This really poses the question – How Much Mobility is necessary for High Performance?
There is a mobility trend sweeping America at the moment, and it's concerning to me as a Strength coach. Sport Coaches are buying into the "animal flow" type of mobility that a very comb-over-heart-shape-in-your-latte-group of "fitness professionals" are pushing to the public and in my professional opinion not only is it misguided - it's F*cking Dangerous.
Why though? isn’t Flexibility and Mobility key...
Why though? isn’t Flexibility and Mobility key to performance and injury prevention in athletes… Especially Baseball. Softball and Soccer?
Actually it’s not: Sorry Yoga Teachers, and kettle bell flow specialists, there is a difference between what’s optimal for a normal human being that’s largely sedentary, and what’s optimal for Performance and yes – the safety – of an athlete that’s placed in situations that he or she will experience large amounts of force on tissues, and joints and does so at very high rates of velocity – MULTIPLE Times during competitive play and practice.
Think about it like this: What would you rather your joints be like, a Thin strand of elastic band that was easily stretched into any position by minimal forces?
Or a Thick piece of high tension band that not only resists being pulled into ranges that are too extreme for the material to withstand, but also produces far more force production when it’s allowed to stretch back into it’s original form? (IE the Stretch Shortening Cycle or Stretch Reflexive Property)
So what is the Answer?
Well the key is to identify what we call "Optimal Tension." You see Zatiorsky discusses at length in his research and through his Work "The Science and Practice of Strength Training" that athletes rely heavily on something known as "Passive Elastic Force Production."
Essentially it's the concept that when tissues (that are adequately strengthened and have optimal tensions) are stretched beyond there means in a joint; they begin to deform, during this tissue deformation, higher forces are produced and when the Stretch Reflex takes place, the athlete "springs" back into and through the opposing range of motion producing speed, power and ultimately explosive forces.
The real problem with what we call "Laxity" is that not only are you robbing an athlete of his or her Stretch Reflexive Capabilities, your making the athletes so pliable that they get into positions that MUSCLES ARE NOT DESIGNED TO HAVE THE CONTROL OVER - In effect you'll get the athlete So Pliable, they'll end up in positions that they Physically cannot Control in a Loaded Capacity of ANY manner.
Optimal Tensioning - A New Way to Screen Athletes?
This brings us to the concept of finding Optimal Tensions for different athletes. Understand this brings any entirely new layer of complexity to developing strength and conditioning programming for populations of athletes, as you'll now need to take into account:
- The physiology of the athlete, (are they largely FT or ST dominant)
- What are the Passive ranges of motion vs their active ranges of motion
- The limb length and proportions of the athlete
- Their style of play (are they controlled and meticulous or explosive and Springy)
- The demands of their positions and what special strength attributes are required
- Their Current Level of Mobility Vs. their Current Level of Sporting Success
Now there are a myriad of "Mobility" programs out there, WODs, Practitioners, weird ass dudes and ladies that flip around and roll around in sand on islands (trips that I might add are funded by their seminars where many other people roll around half naked together getting ultra "mobile" ?)
AND THEN there is the guys that are anti mobility all together, and we've known for a while that YES you will get injured with out what I have coined "Optimal Tension" but where is the middle ground?
My belief is that it is within something known as FRC or Functional Range Conditioning. You can research the system with a goole search, but understand that even this system must be controlled, My team and I have personally used it to fix some serious ailments in athletes (after learning about it from the resident chiro we use) and it can be a phenomenal tool, but I have also seen it OVER-MOBILIZE athletes and kill power out put
I have been known for starting a lot of shit, and that was also my goal here today, because I believe that hard questions lead to hard discussions and hard discussion generally lead to hard answers, and hard answers - as with most things in life - are what are need in our industry.
It's our responsibility as strength coaches and parents and coaches to ensure our athletes are performing at peak levels as long as possible with the lowest risk of injury possible, the trick is in not going too far in one direction and remembering the fact that what is optimal for human performance in rarely optimal for human life.
So leave a comment, email me, share this post, good bad or ugly the discussions need to begin on how we can create a system of measurement to assess optimal levels of tension and mobility for different athletes in different populations with differing demands.