It is a bit of a cliché that men focus too much on lifting heavy weights and not enough on their mobility or flexibility but as with most clichés or stereotypes, there is no smoke without fire and my observations over the years would confirm that the balance is not equal.
… the first thought that comes to many guys’ minds is of a Jane Fonda-style aerobics class full of Lycra-clad ladies doing lots of leg kicks or a yoga class where everyone is holding contortionist style poses whilst meditating…
I suspect that the problem lies in the way men think about mobility/flexibility work, which is often outdated – the first thought that comes to many guys’ minds is of a Jane Fonda-style aerobics class full of Lycra-clad ladies doing lots of leg kicks or a yoga class where everyone is holding contortionist style poses whilst meditating. If this is the case, then I fully understand that it may offer no appeal. But mobility is about more than just how far you can stretch; it’s about how well you move, improving the exercises you already enjoy, and reducing pain and injury in the process.
Another way to demonstrate the importance of optimum mobility is to observe top athletes who are incredibly strong, but also incredibly mobile. Think of Olympic weightlifters, who can hoist up more than double their bodyweight above their heads with ease but can also drop into the splits; professional martial artists, whose speed of movement and mobility is vital to their success as a fighter; or elite gymnasts, whose astounding feats of strength whilst tumbling, jumping, climbing, or swinging could not be achieved without having incredible mobility.
Before we go any further, I should clarify exactly what I mean by mobility and flexibility, and why I feel they are vital factors in any fitness regime, regardless of your goals. The Oxford Dictionaries website defines ‘mobility’ as “the ability to move or be moved freely and easily”₁– this is not just in the context of isolated joints or muscles, but how the entire body moves. ‘Flexibility’ is defined as “the quality of bending easily without breaking”₂, which is vital when you are trying to keep muscles and joints injury-free.
The purpose of this article is not to turn you into movement masters overnight. Nor is it an attempt to prescribe generic mobility exercises, as we all have different needs according to our own biomechanics. My aim is to set you off on the right path by introducing some of my favourite industry experts. Check out their websites, read their blogs and e-books, and subscribe to their social media channels as they are packed full of information that will help you to improve your mobility and flexibility and, more importantly, improve your performance at the gym or in your preferred sport.
Dr Kelly Starrett
Kelly Starrett is a coach, physical therapist, author, speaker, and creator of MobilityWOD.com. He is a bit of a celebrity amongst CrossFit circles (being the owner of San Francisco CrossFit) and his book Becoming a Supple Leopard₃ is full of tips and training material on how to use his renowned methodology. In a nutshell, Starrett’s techniques focus on myofascial release and deep stretches to get rid of the damage your body sustains after heavy training sessions. I have benefitted greatly from using his tips on hip flexor flexibility and ankle mobility – both have helped my squat technique and reduced pain in my back.
If you are more of a visual learner and find the idea of a thick text book a bit daunting, then try the YouTube channel which has daily free videos with demonstrations on using lacrosse balls, foam rollers, and bands in the most effective way to improve your performance and reduce pain.
The Ido Portal movement culture is a discipline growing in popularity amongst those seeking a lifestyle to adopt and commit to, not just new ways of keeping fit. On his website, Portal describes how, “Over the years I’ve travelled the world studying from a variety of teachers; from osteopaths, manual therapists, and MDs, to professional dancers, yogis, athletes, circus performers, and fighters.”₄
His method visually resembles a blend between gymnastics, martial arts, animal flow, and dance. It provides some of the most impressive displays of movement, strength, and mobility that I’ve seen, and demonstrates what is possible when you focus on learning how to make the body function efficiently. Even Irish UFC champion and self-proclaimed student of human and animal movement, Connor McGregor, has recently been seen training with Portal – and we all know how well that guy moves!
Cressey is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, with a degree in exercise science and fitness management, and a Master’s degree in Kinesiology. He has a background of research in human performance and his company, Cressey Performance, is known as one of the go-to centres for athletes in the Boston, MA (US) area.
I first stumbled upon Cressey’s work via a colleague who is into his rehabilitation and I have since enjoyed plenty of his articles and the many video clips on his Facebook page. What I like about his work is that it’s all about improving performance, not being mobile for the sake of being mobile. Cressey’s High Performance Handbook focuses on how to improve many of the major strength and conditioning exercises by focusing on your posture and joint mobility, and correcting movement dysfunction. He practises what he preaches and is often known as ‘the deadlift guy’ for the extraordinarily good strength-to-size ratio on his lift – an area many guys would like to improve on.
As you can see from the recommended experts above, improving your mobility should be a top priority in your fitness regime as it will benefit your performance and educate you on how to stay injury free. These masters of movement and mobility have taken their game to the next level and have brought new thinking to the world of strength and conditioning. It’s a no-brainer really – get mobile and get moving!
Do you regularly mobilise before or after your workout? Who is your favourite mobility guru? Do share your experience in the comments below!
- “mobility” (2016). In Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 3 January 2016 from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/mobility.
- “flexibility” (2016). In Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 3 January 2016 from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/flexibility.
- Starrett, K. & Cordoza, G. (2013). Becoming a Supple Leopard. USA: Victory Belt Publishing Inc.
- Portal, I. (2016). ‘About Ido Portal’. Retrieved 3 January 2016 from http://www.idoportal.com/ido.