Mobility = Strength
There is a common drag associated with mobility and the time invested into different drills with stretching, rolling out, trigger release and all other types of muscle/ joint mobilisation techniques. It is generally seen as either optional, only required when injured or something you do to avoid an injury. Few people really invest in mobility which could change if they knew the substantial benefits that arise from this type of training (mobility training).
Why people don't invest in mobility
There is a very good reason that someone might think it isn't important to invest in mobility practices. They are progressing without it, they haven't been injured yet, they did it one time and noticed no difference or it seems like there is little gain in the scheme of things. All of these things are true. You don't need to do mobility training to progress in weight training, You can train without mobilising and not get injured and you probably won't notice it after 1 session. The same thing can be said with adding a 1.25kg plate on each side of the bar each week. It is seemingly insignificant, it didn't make you strong overnight and you probably didn't notice that much of a difference in your fitness or body composition for that day either. However do this for 6 months and there is a massive significance on the weight on the bar, the strength built up in the body and probably hypertrophy gains as well. 2.5kg added onto the bar over 6 months is 60kg! Now that's significant!
The major reasons mobility is important for the beginner and the advanced
If you are a beginner and are just starting to learn the movement patterns of the big 3 compounds it is very important that you are in the right positions throughout the whole movement. If you can lift efficiently you can lift more weight, especially when you become a more advanced lifter. If you’re limited by mobility in a squat for example and the only way you can hit depth is tilting your hips back and forcing yourself down below parallel. This checks the box for hitting depth but you are also building a bad movement pattern that you could take well into your lifting life. This is a whole lot harder to fix once you are comfortable lifting like that and you will have to heavily back the weight off once you try to fix this issue. The risk of injury is higher and you more than likely would have built up some muscular imbalances from lifting like this for an extended period of time. This will take a long time to balance everything out again. This is a painful experience and I recommend doing it right from the start.
Once you are an advanced lifter you will find that the gains or the personal bests are hard to come by. This is ok, you just need to squeeze every last bit of efficiency out of your lifts and train smart. Your mobility (especially if you haven't focused on it before) is likely one aspect that will cause a small improvement in your overall performance. We are looking for lots of these small aspects to build on your overall performance. Implement mobility techniques and over time you will find that you can focus on the lift more as it feels so seamless, more pain-free and balanced which many of you advanced lifters will benefit from. Take the 2% gain from improving your mobility then find something else you can gain 2% on.
How does mobility improve your strength?
The definition of mobility is being flexible enough to get into a certain position and being stable/ strong enough to keep it there. Meaning even if you are flexible, if all your muscles associated with holding that position aren't strong enough to keep your body in that position- then you will find that you lose efficiency. You will generally find that the prime movers (the bigger muscles) are not the issue and the smaller muscles around the joint (the stabilisers) are either too weak or too tight to hold that position.
Think about a leg press. How easy is it to load that machine up? Many people can lift in excess of 200kg after a few weeks of loading up that machine. Compare that to a squat or even a lunge and you will quickly find that it is a lot harder to lift the heavy loads while squatting. The major reason for this is how stable the body is when you have your back pressed against a firm pad and your feet against a fixed one. The body and prime movers no longer need to worry about stabilising the joint. It can simply work to its peak power. The new limitation is now ‘how strong are the muscle fibres and how much load are they able to push’ as opposed to ‘what is the maximum amount of weight the body can stabilise and stop from falling over’. For someone who is injured or in a bad position in any of the compound lifts this number will be very different compared to the muscles peak power.
Similar to a strong crane which has a small weak wire lifting up heavy objects. The crane is certainly strong enough to lift bigger heavier items. You just need to change 1 variable (a stronger wire) to allow this to happen. There is no point in building a stronger motor (or muscles) if there is so much more to be gained from a much smaller aspect of lifting something up like a stronger wire (better mobility/ stability).
Simple practices when improving mobility
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You can easily improve your mobility and stability by static stretching and doing any form of balance work. Generally, most people will have tight hip flexors from sitting all day and inactive glutes. For the squat: pigeon pose, the frog, kneeling lunge and the upward dog stretch are great starters. They will be very useful for a start of session stretch.
As for improving balance: glute activation such as glute band hip thrusts, crab walks and single-legged RDL’s are probably the best bet. If you have moderate balance you can even use a split squat to activate your quads and glutes. Great for getting you into an optimal position for the squat.
The practice that no one argues is a good warm-up can go a long way to improving your mobility and balance for a stronger squat. 15-20% jumps relative to your working weight is a great start when thinking about spacing out your warm-up weights.
There is now hopefully some form of urgency to improve mobility- beginners, for building good motor patterns and advanced lifters for breaking through stalls and breaking down limiting factors through training lifts. We barely even talked through how it reduces the risk of injury but I'm assuming everyone partly knows that. It's hard to make mobility exciting but easy to make stronger lifting exciting, so why not mix the 2?