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3 go-to methods for Increased Mobility
I always go on about the critical importance of having the right form when performing exercises, but with a recent flow of questions regarding flexibility and stretching, I decided it’s time I shed some light on what the best methods are.
By going head-first into the industry as a Movement Specialist, I got lots of exposure to some serious (and not so serious) mechanical issues and have had time to test and observe the effectiveness of various theories.
Over time, I discovered what works and what doesn’t, and I found the methods of increasing mobility that rarely fail to deliver.
Each one has its pros and cons, and serves best for a certain purpose (this will make sense in a little while).
So here are my 3 go-to methods that I use to improve someone’s mobility, and the scenarios in which I would use them.
1. Myofascial Release (MFR)
MFR is a method of breaking down ‘knots’ in the muscles and allowing them to release by means of pressure and restricted contraction.
It became quite famous recently with the craze of Foam Rolling, but this lost the whole purpose of MFR and now people seem to be more trying to flatten the muscle than to release a specific point of tension.
For various reasons, including injury prevention and prolonged shortness, a muscle will develop an involuntary tension in a specific point, so it can adapt to the environment you have placed it in.
It is essential that you understand exactly WHY you’re body has adapted in this way before you seek to relax the muscles, as this involuntary tension could be there as a form of protection from a serious injury.
To perform myofascial release, simply find an object that covers the surface width of the muscle, apply direct pressure onto the point of most tension (it will be tender), and continuously contract and relax the muscle for 30 seconds.
2. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
The name is big and certainly sounds science-y, and the exercise itself replicates that description perfectly.
PNF is a form of stretching that essentially tricks your brain into allow your muscles to relax.
See, when a muscle is ‘tight’, really all it means is that it’s stuck in a state of shortness. A muscle shortens when it contracts (tenses), and when it is over-active, it has a earlier threshold before it reaches its reflexion; the defense mechanism for preventing you from reaching an injury-prone position.
The reason I say this is because it helps you understand better the process that is happening when you perform PNF stretching. Basically, all your doing is telling your subconscious that it’s okay to let them muscle extend further. By doing this the muscle will then relax and allow you to reach a range of motion that has not been possible before.
To perform a PNF stretch, you’ll need a partner to apply a constant force in the lengthening direction of the muscle for a period of 10 seconds, repeating it 3 times without allowing the muscle to shorten.
So, they will move your muscle (gently) to its current end range.
At this point, you will push against them in the shortening direction of the muscle for 10 seconds.
Once those 10 seconds are up, you will relax and allow them to gradually move your muscle further, up to its new end range.
You’ll then repeat the exercise another 2 or 3 times until you reach the desired range.
This form of stretching is not suited for warm ups! It dramatically weakens the muscle as it unlocks unfamiliar territory which you are not strong in. This means there is a big risk for injury if you then go on to perform strenuous exercise on that joint.
3. Passive Stretching
Passive stretching is a great method for encouraging increased flexibility in a muscle in the long term. It requires consistent use and will essentially redefine where your optimum position is.
To do passive stretching, you don’t need any equipment or a partner, you just need to place the muscle at its end range, in a way so that there is a constant (but light) pressure, encouraging the muscle to increase its length.
When your body sees that you are always in this position, it will (over time) gradually develop more length in the muscle.
A simple example, which applies for most chronic sitters, is the leg cross. Sitting down consistently for long periods of time holds your hip-leg joint in a shortened anterior flexion, which creates tightness in the hip flexors.
Tightness in the hip flexors will eventually lead to an anterior pelvic tilt which then leads onto a whole list of other problems.
To undo the tightness of your hip flexors, simply place one foot on the opposite knee whilst seated. This will extend the hip flexor and allow gravity to encourage more pull on the hip flexor to increase its range.
There you go. I spilled the beans!
That is the simple version of the methods I use to try increase your range of movement.
Obviously, I haven’t covered everything, but it’s a good starting point if you’re looking to become more flexible.
It’s important you know that muscle tightness is your body’s adaptive mechanism to suit the environemnt that you are in, so your flexibility will always return to its current environment unless you change that environment to one where that flexiblity is implied. If you have gone through a traumatic injury that could possibly be the cause for this tightness, it is unwise to try to unwork the tightness until you fully understand what other mechanics are involved, as you could be exposing yourself to a repeat of the injury.
All the knowledge in this article is formed through qualifications, books, research, experience, and consulting, and the level of help you receive in our Movement Training sessions at RAW clearly illustrate that.
The human body is an extremely complex system of systems and Movement Training is our way of delving intom your individual body to understand what issues may be hiding under the surface.
I would highly recommend you attend one of these sessions before undertaking any training program, so you have a better understanding of your physiological status.
If you would like to book in for Movement Training, click here and we will contact you to tell you more about it and to get you booked in.