In my last article I discussed how important it is to move correctly when exercising. Everything we do in the gym — squats, lunges, pushing, pulling, rotating — should become a reflection of what we do in everyday life including our recreational sports. Longevity of our body’s, especially our joints, is largely dependent upon good movement patterns that are reproducible. If you want to spare your low back and save your knees from debilitating arthritis, you must take the time to move with purpose.
So what does this take and how do you begin? Although there are many facets involved that I will eventually cover, the first aspect of moving well is mobility. I like to think of mobility as the ability to move freely and easily into and out of positions that are essential for everyday life. If you can’t squat into a balanced position where your thighs are parallel with the floor, keeping your upper body upright, and keeping your feet facing forward, you lack mobility. The lack of mobility may be in your ankles or your hips and combined with a variety of short and tight muscles such as your hamstrings. The key point is that you can’t squat correctly because you lack mobility and that must be addressed. Makes no sense to overload your squat patterns with weights or to perform heavy leg presses until you establish a good squat pattern, otherwise you just wear your joints down.
So the question is how do you improve mobility. The first point to consider is that mobility is much more than muscular flexibility. Mobility also involves range of motion of our joints, extensibility of elastic membranes (fascia) that surround our muscles, among many other tissues — including the skin. The traditional approach of simply statically stretching tight muscles such as our hamstrings or quadriceps will do very little by itself to improve the way you move. Static stretching does have a place, but it’s not enough. In order to move better we must also enhance joint mobility and put that mobility into motion. Hence a dynamic approach!
In a dynamic approach one moves into and out of positions and with each repetition the joint being addressed is stretched a little more and the muscles being stretched are under tension. This results in greater range of motion that is both supportive and controllable by muscular contractions. This is the key to moving better. Don’t simply attempt to get greater range of motion but rather greater range of motion with control.
Here is a little insight for most of you. The areas of the body where most people begin to lose motion as they age are in the shoulders, the mid back, the hips, and the ankle. Loss of motion in any of these areas will affect the overall quality of your movements in almost anything you do. If you need to lunge down to pick things off the floor you need mobility in your ankles, hips, and mid back. If you lack mobility in any of these areas, there is going to be compensation in the way you move and some type of abnormal stress on one or more of your joints. Often it is the knees which is why so many aging people have knee pain. The best way to prevent knee problems is to make sure you have good ankle and hip mobility and the muscular control to support your knees as you move into and out of positions.
We will address all of these topics on upcoming videos and live classes on BackForever. Stay tuned!
Bill Fabrocini, PT, CSC is a clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy and a sports performance training coach. Mr. Fabrocini has also written numerous articles that have been published in prominent journals including the National Strength and Conditioning Journal and the American Council on Exercise Certified News. Learn more about Mr. Fabrocini here.