Which terms come to your mind when you hear the word mobility training?
Are this terms like: static & dynamic stretching or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation?
If this is the case I assume you are probably not alone because I suspect that most people see stretching exercises as an absolute necessity or at least as an imposition. I have felt that way as well until summer of 2012.
How could you come to a different view anyways if leading researchers and institutions in this field publish something like this:
‘Stretching is the only means to maintain and improve mobility’ (Klee & Wiemann, 2012, S.62).
‘For a consistent and purposeful mobility there is no alternative to stretching’ (Bundesamt für Sport, J&S Leichtathletik, 2012, S.12).
By now, however, I think that stretching is one of the dumbest activities in the context of mobility and sport ever because you inflict pain on yourself while stretching.
I know, this might sound a bit exaggerated and unqualified but still, following the motto of Anatole France (‘If 50 million people say something stupid it is still stupid’) I will try to explain to you why I argue for a position opposite to probably more than 50 million people. You see, I might be outnumbered and therefore you will still be on the winning side if you see stretching as useful. However, I hope to convince you with my arguments and then we would at least be a party of two.
Should you find that I am incorrect I would be happy as well. Because then you could show me the errors in my reasoning and I am still waiting for someone to do that although I have started many attempts.
Since you should keep a blog short I will give you a quick overview over the two dominating philosophies in mobility training and then show you my training philosophy. In the end, you can decide for yourself which philosophy makes the most sense and maybe you even know a fourth. At the end of this article you can find a download link for my more comprehensive article regarding this topic, “Mobility”.
Before giving you the aforementioned three philosophies I will quickly outline the intention of a mobility training to make sure that we are aiming in the same direction, independent of our individual philosophies.
‘When using the term mobility you refer to the ability to effectively use the possible amplitude of the joints during movements of everyday and sports motorics’ (Klee & Wiemann, 2012, S.8).
From this definition it should become apparent that the aim of mobility training should be to enable the trainee to perform optimal movement patterns of everyday and sports motorics.
This should be our common ground to start from. If you shouldn’t pursue this goal (optimal movement patterns in everyday life and sports) and maybe aspire a posture like you see in the following picture we obviously don’t have the same goals and should talk about appropriate movement patterns.
Which philosophies are there to achieve optimal movement patterns in everyday life and sports?
Philosophy 1: Function follows form – protracting structures
One could argue that static stretching exercises and, to a lesser extent, dynamic stretching exercises are most common. The basic idea that is the foundation of both exercises is, in my opinion, the idea that we have to protract certain structures of our body in order to lengthen them and make them more flexible. During stretching, the target tissue – often the muscles are mentioned, however not explicitly which structural muscle component – should be as passive as possible and then you tear at it. So you try change your form (body tissue) in order to realize a certain function (optimal movement pattern). The principle “form follows function” is reversed and you get the philosophy “function follows form”.
That stretching is about deforming structures and you should talk of pain is captured in the following quote by Prof. Dr. J. Freiwald:
‘Stretchings can, in the end-range stetch position, lead to a feeling that is often referred to as tensile stresses in the literature. When further inquiring the athletes or patients they rather describe a stretch pain. End-range stretchings of the muscles and other tissue lead to high mechanical tensions; they can even surpass the mechanical tensions that impact series elastic elements during maximum isometric contractions (cf. fig. (…)). In consideration of this fact it makes sense to speak of pain in connection with stretching since the tissue is on the one hand forced to adapt by high mechanical tension and on the other hand endangered by these high mechanical tensions, which typically activates the pain system‘ (Freiwald, 2009, S.115-116).
Philosophy 2: No brain, no pain – outsmarting the nervous system
Then there are people that take the view that mobility training should be about protracting structures but outsmarting our nervous system since this is apparently the limiting factor for an optimal mobility. This philosophy uses techniques under the collective term proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation that are supposed to deactivate automatic reflexes. Ironically, these techniques lead to the highest activity of the muscle:
‘Special techniques to reduce the electric activation of the muscle have no effect – on the contrary. Almost all so-called ‘inhibitory techniques’ increase the electric activation of the muscle.’ (Freiwald, 2009, S.241).
‘The assumption that certain stretching methods result in law-like, clearly calculable physiological reactions (neuromuscular activation patterns) is wrong!’ (Freiwald, 2009, S.231).
Philosophy 3: form follows function or Sarkomer & Sarkomer = double mobility
I am convinced that a lack of movement in maximum range of motion is the main reason for a deficient mobility for most people. Therefore, from my point of view, it only makes sense to fight evil (deficient active mobility) with its cause (more active movement) and not with force (stretching). I am convinced that we have to activate ourself and our body respectively in high range of motion during movement patterns and training (training of the function) and the form will adapt. The central structural factor which a meaningful mobility training should pursue should be the addition of sarcomeres in the muscle. If we train our muscles in their maximum extension (in active movement patterns without stetch pain) they won’t have an optimal overlap of the actin and myosin filaments and therefore won’t produce enough strength. Since our body (and we ourselves for that matter) isn’t very comfortable in that kind of condition this will result in an addition of serial sarcomeres to produce more strength in every joint position. A muscle with more serial sarcomeres can trigger more active movement and even be protracted further when passive (more serial titin filaments). Furthermore, a muscle with more serial sarcomeres can move over a certain range in a shorter amount of time which presumably will be an advantage in speed training.
My philosophy enables me to make active use of my body and not fight against it (protracting tissue and outsmarting the nervous system) as was my opinion and I have even practiced for years. For me, this realization is absolutely wonderful and fulfills me with pleasure. It would be great if it gave you the same pleasure.
I have tried to give you a very short overview over three training philosophies in mobility training that one could follow. Now you can choose for yourself which philosophy you will take as the foundation for your mobility training. Or maybe you know another one that you would like to share.
If you would like to take a closer look at the topic and my beliefs you can find a video of 20 minutes here in which I explain my views in greater detail.
One, two or three, the choice is up to you!
- Bundesamt für Sport. (2012). J & S Leichtathletik. Beweglichkeit. Zugriff am 22.10.2013 unter http://www.swiss-athletics.ch/files/C_112_Beweglichkeit_d_NEU.pdf
- Freiwald, J. (2009). Optimales Dehnen. Sport – Prävention – Rehabilitation. Balingen: Spitta Verlag. ISBN: 978-3-938509-19-7
- Klee, A., & Wiemann, K. (2012). Dehnen. Training der Beweglichkeit (2.Aufl.). Band 17 von Praxisideen. Schriftenreihe für Bewegung, Spiel und Sport. Schorndorf: Hofmann Verlag. ISBN: 978-3-7780-0172-1