One of the things it took me a long time (and a few injuries) to really grasp is that flexibility and mobility are not the same thing. Simply put,flexibility is your end range of motion. Mobility is the range of motion where you can maintain control of your movements. People define “control” in different ways but I would say control means you understand where you are in space, you understand the forces at play and the direction in which you intend to move yourself (or yourself and an object) you have the ability to slow the movement down or speed it up (as required) you are breathing (this sounds obvious but is often over-looked) and you have movement options (you can change directions, adjust, or recover if something goes awry). When I started lifting, I had no problem dropping down into a deep squat. But, under load, my timing was off and I couldn’t generate power. That’s not so great when you have to stand the lift up! I had a lot of range in my shoulders and in parts of my spine. And that flexibility allowed me to land in a Snatch or move through the positions on the rings required for a Muscle-up. But as I started to shift more weight and spend more time on the rings, I had to compensate for a weaker mid-back by managing the load elsewhere. Eventually, I ended up with chronic shoulder pain. So, I had to change my training, eliminate a lot of things from my movement diet, and rebuild. That meant finding the weakest links in my movements and making them stronger. I had to break some bad movement habits. I had to find and stimulate some parts of my body that had kind of fallen off my movement maps. I had to make new maps. Sometimes that meant thinking about each tiny detail of simple movements. It meant visualizing parts of me that I couldn’t really see or feel all that well, like a special spot on the right side of my spine that seemed to receive no input. I had to focus all my attention on that area just to generate the tiniest spark. But eventually those muscles began to fire, contributing to much better coordination and control through my mid-back and less strain on my shoulder.
I’ve played lots of sports and moved in lots of different ways and all of that contributes to my understanding of a balanced movement diet. Like anything, what you need from your movement practices is always in context. Are you training for longevity? Do you want to be able to move well generally in your environment – whether at home, work, or enjoying a day at the beach? Are you preparing for an upcoming competition? Are you chasing an elusive PR? Do you just want to feel a little more easy in your own skin? Different goals would call for different kinds of training but I’m a believer that just like we need a variety of foods to stay healthy, we also need a variety of movements. Of course, within that framework, you make adjustments to pursue different goals. If you have a food allergy, you will eliminate lots of foods, heal and strengthen your digestive system, and eventually add things back. Same thing with movement. If you are injured or experiencing chronic pain, you might start by eliminating certain movements. Then you might gradually re-introduce movements, but with less load or in more subtle ranges of motion. As you get stronger and more skillful in your movements, you increase complexity. The idea is to stay appropriately challenged, so your body and mind remain agile and can adapt to changing terrain or changing circumstances like a new job or a new relationship. Just like eating locally, your movement diet should reflect the environments you are moving in and through. If you have to sit a lot for work, it might be a good idea to strengthen the back chain of your body (vulnerable to weakening and tightening from sitting) and to mobilize the front of your body (vulnerable to shortening and tightening from sitting). If you are a laborer doing repetitive tasks, you may be very strong in some areas but really weak in others. So, you might need to balance things out with your training – moving at different speeds and in different directions, feeding different muscles.
I think that movements I’ve learned through dance, yoga, and martial arts are part of a healthy, balanced movement diet. Up and down is great but can you also go side to side. Can you twist and turn? Can you find your balance when you don’t have your feet planted firmly in your most stable position? Can you relax muscles as consciously as you engage them? The more varied your movement diet, the more movement options you have.
I think mobility can be really creative and stimulating. I think you can enjoy any movement more when you aren’t forcing your body into positions it’s not ready for. I know that fewer injuries means more consistent training which usually translates to improved results. I think consistency is more important than occasionally executing something really extreme. I think working with your body day in and day out – with the right attitude – makes you a more calm, focused, creative, and resourceful human.
To learn more about what I do and why I do it, join me at Crossfit Freefall for this mobility workshop: