Today's guest post comes from Dean Somerset, the creator of the excellent resource, Ruthless Mobility, which is on sale for 60% off through the end of the day on Monday, July 4. Dean is a tremendous innovator and one of the brighter minds in the fitness industry today, and this article is a perfect example of his abilities. Enjoy! - EC
Mobility can be described in a number of different ways, depending on who is writing the story: yoga, flexibility, stretching, movement training, dynamic warm-ups, bendy stuff, and in some cases “how the heck do you even do that?” Regardless of what it’s called or who’s doing it, there are some basic rules and physiologic elements to be aware of when it comes to understanding mobility and how to use it in training programs. Today I wanted to outline the "three big rocks" of developing, using, and maximizing mobility in a safe and progressive manner.
1. Structure Determines Function.
It’s easy to say that genetics are a separating feature for those who can gain a lot of muscle and those who have trouble adding a pound. The same can be said of those who are congenitally lax (via something like a higher Beighton hypermobility score or a diagnosis of Ehlers Danlos syndrome), compared to people who move like the tin man. Some of this could be connective tissue related difference in collagen to elastin ratio, but much of it could also be considered by the shape and orientation of the joints themselves.
In terms of the acetabular angle, D’Lima et al (2011) found in a computerized prediction model for prosthesis implantation that:
a. those with more acetabular anteversion (forward placement on the pelvis) had greater flexion range of motion and less extension
b. lateral placement of 45-55 degrees gave the best overall mobility
c. a lateral angle of less than 45 degrees gave more flexion range of motion and more than 45 degrees gave less rotation capability
d. if the femoral neck was thicken by 2 mm in diameter, it significantly reduced the range of motion in all directions, irrespective of placement.
Higgins et al (2014) even showed there was a large difference in anteversion angles bilaterally in the same individual (potentially lending some validity to PRI concepts of inherent asymmetry), with as much as a 25 degree difference in anteversion angle between left and right hip. This could translate to a difference in flexion range of motion of 25 degrees between your two hips, without any other feature affecting the outcomes. Zalawadia et al (2010) showed there’s a big variance in the femoral anteversion angle (whether the head of the femur pointed more forward or possibly backward) as the femoral neck attaches to the acetabulum, with the majority being between 10-20 degrees.
Additionally, some acetabulums have too large of a center edge angle, where the socket faces more inferiorly than laterally, which makes impingement during abduction more likely compared to a smaller center edge angle.
These structural differences are primarily set and unchanging after puberty when bones don’t deform as easily to external forces as with young kids. Baseball pitchers can undergo deformational changes at the proximal humerus (upper arm) to allow a much greater external rotation range on their throwing arm compared to adults who pick up the sport later in life. Eric showed that with his comparison of presidential first pitches HERE.
With advancing age, joint range of motions tend to reduce further with degenerative changes to the structures involved, either with an increase in concentration of cortical bone at contact areas, a reduction of cartilage thickness, or decreased fluid content of the joint space itself. The end result is a tighter joint that doesn’t move as easily.
Most of these types of changes, barring injury or disease, tend to not be limiting factors in mobility until many decades have passed, so if you’re in your 20s and concerned about your lack of mobility, it’s pretty safe to say that it’s likely not related to degenerative changes just yet. If you’re 50 or 60, it’s much more of a likely scenario.
This Canadian study showed that men lost an average of 5 degrees of shoulder abduction and 6 degrees of hip flexion per decade between 55 and 86 years old, while women lost an average of 6 degrees of shoulder abduction and 7 degrees of hip flexion in the same age range, and that this loss sped up after 70 years old and was actually not linked to self-reported activity levels. Being more active is better for everything as you age, but based on this study, not necessarily for keeping your mobility into your golden years.
What this means is that everyone will be different in terms of how much mobility they have and in which directions or movements. One person may be able to press overhead because they have joints that easily allow it, while another may never get there due to specific limitations, and a third may just not be ready to press yet. They may have the specific ability to do the motion, but don’t have the control or strength at the moment to do it effectively, which is where part 2 comes in.
