Mobility…Another Core Foundational Principle

I realized this week that I need to add another Core Foundational Principle to what I came up with for myself back in January. This new foundational principle is Mobility.

As an office worker and an endurance athlete, I subject my body to a very limited range of movements in a typical day. I’m usually either standing at a desk, sitting in a chair, walking, swimming, biking, or running. Our bodies are capable of an infinite variety of movements but I routinely don’t need to use more than a few handful of different movements to complete any of my typical daily tasks.

In Katy Bowman’s book Move Your DNA, she introduced me to the concept of movement nutrition. Essentially, we should think of movement in a similar fashion to nutrition in that we need a wide variety daily movements just like we need a variety of fats, proteins, carbs, vitamins, and minerals. As a result of reading her book (see my book recap here), I’ve started to consciously integrate different movements into my day that may not otherwise be necessary. However, those extra movements are more important than I originally realized.

I don’t believe there are any definitive studies proving that stretching improves athletic performance, which makes sense in the short-term. However, over the long-term, that doesn’t logically make sense to me. Our bodies conform and adapt to how we use them and don’t use them. When we use limited ranges of movement, our bodies respond by making adaptations. Basically, whatever you don’t use…you lose. The body isn’t going to expend energy to maintain joints, muscles, tendons, etc. that aren’t being used. Instead, the body is going to adapt its optimal state to how it is most frequently used.  A perfect example of this is sitting and hunching over a keyboard. If this is the most frequent position the body is exposed to, our body is going to make adaptations such that this becomes the optimal position for our muscles and joints. These adaptations can get to a point where we start using non-optimal joints/muscles to compensate for movements we infrequently perform. Since we can still perform the movement, we may not even realize we have a mobility problem even though that movement should be optimally performed by our bodies differently.

If our body continues to use non-optimal mechanics to perform movements, over time, injuries could occur from overuse or from trying to complete movements the body is no longer capable of doing correctly. As an endurance athlete with a goal of qualifying for the Hawaii Ironman, I’m going to be subjecting my body to very repetitive movements of swimming, biking, and running. If my body has made adaptations such that I am not performing those activities with the correct mechanics, I’m likely going to suffer overuse injuries in the future. Therefore, I want to ensure my body can move as it was designed before I embark on a serious training plan.

There are a couple of tests that I did to assess my mobility. Someone with good all-around mobility should be able to do all of the following:

  1. Bend over and touch your toes with your knees locked
  2. Lie on your back and pull one leg up to your chest without the opposite leg lifting off the floor
  3. Get into a deep squat position with both heels flat on the floor and your calves and hamstrings in contact with one another
  4. Lie flat on your back with your legs straight and lower back in contact with the floor and reach your arms overhead and lay both wrists on the floor without bending your elbows
  5. From a standing position, pick up one leg and place the outside of your ankle on an object that is just below waist height. Now rotate your hip to touch your knee to the object so your shin is perpendicular to your body
  6. Stand and lift one arm so your elbow is at the same height as your shoulder and you are making a 90 degree angle with your elbow (like you are telling someone to stop). Rotate your shoulder 180 degrees so your palm is facing behind you.
  7. Reach both arms behind your back (one from above and one from below) and touch the tips of your middle fingers together
  8. Squat down so your hamstrings are parallel with the floor and maintain a flat back with your arms straight overhead and arms by your ears

I wasn’t able to perform any of the movements above and I don’t intend to start a rigorous training plan until my mobility improves.

As a result, I signed up for a two-week mobility program called “Get Stretchy” through the Vimify app. The program was designed by Jacquelyn Umof and you can find more details about the program and Jacquelyn at ActionJacquelyn.com. The program consists of daily 10-15 minute morning stretches, 10-15 minute evening stretches, and posts with tips and tricks. There is also a social networking element to the program and Jacquelyn personally responds to questions, provides coaching advice, and offers words of encouragement. Some of the stretches/movements are beyond my ability but Jacquelyn offers alternatives and reminds us that the goal of each move is progression vs. perfection. I’ve followed the program religiously for 6 days and I have already noticed the benefits. For example, during my last swim workout my stroke felt longer and more efficient and I didn’t experience any clicking in my shoulder. My 100yd swim time even improved as well.

After the two-week program is complete, I’m planning to maintain the 10-15 minute morning and evening mobility sessions. In addition to the mobility improvements, I’ve noticed that the morning stretch helps energize my body and the evening stretch helps me relax so I fall asleep faster. I’m also going to look into taking a weekly yoga session with my wife and getting some good yoga videos & books.

I have no illusions that I will ever become bendy but I at least want to be able to perform the eight movements above.

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