Fitness & Wellness – Your Hips, Flexibility, & Mobility
You’ve taken Ryan’s strength & stretching class before, and he always finishes class with a 5 minute stretch/cool down. But why? Why do we stretch? We may sometimes say to ourselves that we stretch most days of the week, but I still have never been able to touch my toes. So why do medical and fitness professionals always mention that you should stretch daily? Are we wasting our time? This week’s health topic discusses flexibility and mobility and why it is important.
Let’s start with the basics –
Flexibility vs. Mobility: They are not the same thing!
- Flexibility – The ability of a muscle to temporarily stretch when needed.
- Think of a rubber band; If you pull both ends and it stretches like a good rubber band should, it’s flexible. Muscles work in a similar fashion in which they have elastic components to help the muscle stretch.
- Mobility – The ability of a joint to actively move through its intended range of motion.
- Let’s use the shoulder joint as an example. The shoulder is a ball and socket joint which allows us to move our arm forward, backward, side to side, and in circles. If your shoulder moves in all these directions, you could say you have good/healthy shoulder mobility.
Although flexibility and mobility are different, they are related. In order to have good joint mobility, muscle flexibility is imperative. There is a misconception that lack of mobility is only due to muscular flexibility limitations, or a muscle losing natural length. A person can have great flexibility but still have poor mobility. Flexibility is only one part of the equation when it comes to mobility.
Joint structure (shape of bones, how they meet, how the ligaments and tendons connect to those bones) is the primary determiner for joint mobility. Take an X-ray of a group of individual’s joints, and you will notice that no two people’s joints are exactly the same. Other factors include tissue bulk, quality of movement, activity level, injury or dysfunction, age, and sex.
Benefits of Stretching
- Increase mobility
- Decrease the risk of injury
- Decrease pain
- Improve posture and balance
- Releases muscle tension and soreness
- Improved physical performance
In simpler terms…
Without proper flexibility and mobility, our muscles cannot be properly strengthening and conditioned. Our muscles have to move through a range of motion (ROM) to optimize strength gains.
A common example of flexibility versus mobility
You bend down to reach for your toes, but with years of practice, you still have not been able to reach your toes. Your hamstrings may actually be flexible, but be overactive because they are trying to make up for a lack of stability elsewhere. Maybe the issue is not where you think it is…
A little anatomy to set the tone:
- Muscles that are used to move us tend to cross multiple joints. (i.e., hamstrings cross the knee and hip joints).
- Stabilizer muscles (act to stabilize one joint so the desired movement can be performed in another joint) tend to cross one joint.
- Your hamstrings (back of the upper leg) attach to the back of the pelvis.
- When stabilizer muscles are not doing their job, mover muscles try to compensate and take over.
Our body is fascinating in that it will make compensations to allow us to keep moving and do what we need to do. However, sometimes if the issue is not corrected, in the long run, it could lead to more serious problems. When mover muscles take over due to the stabilizers not doing their job, we find that our mobility is limited. Keep in mind this is just an example and may not be the case for your specific limitations or mobility issues.
So what could be going on with our “tight” hamstrings? As Bill Nye the Science Guy would say, “Consider the following…”
- They could be overactive.
- Your stabilizer muscles are not strong enough to keep your pelvis (hips) in alignment and/or you have poor posture causing the front of the pelvis to tilt forward (AKA anterior pelvic tilt).
- A common sign for having an anterior pelvic tilt is a large dip in the low back. If you have been to physical therapy for back pain, they may have given you the posterior pelvic tilt exercise to help with your pain.
- When the back of the pelvis tilts up, it pulls on and stretches the hamstrings which, in turn, pull back.
- With this occurring, you now have an overactive muscle that is already stretched to the max. When reaching for your toes, your hamstring muscles simply cannot stretch anymore.
So how do we improve our mobility?
- Train our stabilizing muscles: posture, core, and abdominals.
- When we exercise, move joints through full (but comfortable) range of motion
- Myofascial release/Self massage (i.e., foam rolling)
- Breathing – connecting your breath with a movement has a huge effect on how efficiently you move
Example stretching routines –
Contrary to resistance exercise, there really is not a limit on how much you should stretch. Stretching can be done most days of the week, if not twice a day (morning & evening)
- A 3 minute stretching video you can add to your morning routine when you wake up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSd68WlLqvw&feature=emb_logo
- Other stretches that can be searched online or on YouTube. We also do the majority of these stretches in the strength & stretching classes.
- Hamstring stretch, single knee to chest stretch, post capsule/shoulder stretch, hip/piriformis stretch, calf stretch, downward dog, cat camel