Pimp Your Strength Program With Movement and Mobility

You often read and hear about mobility and stability, but what does these concepts really mean inside of the weight room?

Mobility and motor control are two important factors to consider when you embark on a new strength program or even just begin strength training. Mobility is a concept that is often misunderstood or loosely used to allow a person to sound fancy in the strength and conditioning scene. But it is, in fact, a simple concept to follow and understand, and if done correctly, it can be beneficial when used in conjunction with your strength program.

You should incorporate some sort of mobility routine into your strength program, but it is important to know why.

Here are some questions you should be asking yourself in regard to mobility before you even consider starting any strength program.

Do You Have Any Movement Restrictions?

If you are lucky, you are one of those individuals who have mobility like a millionaire has bills to throw around. But even that may be a Catch-22 as too much mobility can cause issues like instability in strength or weightlifting movements.

And unless you are a full-time athlete with unlimited access to all forms of recovery modalities (i.e. ice baths, massage, physical therapy), you are probably working a day job and trying to include training in your busy schedule. Chances are you probably have some form of movement restriction as a result of your daily lifestyle and this has some effect on your movements in training.

One of the ways to assess your movement restrictions is to perform a movement screen. For anyone looking to pick up the weightlifting, I put them through certain tests of the Functional Movement Screen such as the overhead squat and the shoulder mobility test.

Screening your movement before starting a strength program will help you avoid “adding weight to dysfunction.”

Following that, I go through some crawling drills (trunk rotation and imbalances), figure-four sitting positions (torso and lower limb joint interaction), and lying cobra position (spinal mobility).

These tests not only allow me to understand which movements are restricted specific to weightlifting, but also allow me to assess any unilateral imbalances that needs to be addressed as early as possible before embarking on a program.

What Are the Underlying Causes of Your Restrictions?

After performing the various screens and having an idea of the movement restrictions you may have, it is important to figure out the causes. Lack of mobility in a certain joint or segment of the body often derives from another joint or segment. So figuring out where the root of the problem lies is a bit of a puzzle, but doing so is better than just treating the symptom of the problem.

“Once you understand your movement restrictions and how to go about improving them, attention should be given to maintaining the mobility and motor control you have attained.”

For example, regular knee pain, typically seen as a strain on the patella or quadriceps tendon, restricts you in any movement related to knee flexion (i.e. squatting). However, the cause of this knee pain may not come directly from anywhere in close proximity to the knee joint unless physical trauma is experienced.

Instead, the pain may stem from the hip, ankle, and/or foot experiencing some form of compensatory movement or restriction that causes the pain and restriction in knee flexion. Similarly, tight hip flexors restricting hip mobility are usually related to lack of motor control through the trunk, resulting in the hip flexors taking up more strain and work than they should and subsequently shortening the muscle.

So, further tests can be performed to narrow down these specific causes of movement restriction. Muscles can be isolated in testing or motor control can be assessed to determine what is actually causing you to lose that required range of motion.

Motor control is crucial in having the ability to achieve ideal ROM in the big lifts.

What Are You Doing to Solve Your Problem?

If you are looking to increase your mobility, the key thing is to understand what your body really needs rather than follow a trend. These days, many drills are inappropriately used by those who think they need work on certain body segments when perhaps they do not need any more mobility in that area and continuing to work on that spot can actually result in instability of the joint. Understand the specific needs of mobility in your own body and relate that to the causes of your movement restrictions to make an informed decision on what drills you should do.

Should you be doing more hip mobility drills when your hips are restricted and not allowing you to drop lower in a squat? Or should you consider looking at understanding your trunk mobility and stability or how you brace for a squat to increase your range at the bottom? Understanding the underlying causes of movement restriction will help you have a clearer picture of whether you should focus on motor control or mobility drills to increase the quality of your movement.

Having a better understanding of your own movement can help you program for corrective exercise and mobility.

How Do You Relate This to Your Strength Program?

Once you understand your movement restrictions and how to go about improving them, attention should be given to maintaining the mobility and motor control you have attained. You can do this by following specific drills to fire off muscle groups while continuing selected mobility drills to maintain mobility and correct movement patterns within your program.

“Chances are you probably have some form of movement restriction as a result of your daily lifestyle and this has some effect on your movements in training.”

This process of correction should go on continuously through your strength program (perhaps as a form of warm up) to avoid any form of compensation when putting your body through physical toll and to keep your movements at a quality level. But remember, your work has to be specific to what is required, so assess regularly – even daily – to ensure you are doing what is needed for your program and your body, and not just what you want to do.

By doing this, you can get the most out of your strength program and move some big numbers, instead of stringing along a list of injuries and having to sit on the sidelines.

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Photo courtesy of CrossFit Empirical.