You think you want to become more flexible, but we don’t think that’s what you are really after at all
You would not wash your hair and never brush it. Nor would you stop washing your hair and only brush it. Your hair would end up in a mess if you only did one and not the other. You know keeping a healthy head of hair means you need to wash, brush, and trim it regularly. It’s a multi-faceted approach to maintaining a healthy head of hair. The same is true with your body and how well it moves and feels day in and day out. You’re not meant to walk around every day feeling tight, stiff, or in pain and it’s a multi-step process to maintain that. A solid weekly practice for your overall physical health should include resistance training, mobility training, and stress mitigation.
While all of the components are equally important, I feel mobility training is the most misunderstood out of the above three. So, I am going to break down two common false beliefs about mobility and what it is. But before we jump into that, answer this question for me – if something in your body feels stiff or uncomfortable your first thought is probably that you need to stretch, right? Stretching is often an immediate feel-good response but unfortunately doesn’t give you much, if any, lasting results. I am willing to bet many of you reading this stretch first thing in the morning because you feel tight or stiff after sleeping all night. Tell me I am wrong!
Myth #1. Your Age Determines your Mobility Level
The first myth I want to address is that your age determines your mobility level. Your age has little to do with how you feel, move, and live in your body and more to do with the lifestyle you live day in and day out. My eighty-year-old father is a prime example of this. He can out-move many people half his age. He can squat all the way down to the floor, climb deer stands up in the treetops, and walk across the entire length of the rail on the boat trailer like a balance beam to avoid getting his feet wet. Just the other month I watched him jump from a platform that was probably 8 feet off the ground and land easily on his two feet. On the other hand, I know some late twenty-year-olds who have already had carpal tunnel surgery in both wrists, live with nagging low back pain, and struggle to play on the floor with their kids let alone play sports with them as they get older. You certainly can’t change your genetics, but you can impact them with what habits you live with.
Myth #2. You Can Stretch Your Way Out of Pain
Flexibility is not the same as mobility and they can’t be used interchangeably. It is true though when something in your body feels tight, your immediate reaction is to stretch it. Thanks, brain! It’s not all bad and it does feel good temporarily. It’s probably not going to give you the lasting results you are looking for, unfortunately, if you have chronic tightness. The feeling of constantly wanting to stretch is your cue that you need to focus more on improving your mobility, not your flexibility.
What is Stretching?
Stretching is defined as your muscles and supporting tissue’s ability to lengthen. There are a few different types of stretching, but the goal of all stretching is to get the muscles to lengthen and stay elongated. It’s a conversation between your muscles and your nervous system. The problem is the muscle you just stretched won’t stay that way long-term because your nervous system will likely send signals to contract or tighten back up over time. Why? Because you did not change the information being sent back and forth between your muscles and your nervous system. To do that, you need to add the component of strength and you need to understand it’s a group effort. If one muscle is feeling tight, that probably means another muscle closely related to it is slacking off so to speak. Your body needs teamwork to make the dream work.
How is Mobility Different from Stretching?
Mobility is that missing component that helps integrate flexibility and strength. Mobility is defined as your ability to move your joint through its full range of motion and slowly increase where your end range of motion is. Can you sit in a chair that is low to the ground and get back up out of it? Like a kid’s table low. Being able to control the speed at which you sit down, not falling down into the low chair, and having the strength to get back up from such a low starting point is an example of mobility. Sitting in a standard-height chair probably isn’t a problem, but the lower chair is harder because it requires more muscle elongation and strength in those end ranges. But this coordination between all the soft tissue surrounding your joint to make this happen is the magic ticket to finding the balance between flexibility and strength to reduce pain and the constant desire to stretch.
This is a complex topic for sure, but the moral of the story is you can’t focus on only strength, and you can’t focus only on stretching. You need a healthy balance of both to feel good. Just like you need to wash and brush your hair. If you are wondering how to get started with improving your mobility, we have a program coming out called “Juicy Joints” that is going to walk you through this using the Pilates Spine Corrector. Go to our website to learn more and register while we are still in early bird pricing. If you need a spine corrector, here is the link to our favorite one you can grab off Amazon.