So how do you determine a structural limitation? The best mechanisms are simply to see what the range of motion looks like in a couple of scenarios:
a. passive – have someone move you through the range while you’re relaxed)
b. supported - pull the joint through a range without using the muscles involved in the action. (Think a hamstring stretch with a towel wrapped around the foot and pulling on it with your arms)
c. in a different position or direction – in looking at hip flexion, compare a squat to a rock-back or Thomas test to look at the same range of motion.
If you consistently get the same joint angles in different motions or positions, it’s reasonable to believe that could be the true limit of your flexibility based on structural aptitudes. There’s always a potential that the limitation could be something else, and if you involve some of the training practices and options used later and notice an improvement, it’s a happy bonus. Short of developing X-ray vision, these are some of the best options for determining structure that everyone has available to them, whether we’re talking about the clinician, trainer or average meathead looking to get all bendy and stuff.
2. Can you actually get there?
Now, let's consider shoulder mobility; imagine that we look at an individual in supine and there’s no limitation standing in the way of going through full shoulder flexion.
However, when this same individual is asked to bring their arms overhead in an upright position, they do some wonky shoulder shrug, low back arch, and their upper lip curls for some reason. In short, they aren’t able to access that flexion movement very well, even though they have the theoretical aptitude to get there on their own.
We’re looking for the image on the right, but wind up getting the image on the left:
Now the great thing about the body is it will usually find a way to get the job done, even if it means making illegal substitutions for range of motion from different joints. In this case, the lack of shoulder motion is made up with motion from the scapula into elevation instead of rotation, and lumbar extension in place of the glenohumeral motion.
This by itself isn’t a problem, but rather a solution. It’s not bad to have something like this happen by itself, but it does alter the specific benefits of an exercise when the segments you’re looking to have do the work aren’t actually contributing, and you’re getting the work from somewhere else. There’s also the risk of injury from poor mechanical loading and improper positioning that increases the relative strain on some areas that aren’t meant to be prime movers for the specific exercises.
Now, the big question is whether someone is willing to not do an exercise because they’re demonstrating that they’re not ready for at the moment. If a client wants to squat in a powerlifting competition, but his hip range of motion makes it very difficult to get below parallel to earn white lights without losing lumbar positioning or grinding the hip joints to pieces, how willing would he be to adjust his training or eliminate that possibility to save a lot of hassles? Some people identify themselves by their sport, so telling them not to do what they love isn’t an option. I’ve worked with a lot of runners, and saying “don’t run” tends to go in one ear and out the other.
Back to the overhead example, maybe going right overhead isn’t possible at the moment, but a high incline press can be done easily. This is working in what Mike Reinold calls on Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement “Green Zone vs Red Zone training.” Overhead at the moment is a red zone movement as they can’t get there easily and on their own. Green zone would be a landmine press, where they’re still working on flexion, but not moving into a range they can’t easily access.
One manner that could help an individual access this range of motion if they have shown an ability to get there passively is through what Dr. Andreo Spina calls eccentric neural grooving of the motion. Use either a support or pulley to get into the terminal range of motion, release the support or pulley and try to maintain the terminal position while slowly moving out of the end range as controlled as possible. Here’s Dr. Spina doing ENG work on the ankle and anterior shin for some dorsiflexion work.
Here’s another version with yours truly working on a similar variation via controlled hip abduction:
You could do this for the shoulder easily enough as well by grabbing a rope, pulling the shoulder into flexion, releasing the rope, and trying to maintain the position before slowly lowering the arm out of terminal flexion. Just make sure you’re not letting your low back arch or shrug up your shoulder blades in to your neck.
3. Can you use it with force when needed?
So now you’ve shown you have the joints to do stuff, you can get there on your own without assistance, and you want to train the heck out of it to look like your favorite Instagram bendy people.
One thing to consider when exploring these ranges of motion is that force production tends to be greatest in mid-range positions, likely due to the greatest torque development required to overcome natural leverage elements and also due to spending less time in the end ranges. There’s also the reduction of cross bridge linkages in these positions, limiting sarcomeric action when you’re gunning your biceps in peak flex.
