat as our example.
Neghar Fonooni shows you how it’s done.
Squatting is a basic human movement pattern. Forget everything your personal trainer told you about squats and instead pay attention to how young children move. Each and every one of us could up until a certain age squat flat footed right down until our hamstrings rested on our calves.
Somewhere along the line most lose this ability. In fact so many have lost the ability, there are endless debates as to whether or not squatting deep is good for us or not. There are debates as to whether the Asian population who seem to have no issue squatting have a different structure than us westerners.
All these arguments seem to forget that:
- Every human being under the age of 5 has no issue squatting all the way down. And what happens at the age of 5? Kids get tied to a desk in that institution called school.
- Every 4 years the most watched athletic competition in the world occurs and we are treated to a display of movement from the world most elite physical specimens. Every race of human being is represented in a host of sports, not least of which the gymnastics and the Olympic weightlifting. In both of these events we see Caucasians and Asians alike showing deep squats, and in the weight lifting, they do it multiple times their bodyweight held overhead.
So the squat argument is rendered void, unless of course there are injury factors involved.
Now that we’ve settled that, why can’t we squat?
It’s clearly a lack of mobility, but will mobility work solve the issue?
Probably, but why not look at flexibility?
Specifically the flexibility of the Quads and Hip flexors.
Why not look at strength?
Many mobility problems are simply down to weakness. You get tight to prevent an action happening that you aren’t strong enough to control. In the case of the squat, the chances are you can;t go deep because the Hammies and the Glutes aren’t strong enough to help out in the bottom end. The quads are all good from around parallel to lockout, but any deeper than they struggle. Best option, never go to the bottom end.
So if I work on ankle mobility to allow good dorsiflexion, hip mobility to allow a good hinge, spinal mobility to allow good extension, all links in the chain to performing a deep squat. What will happen when I try to squat?
You’ll probably still not get all the way down, especially if your loaded.
So strength is a major factor in the development of mobility. Your muscles must be able to adequately stabilise the joint as the joint moves thought it’s full range which is down to sheer contractile strength controlled by an efficient central nervous system.
So if you need to improve mobility for the squat, make sure you are training the squat. Very often as your strength increases, so will your mobility.
This doesn’t mean that mobility work is useless, it just means that we should never take our eye off the bigger picture.
Yes, you still need to work on dorsiflexion of the ankle (which I’ll talk about next Monday), but once you’ve mobilised, be sure to add strength to that movement pattern.
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