A closer look into different forms of mobility training: stretching, active flexibility, active tension, foam rolling and more. What is the best way to get mobile?
or athletic ability, health, injury prevention and long term success mobility is the number one. It's not stretching or strength, but both of them combined into what we call mobility.
Mobility simply means strength in the range of motion of a muscle. When your muscle is functional in all articulations of the joint and strong in full range of motions, the muscle can be considered highly mobile.
When your entire body (all muscles of the body) is open and relatively strong, your body can be considered mobile and structurally balanced.
Mobility is the biggest indicator of athletic prowess and overall postural/muscular health. Your body simply works the way the nature made it to work and there are no stiffness or weakness limiting your movements and well-being.
Life is a marathon and not a sprint. We here at Vahva Fitness want long term success without missing out on any aspect of physical fitness. This is why a massive amount of our training consists of mobility training and why mobility plays such a big role in Movement 20XX online course.
Below are different forms of mobility training and guidance on how to get the best results.
Passive Forms of Mobility
Stretching is good for increasing the passive range of motion of your muscles and finding tight areas, but stretching alone won't make you "mobile".
For mobility you need strength. Increasing flexibility will add strength (because flexibility is strength) but to a very small degree.
This is because stretches are assisted and passive - the muscles are not actively lifting resistance. For the stretching to be effective in terms of strength, you would need to isometrically contract the muscles (PNF stretching).
Think of yogis: they can be incredibly flexible but they aren't very athletic because many of them lack raw strength.
Being able to go to a deep passive squat doesn't mean that your legs are mobile either because there can be weak areas all over the place in different hip articulations and different parts of the range of motions.
To actually get mobile (and athletic), you need to do active forms of mobility training (see from below).
Band Distraction Stretching
Band distraction stretching is a different way of stretching where you use bands to pull the joint in a more favorable position so you can create a better and more fluid movement with the joint.
Band distraction stretching can help to position the joint for you to produce a better stretch but it's still a passive form of stretching that comes with the same benefits and limitations as the regular stretching.
Foam Rolling or Myofascial Release
Foam rolling and other forms of myofascial release such as trigger point therapy or just plain massage are great tools for recovery and loosening up the muscles.
But that's it. Foam rolling is a passive form of mobility training and it will not build strength or mobility. This is because you aren't actually actively working and contracting the muscles - you are just massaging them.
In other words, you are not going to get mobile by foam rolling alone and the effects are often temporary at best. You are not expecting to get mobile or flexible by taking a massage either and foam rolling or using a lacrosse ball are self-massage tools.
For recovery, loosening up and finding tight spots myofascial release is great and should be used for that purpose.
Active Forms of Mobility
Active flexibility is one of the best ways to build mobility, because you are not only stretching a muscle but also actively strengthening it.
Active flexibility works like this: you first stretch the muscle and then contract the muscle in the muscle's lengthened end-range to build strength in the newly discovered range of motion.
For example, you can stretch your hamstrings in a pike stretch and then actively contract the hamstrings to raise yourself up (deadlift) to strengthen the hamstrings.
Movement 20XX has active flexibility drills for the entire lower body (adductors, glutes, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors and hip rotation).
In active tension mobility you are not stretching the muscle, but you are actively contracting the muscle in its shortened end-range of motion.
For example, in the tricep kickback the tricep is shortened when the arm is straight and you are actively focusing on building strength in the shortened end-range of motion.
You will increase the shortened end-range of motion. You will also build strength and control in that range of motion which is what mobility is really about.
The difference between active flexibility and active tension:
- In active flexibility you first stretch the muscle (lengthen it) and then contract the muscle. Example: overhead tricep extension where you are focusing on the initial range of motion where the arm is bent and the triceps are stretched.
- In active tension you focus on building strength in the shortened state. Example: tricep kickback when the arm is straightened.
Combine both active tension and active flexibility (as done in Movement 20XX) and you will get great results and become very limber. For recovery and assistance, traditional stretching and myofascial release are fantastic.
These forms of mobility training work very well, but understand that becoming super mobile is a process that takes time and results don't happen overnight (this is true for everything in fitness).