We are excited to introduce another new instructor joining the Heart Core team, Colin Doyle! Colin will be on the schedule offering mobility group classes, this summer season. As we all know, stretching and mobility work seems to be last on some of our lists, but we quickly begin to realize how important is it to prioritize stretching and mobility work into your training regimen. Colin has written an awesome essay that explores this very topic, so read on ....
Get the most out of your training (and your life) by prioritizing your joints
Why do you train?
Without knowing you personally, I’m willing to take a gamble and guess that your “why” can be boiled down to something that sounds like “I want to enjoy being in my body”.
Whether the means of achieving that goal is through strength, endurance, building muscle or just sweating out every ounce of fluid in your body – I would wager that it all lends itself to creating a body and mind that function properly, feel well, and allow you to experience life as you wish. And if the goal is a body that moves and feels well, we need to address the one common denominator that all parameters of physicality share; regardless of the chosen method, or even your end goal – one thing is true across the board: a healthy, functioning body relies on healthy, functioning joints. We need our joints to be able to move if we want to move. The more mobility we have within our joints, the more movement capability we have in our body. What’s also true is that exercise in itself is stressful to our bodies, and life itself does little favors for the long term health of our joints. So in order to ensure that we’re as mobile as possible for as long as possible we need a strategy to care for, maintain, and even improve our joint mobility.
In this post we’ll cover a joint by joint approach to training mobility, and why we should aim to prioritize our joints before anything else.
Mobility is an area that seems to be under appreciated by a lot of folks, and maybe a bit misunderstood too. So we’re all on the same page I just want to define what we’re discussing. Mobility can be seen as the active control of a joint’s ranges of motion. Where flexibility shows the passive availability in a joint, mobility can be seen as the capacity to express strength and control in those ranges of flexibility. With this in mind, if we’re approaching our mobility expecting active results, we need active efforts in order to do so. The approach to mobility I’ll offer is different from the animal flows and crawling patterns, and definitely involves more than foam rolling before a workout. The process I offer comes from the Functional Range Conditioning system and applies a joint-by-joint approach to assessing and training each individual joint to its maximum potential to ensure strong, safe, and healthy movement of the whole body.
A particularly quotable tag-line that’s emerged within the FRC methodology is “Joint independence before interdependence” – meaning we should ensure that each individual joint can function on its own and do its own job before we ask it to play nice and coordinate with the rest of the body. This point is stressed for several reasons, a big reason being humans are very adaptive creatures. If a particular joint lacks the necessary capability for a certain movement, the body easily adapts and offloads the task to parts upstream and/or downstream of that joint. This is the body doing what it does best – problem solving, and this isn’t necessary a problem until that pattern gets repeated time after time after time. Eventually the uneven distribution of load finally takes its toll and we may experience pain or injury in certain areas. So, in order to ensure that our bodies are moving as one big happy whole, we make sure that all of our parts are doing their fair share and we give each joint its due time and attention.
Another important reason we strive for full articulation at each joint is to allow for the highest degrees of movement variability possible. The nature of movement is that it is dynamic, chaotic, and never predictable. Motor output is a result of the brain processing the information it receives about the surrounding environment and generating the best response possible to respond to that situation.How the brain actually receives information about the external world is through our joints themselves – and the accuracy of that information, and how much we can actually pickup on and respond to, relies on the quality and capacity of movement at the joint. If the brain churns out its response to the information provided, and for some reason the body can’t match that request we see missteps, awkward slips, increased likelihood of injury. So this means that the more mobility we have in our joints, the more options we will have to respond to whatever comes our way and therefore the safer our movements may become.
How to start prioritizing your joints
To start making your joints a priority it’s as simple as developing a daily routine. If you asked me for the easiest and most effective way to develop more control over your body and take care of your physical health – this is it. Within a daily CARs routine we find several key benefits:
First, we ensure that we are maintaining the range of motion that we currently have. The body is frequently rebuilding itself, turning over cells and only dedicating resources to where is necessary in order to conserve energy and more successfully keep us alive. In taking your joint through its outermost limits, specifically with rotation, you are stimulating every mechanoreceptor embedded within the tissues of the joint, signaling to the brain “yes, this is all relevant to us” and ensuring that those areas stay available to you. The second benefit we get from our routine is promoting the long term health of our joints. Movement is the mechanism by which joints receive nutrients, expel waste products, and maintain healthy function. Without adequate movement, our joints start to become fibrotic, and eventually develop arthritis-like symptoms. Next within our daily practice we find the ability to assess oneself. As you move your body, your body will show you exactly what’s going on that day – what’s moving with ease, where is there a bit of restriction, does somewhere need more attention or rest? And finally, if you stick to the routine every day – progress. The more you mind your joints and the more time you give to moving each one independently from another, the more refined your motions will become and the more control you’ll cultivate. Every day is a chance to become better.
Your daily routine is a terrific way to start to refine your movement quality, as well as learn how each one of your joints move. The more attention you give to moving your joints the more control you’ll develop overtime – and the more connected to your movements you’ll become. While your daily routine will give you a lot of information about yourself, there is a good amount it cannot show you. If you’re looking to get a more complete picture of your body’s capabilities, limitations, and how to optimize your joints you may consider getting an assessment.
The Functional Range Assessment is a method of screening each individual joint, measuring both passive and active ranges and gathering objective data on your specific movement capacity. Broken into two sessions, the FRA will show you exactly what your joints are capable of and what you can work on to be the best version of yourself. In reality, a “physical” you might get at a doctor’s office is really more of a “chemical” – if you’re looking for a true measure of your body’s physical condition, consider FRA the “physical physical”.
Once you’ve identified the areas of your mobility that you need to work, whether through your daily routine, an FRA, or how you’re feeling, we can begin to train joints to allow us to do exactly what we wish. As stated earlier, any marker of physical ability you can name all rest on the underlying capacity of the joints involved. With this in mind mobility can be looked at as the foundational strength necessary for all other types of movement. Like any other type of strength all the same principles towards working with joint mobility – SAID principle, progressive overload, etc. Keeping in mind that different bodies will have different needs – a typical training session utilizing the FRC thought process will aim to work in the outermost ranges of a given joint in order to progress available ranges and develop control in those naturally weaker, end ranges. The content of a session can include tools like targeted stretching and breathing, and will almost always include isometric contractions – internal loads that challenge the nervous system in a safe and controlled manner.Again, what you need will vary from what your neighbor needs and in that way the tools used and their application can look very different.And like any other training endeavor the results don’t come from a single session – any adaptation will take time, effort, and consistency.
At the end of the day, I hope however you choose to train makes you happy in some way. For me, that includes living a life without physical restrictions and thoughts of “I just can’t move like that anymore” thanks to the ways I choose to exercise and what I set as priorities. You may never get into structured mobility training, and maybe a daily routine just doesn’t stick for you. That’s fine. At the very least I hope that in writing this we can all start to have a base level awareness of the parts that help to make our bodies whole and move forward with more respect for our joints and ourselves.
Author: Colin Doyle