Mobility drills are useless. Stretching is dead. Seriously. No group of athletes stretches more than runners. They stretch pre-run, post run at night and in the morning. They stretch and stretch but their range of motion never seems to improve.
This is not an indictment of running, though endurance sports have a particular characteristic that makes them particularly suited to lead to limited ranges of motion. More on that later. Most Americans have less than optimal ranges of motion in some joints. Even those people that can pull a knee to the forehead usually lack range the opposite direction in the hip.
Maybe they just don’t stretch enough. Maybe it is justification to stretch more or grab a foam roller and go to work on those tight muscles. Immediate results seem to justify this. I spent a couple of months being professionally stretched and the moment after I hopped off the table, I was more flexible than I was when I walked in. The same thing happens when I roll on a lacrosse ball or stretch on my own.
The problem is 20 minutes later I am right back where I started. The changes we make when we stretch or mobilize are temporary. They don’t last. It’s like the Greek king Sisyphus who was punished by Zues and forced to roll a ball up a hill only to have it roll back down as it neared the top. This lead to an eternity of useless work.
The same is true of all those mobs you do with one key exception. You have the ability to make them stick if you keep in mind the first rule, we teach all of our interns. The body adapts to stress and demand. If you do something over and over this pattern will become easier and more efficient. The opposite is true if we don’t use it.
Runners, cyclists and swimmers put massive demands on their bodies through very limited ranges of motion. The body will do everything it can to make these postures and positions as energy efficient as possible. All the stretching in the world will not put a great enough stress on the body to overcome this. The same is true of a desk jockey who spends all day sitting in front of a computer.
That doesn’t mean you can’t change. It means you need to stress the body to adapt it means we need to do more to overcome it. We need to spend the energy to put our body in the positions we want it to adapt to and stress it either with load, intensity or time.
Somewhere along the line because of chairs and desks and shoes we lost are mobility. The body adapts to positions we spend our time in to make it more efficient. This means that the most effective way to change our mobility is to put ourselves in better positions. Better posture through out the day is the ideal way to fix these problems. There are whole books on strategies to improve daily posture and we can explore strategies in another post. But know that posture is difficult to fix but if you can do it can be life changing.
Movement in the gym
Posture alone is not enough. If you run 10 or 20 or 30+ miles a week or sit at a desk 8 hours a day some things won’t be affected by standing up straighter and making sure your feet are straight.
The body adapts to stress. The greater the stress the greater the adaptation. This simple concept means that the relative intensity, either with load or speed, in the gym creates a stress that can accelerate changes. That means whatever we do at intensity sticks or at least is more likely to stick. It’s the whole practice makes permanent. Working on moving better will make our mobility better. The flipside though is that if we move less than optimally it will simply reinforce our bad patterns and make our mobility even harder to fix. The key then is perfect practice makes perfect.
Long story short is if you work hard on squatting lower and in better positions you will eventually over time squat lower and in better positions. If you squat with you old patterns you won’t just fail to improve you may actually groove those old patterns even deeper.
Stretching and mobility is useless….in isolation. We can use them to help our movement. The key is timing and selection. If our hips are missing range and we do a stretch that increases that range AND then we squat with that temporary gain we can get into better positions. This sequence helps us own our improved range and gives the body the stimulus to adapt. The formula is basically increase our range in the short term, use that range while its increased which results in holding on to some of that new range of motion.
Which drills and stretches you select is up to both your mobility limitations and the workout you are doing that day. Test the range before and after to see what works and go from there. More on creating a plan later.