These 2 words have been thrown about interchangeably in modern fitness culture with reckless abandon. Much like fascia, mobility has become something everyone won’t stop yammering about although they have little to no understanding about the subject.
It may not be such a big deal to most but as a certified Yoga teacher and mobility specialist under the Functional Range Conditioning system, I can’t help but get mildly irritated every time someone uses the wrong word for the wrong purpose. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve come across an Instagram post by a fitness hipster doing the splits in front of a power rack with a caption that says ‘hip mobility before hump day’ or something of that sort, along with a copious quantity of peach emojis. If you are one of the aforementioned transgressors of this mix up, fret not; I used to be one of you (and although I now have a better understanding of these concepts, my extensive use of the peach emoji continues to this day).
Ignorance is not a sign of stupidity. It’s just not coming into contact with the knowledge you require to lift the veil of ignorance and emerge with a new understanding. Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to lift your veil, and much like a groom lifting the veil of his bride before marriage, I am about to lift your ignorance of this topic and chuck it into oblivion.
DEFINITION OF FLEXIBILITY
If you were to look up the definition of flexibility in the dictionary you will come up with, capable of being bent, usually without breaking and susceptible to modification or adaptation. If you were to put that into perspective in the human anatomy it would mean a passive range attained without damage to the tissue due to outside pressure.
If I were to use the earlier representation of the splits as an example it would be to passively allow gravity to pull you down into the splits. Other then the awesome pictures you can take so that your starving ego can feed off the likes you get on Instagram, flexibility training is essential for everyone to keep moving through their natural ranges without pain. There are instances where people have a genetic predisposition to be extremely flexible oftentimes having joints that can bend further then its normal range. This results in a medical condition called Hyper mobility syndrome. If you have this condition you need to be really aware of how far you extend your limbs to avoid unnecessarily overloading your joints. This freaky condition is both a blessing and curse, I have seen jujitsu practitioners in the gym I train at have their elbows extended far beyond parallel in an arm bar but still not tap because of their super flexible joints, but be warned — this opens you up to severe injuries. Once the joint does meet the breaking point there won’t be much give, and that bad boy is going to snap faster then a fitness hipster decides to order an açai bowl at a cafe.
DEFINITION OF MOBILITY
If you were to look up the definition of mobility you will come up with capable of moving or being moved freely or easily. Movement seems to be the common theme of mobility undoubtedly due to the origins of this word — in french ‘mobilité’ which means capacity for motion is linked back an older Latin word ‘mobilitatem’, which means activity or speed. When put into an anatomical perspective, Functional Mobility means the ability to achieve a range of motion without outside pressure. In the representation of the splits, the person doing it should also be able to use muscular tension derived from the legs and hips to push themselves out of the splits on a friction-less surface.
HOW TO TRAIN FOR FLEXIBILITY ?
There are a multitude of methods touted on the endless Instagram posts of self-proclaimed mobility gurus filled with fancy jargon like PNF stretches, ballistic stretches, specific breathing techniques while stretching, and animal sacrifice.
For the purpose of this article let’s keep it simple; the best and easiest way would be to get yourself to any yoga class where you hold a static stretch for an extended period of time. If you are allergic to mala bead-wearing hipsters chanting while you stretch, get on Google type the target area and add stretch behind it, and attempt to replicate those images. Or you could get someone who knows what they are doing to help you.
Deep Stretch Semi-Private sessions at Strength Avenue, Thursdays at 8:15pm and Saturdays at 9am. Mala beads and chanting not included. Get on it, ya savages.
So how long should a static stretch be held?
A cursory search on google reveals that the hordes of mobility experts and yogis out there have vastly varying opinion’s on this issue, ranging from 30 seconds to 5 Minutes. Ask the likes of Dr. Andreo Spinea founder of the Functional Range Conditioning system or Kelly Starrett author of The New York Times bestseller “Becoming a Supple Leopard”, who are considered by many in the industry as experts on mobility training, and they will say a minimum of 2 minutes is needed to beat the stretch reflex (a response by the nervous system that causes the muscle being stretched to flex and resist the stretch, which acts as a natural defense mechanism to prevent injury by inhibiting ranges that the body is not accustomed to) and to allow the muscle to relax and get any measurable increase in flexibility.
Okay, now that you guys know how train for flexibility, getting the splits should be easy right? WRONG!
To see any measurable physiological increases in flexibility due to tissue adaptation will take months of consistent mind numbing dreary work. If you want that sweet, sweet Instagram worthy splits y’all better get on it!
*To avoid an overdose of Savagery I have decided to break this article into 2 parts. In part 2 we discuss the much more complex topic of mobility training.