Controlling these end ranges (even if the goal may not be to develop maximal force in them for moving the biggest weight from point A to B) can help expand the usable range of motion where peak torque development occurs, as well as provide the potential for expanding sub-maximal torque percentage ranges of motion. These movements aren’t easy and tend to take a lot of mental energy coupled with physical effort, but if getting awesome was easy, everyone would already be there.
To round things out, understanding and developing mobility comes down to:
a) having the structure to produce the range of motion
b) being able to get into position to effectively use that range of motion
c) building strength and conditioning within that range of motion to keep the ability to use those ranges for a long time, and through as many positions and directions of movement as possible.
Some specific movements or positions may not be possible due to your own unique structure and abilities, but work hard at using everything you do have, build strength throughout the entire range of motion, and enjoy the process as much as the outcomes.
Note from EC: If you're looking for more mobility tips and tricks - and the rationale for their inclusion in a program - I'd encourage you to check out Dean's fantastic resource, Ruthless Mobility. Your purchase includes lifetime updates and continuing education credits. Perhaps best of all, it's on sale for 60% off through this Monday (7/4) at midnight.
In continuing with our “Best of 2012″ theme to wrap up the year, today, I’ve got the top EricCressey.com videos of the year.
1. Four Must-Try Mobility Drills - This video was part of an article I had published at Schwarzenegger.com. You can check it out here.
2. Cleaning Up Your Chin-up Technique - It's one of the most popular exercises on the planet, but its technique is commonly butchered. Learn how to avoid the most common mistakes.
3. 8 Ways to Screw Up a Row - Rowing exercises are tremendously valuable for correcting bad posture and preventing injury, but only if they're performed correctly.
4. My Mock/Impromptu Powerlifting Meet - After being away from competitions for a while, I decided to stage my own "mock" powerlifting meet just to see where my progress stood. I wound up totaling elite (1435 at a body weight of 180.6) in about two hours.
5. Cressey Performance Facility Tour - We moved to a new space within our building back in August, and this was the tour I gave just prior to the doors opening.
Those were my top five videos of the year, but there were definitely plenty more you may have missed. Luckily, you can check them out on my YouTube Channel.
I’ll be back tomorrow with another “Best of 2011″ feature.
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It's been a while since I introduced a mobility exercise of the week, so I figured I'd introduce a new one that we use with a lot of our athletes nowadays.
The alternating lateral lunge with overhead reach gives you all the benefits - adductor length, hip hinge "education," and frontal plane stability - that you get with a regular lateral lunge variation. However, by adding in the overhead reach, you get a greater emphasis on optimal core stabilization and mobility and stability at the shoulder girdle.
In this position, we'll coach different athletes with different cues.
If it's an athlete who is stick in an exaggerated lordotic posture, we'll cue him to engage the anterior core and keep the ribs down as the arms go overhead.
If it's a "desk" jockey who is very kyphotic, we may have to actually cue him "chest up" because he's so rounded over; we have to bring him back to neutral before we even worry much about the anterior core involvement.
If it's a high school athlete who has really depressed shoulder blades, we will actually cue him to shrug as he raises the arms to complete scapular upward rotation in the top position.
Conversely, if it's a client is already very upper trap dominant, we may have to cue a bit more posterior tilt of the scapula during the overhead reach.
In other words, this is a great example of how you can take a good exercise and make it even more effective, especially if you individualize coaching cues as much as possible. Try it for a set of five reps per side as part of your warm-up and let me know how it goes!
This is one of life’s most cruel jokes. With age comes wisdom (hopefully) and reflection. I often think about going back and changing certain things that happened in my past and how the outcome would have been so different.
I never would have stolen that cop car…
I never would have married a stripper…
I never would have pulled out my own tooth with a pair of pliers…
You know, stuff like that.
When you’re drunk and are hopped up on GHB, you do crazy things. Things that you want to take back; if you could just remember them.
You can’t change the past, you can just move forward, continue to educate yourself and not make the same mistakes again.
