If you asked 90% of gym goers why they train they would answer that they either train for health or for body composition – to lose weight or gain muscle. These are great goals and this article is not claiming otherwise, but focusing only on the end result without paying attention to the journey has cost many people their chance of success.
While lifting weights is nowhere near as dangerous as some people think, it can still lead to broken bones, torn muscles, joint problems, and many other issues. But, by following certain guidelines, you can avoid these problems and you can also benefit from better technique, increased strength, and improved flexibility. A pretty rewarding trade.
Chronic VS Acute Injury
Before we get into this article, it is important to quickly define what exactly is an injury. There are two main types of injury that gym-goers or sports players are at risk of experiencing. A chronic injury is an injury that can build up over time, let’s say you are performing a bench press with incorrect technique – nothing happens immediately but over the coming months, you begin to notice that your shoulder hurts whenever you push the bar away. This is a chronic injury.
An acute injury is the opposite, it’s when you trip over and break your leg or if you turn too fast in a hockey game and your knee collapses. While it might be tempting to say that an acute injury is unavoidable, the truth is that this is not exactly the case. Poor mobility and durability can increase the risk of an acute injury – in the same way, that they can increase the risk of chronic injury.
What is Mobility and Why is it Important?
Mobility is your ability to move freely and without restriction. Having a lack of mobility in one of your joints can limit your ability to perform a certain movement correctly, it can also lead to an injury. Sometimes people with bad mobility may not even know they have it. The body can adjust and use a different muscle – or slightly alter movement patterns to compensate.
A good example of this would be somebody with bad ankle mobility not being able to squat without their heels rising up. Many people with this issue don’t even realize that their heels are off the floor when they try to squat.
What is Durability and Why is it Important?
Durability is the ability of the muscles, bones, or joints to withstand pressure or damage. If you fell over, how durable your joints and bones were would dictate the level of injury there is (if any). It’s why an elderly person who falls over is more likely to break a hip than a 16-year-old. Their bones are less durable.
Like mobility, increasing durability can help injury-proof your body – allowing you to train at a higher intensity while staying safe. It can also enable you to lift heavier weights because your joints can handle higher pressure without giving way.
Luckily durability is improved through increased strength and an increased range of motion (mobility), so you can easily increase durability by strength training regularly and performing mobility exercises. So from now on, when we talk about improving mobility just remember that this will also improve durability.
Strategies for Increasing Mobility and Durability
Considering the numerous benefits that increasing mobility can have (improved technique, reduced risk of both chronic and acute injury) you’d think that everyone in the gym was finding space in their programs to improve it. But the opposite is the case with mobility being bottom of most lifters’ priority lists – after calf growth!
The reason being that a lot of mobility work can be time-consuming and tends to concentrate on small muscles that don’t tend to get noticed by other people. The “mirror” muscles (pecs, triceps, biceps, quadriceps etc) are overworked by many lifters while rotator cuff muscles, teres major and minor, and muscles of the lower back and hip are typically neglected. Since no one has ever come up to a bodybuilder and said “you have such great Erector Spinae,” it tends to get overlooked.
But anyone who intends to lift weights for a long time or have a successful sports career needs to improve their mobility. So finding time at the beginning of your workout to focus on these muscles is crucial.
Starting off a session with mobility exercises is good for a number of reasons; firstly, it is habit forming. Humans love habits (which is why brushing our teeth first thing in the morning comes a lot more naturally to us than brushing our teeth at 4 pm) and we’ll always do better when we create one. If you start every session with some mobility exercises then you will find that you won’t forget to do them and it will become harder for you to justify skipping them.
Secondly, mobility exercises are a fantastic way to warm up your muscles without tiring them out. If your session is going to consist of heavy squats, then add some mobility exercises for the feet, hips, and lower back muscles, it’s a great way to temporarily increase mobility for the exercise and prepare the muscles for the load.
Finally, there is the practicality of performing mobility exercises while the muscles are still fired up. For example, if you were to smash out a new personal best deadlift, would some hamstring mobility exercises be a great idea? Even if you weren’t exhausted, your hamstrings would probably not respond well to the movements.
One common mistake that you want to avoid is not adequately incorporating mobility exercises into your workouts, some people in the gym spend 30-60 minutes on mobility work before doing their actual workout! If you are only spending 5-10 minutes on mobility, you should try increasing it to around 20-30 minutes if time permits.
- Perform mobility exercises at the beginning of the workout rather than the end
- Use light weights and high reps (or no weights)
- Target the muscles that you plan on working during the session
- Make sure that you don’t try to push past your natural sticking points, be patient
- Make sure you are spending a minimum of 15 minutes and no more than 45 minutes on your mobility exercises
Full Body Mobility Circuit to Add to Your Training
Here’s a great mobility circuit by Alice Liveing (@AliceLiveing) that you can use as a warm-up before your workout, or as a mobility circuit on your recovery days. Remember to be mindful of your breath and movement.
What To Do:
As A Warm-Up: Complete 1 round of this circuit
As A Recovery Day Circuit: Complete 3 rounds of this circuit with minimal rest between rounds
- Squat Hold with Hamstring Stretch x 10 reps
- True Hip Flexor Stretch x 10 reps
- Dynamic Lunge with Hamstring Stretch and Reach x 10 reps
- Cobra with Scorpion Twists x 10 reps
- Cat/cow x 10 reps
There are hundreds of different mobilization exercises that you can add to your training, each one has a different use and huge benefit. This full body circuit should be a great place for you to start, I hope you enjoy!
Adding mobilization exercises to your workout is a great way to improve your technique in most exercises, prevent both chronic and acute injuries, and warm up sufficiently for a workout without tiring your muscles. Use them sensibly and try not to get carried away – remember that while mobilization drills are important, it is the resistance training that is the staple of your workout.