“Nature never hurries yet everything gets done.” - Lao Tzu
During the course of my years in clinical practice and coaching I’ve noticed a common thread that links the personalities of athletes together.
Almost to a fault.
Many athletes are Type-A, hard-headed, stubborn as all hell, and singularly focused. This type of thinking allows athletes to push forward, stay the course, set PRs and achieve goals in and outside of the gym.
The downside of this personality type is that many times these same individuals are also very impatient, especially when it comes to mobility work. When you bring the same physical intensity to your mobility work that you do to other aspects of your training, it can backfire.
The fact that mobility work is an additional stressor on our body is often not considered.
Any time we introduce a stimulus that disrupts homeostasis it’s a stressor, even if the intention is to help the body heal or change in a positive direction. This is of course true of any type of training stress that we engage in. This natural order of things must be understood and respected if we want to optimize the adaptation we get from our practice. Whether it be lifting weights or performing mobility work.
“Notice the stiffest tree can be easily cracked. But bamboo and willow survive by bending with the wind.” - Bruce Lee
No Pain, No Gain?
For mobility work more specifically, many times athletes attempt to use mobility tools to force stubborn joints and stiff tissues into submission often to their overall detriment.
The “no pain, no gain” attitude (one of the most misused and misunderstood adage of all time) has no place in mobility work. That being said some discomfort should be expected because we are purposefully challenging the status quo of our tissues but if we push too hard we could ultimately do damage to the very area we are trying to help and further inhibit our own performance.
Furthermore, the maladaptation process that we are trying to correct took time and repetition to occur and it will take time and repetition to change again. When I work with folks in the military sector I often use the following metaphor; mobility work is much more like rocking a baby to sleep than kicking in an enemy door.
So instead of attempting to force your way into a position or a new range of motion, simply touch the barrier.
Touch The Barrier
It’s all about finding the limit of your capacity and challenging it intelligently.
As we go through the process of unraveling our movement issues it’s important that we consider the effects of other training stressors as we set our expectations for progress.
An example of this is that often when I see athletes who are performing high volume compound lifts or hypertrophy they find that it can be difficult to keep up with tissue stiffness. This is because tissue stiffness is an exact result of the training stress being engaged in.
Unless you have endless hours to train and then deal with mobility issues you must approach this with a realistic attitude. During high volume training and competition periods (seasons) do your best to maintain progress you have achieved previously. That’s not to say you cannot make any progress in your mobility in the presence of other training factors but the gains may not be as exciting as you want.
Here are 3 ways to know if you're over-doing it with your mobility work:
- You cannot breathe. If you cannot control your breathing this is the sign of being overwhelmed by a stress response. If you can’t breathe in the position, back off.
- Inability to relax into into the technique. If you are so uncomfortable that you are holding undue tension in the local tissue being treated or in your body as a whole it’s too much. Your nervous system is protecting itself by creating tension and is in no position to facilitate a positive change.
- You have prolonged bruising, soreness, or weakness after mobility work. These are all signs that you have done damage that your body is trying to heal from. This is especially true if your ability to train or move normally has been impaired.
Allow precise repetition to open up new movement potential. When performing mobility work use frequency NOT intensity. You cannot force tissue to open up. You can only facilitate a certain response. Educate yourself and make sure you are using the right tool for the right job.
Be patient and have realistic expectations. Remember it’s going to take repetition and time to create change.
Taking a process driven approach to your mobility work will yield much greater results in both the short and long term. Rome wasn’t built in a day but once it was it lasted over a thousand years.