Training is the same way. I’m sure if you look back at the stuff “you used to do” in the weight room you’d probably laugh. And that is a good thing. You had to start there to get to where you are now. Progression and working to always be better is the key to success.
I’m no different. I’ve made many mistakes in the weight room not only with my training but the programs of my athletes. I’ve done things that worked and some things that didn’t work. But I kept learning. I kept going to seminars. I kept corresponding with other coaches in the industry. And I got better and learned a few things along the way. Here are a few of those innovations that I know will help you reach your goals in the gym.
Flow is the New Warm-up
Gone are the days of just hitting a few arm crosses and jumping jacks before your workout. Other staples like bodyweight squats and lunges, while very effective, aren’t really time efficient. Also, do they hit every articulation of the lower body for a complete prep?
Imagine this flow:
bodyweight squat => lunge forward right leg => fall into glute stretch
push back to lunge on the right leg => back to bodyweight squat
Repeat on left leg
Or how about this:
inchworm => push-up => push-up plus => inchworm back - Repeat
Now you’re getting the idea. Fast, efficient and encompassing as many movements as possible.
Stiffie or Softie?
When I say stiffie or softie, are you thinking about that Jimmy Johnson commercial for ED? I am! Man his hair is so cool.
We both should be thinking about some of the “tools” we use in the gym. Some tools or implements just aren’t the best choices for certain individuals when performing certain exercises.
Let’s talk about broomsticks. How do we use them? Two immediate examples are broomstick dislocates and broomstick wall squats. Both are great movements to open up the shoulders, chest and upper back as well as the wall squats drilling good squat form. But is the broomstick really the best tool for the job?
When we are talking about individual differences, limitations and mobility, no, it is not. I want you to think about replacing the broomstick with an elastic band.
The elastic band is perfect because it adjusts; it stretches and relaxes according to the individuals limitations. It does NOT force the lifter or athlete into a movement pattern. As the lifter hits a limitation the band stretches and allows the movement to continue while dynamically stretching the limitation. Overhead wall squats with elastic bands are great too for all the same reasons. You’ve probably abandoned dislocates because of how bad they feel with a broomstick. Try out these new variations and you’ll feel the difference.
Learn from my mistakes and continue to evolve with your training. This will ensure you continue to progress and bring efficiency into your workouts. No one wants to spend hours and hours in the gym. But when you are in the gym, you need to most bang for your buck and these new variations will help.
Innovations and versatility like this are what make my new product, Accelerated Muscular Development 2.0, a complete training system. Unlike most programs, it doesn’t just provide 12 weeks of workouts and leave it at that. In addition to giving you two 12 week programs, I also show you how to create your own programs moving forward – which puts you in a position to innovate for yourself and build your own programs.
Years and years of trial and error have led to the creation of the AMD 2.0 program template. It breaks the workout down into its essential components (most programs are missing these pieces) so that each section has its own priority and its own focus. From there, it is very simple. In fact, once you see the template and apply it to your first workout, you will never forget it. It is so easy. And like I said, I have been training for many years and have done a lot of things wrong. I really feel like AMD 2.0 is the next step because anyone can apply the template to whatever program they are on. So as you progress and finish the AMD workouts, you can repeat them or use the template with any program you want to try.
The AMD 2.0 template incorporates soft-tissue work, dynamic warm-ups, the primary workouts, core training and finally a rehab component. If you have purchased other programs, you’ll probably have noticed that you received the primary workouts ONLY. Unfortunately, this isn’t the right way to train. You must prepare your body to workout. Coming into the gym from the car after a long day and not warming up will always have a negative impact on your ability to move, train to your potential and remain injury free over the long term. There is a definite flow to a good workout and if you know how to do it, you can actually cut your workout time down significantly. We are going for high impact and short duration workouts. No one wants to spend 4-5 days a week in the gym with 2 hour workouts. With AMD you’ll have 3 training sessions a week lasting 45min to 1hr. Get in the gym, kill it and get out.
For more information – and a big introductory discount (this week only) with lots of bonuses – check out Accelerated Muscular Development 2.0.