Visiting my alma mater for workshops and lectures is something I look forward to. I enjoy seeing the growth of the institution, the new faces, etc. This was even more so the case this past week when I presented on the concepts of mobility and stability to the Bloomsburg University Strength & Fitness Club. As a former president of the club, it was rewarding to see that the club has continued to find success and a segment of the student body interested in such high-level concepts in kinesiology and human performance.
The workshop began with a very typical introduction to the joint-by-joint approach. Since most anyone who’s listened to me talk at-length have heard about this, I’ll save this concept for its own post some other time. Because this wasn’t classroom based, we quickly moved into a handful of actionable drills and techniques that these students could swiftly employ into their own workout programming.
As long as an hour can seem, it flies by when you’re trying to demonstrate, correct, and generally facilitate these cutting-edge and nuanced exercises in a group setting; but, there were definitely some stand-out moments and takeaways worth talking about further here.
College-Students are Predisposed to Flexion-Based Abnormalities
Long hours locked into flexion in the classroom, library, or lab are requisite for scholarly success; recreating in these positions is not. Rather than spend time outside of the classroom sitting even more in front of the TV, strength training or club sports can offer an opportunity to enhance spinal mechanics as well as overall cognition and more.
To take this a step further, students can spend their time more efficiently during a warm-up for a workout by focusing on the specific areas of the spine and musculature that are most prone to poor mechanics and resting tone. A keen observer to the workshop may notice we didn’t spend much time going over drills that accentuate flexion; this is largely by design.
One all-too-common observation is the over emphasis of the pecs and lats in most strength training programs. With a population prone to long bouts of sitting (flexion), the internal rotation caused by lat and pec dominance can exacerbate some associated musculoskeletal injuries. Reducing volume on the lats and pecs, while increasing the volume of work done by the traps can enhance performance and simultaneously mitigate spinal issues.
Though the real point we covered in-depth regarding all of this was about thoracic spine mobilization. The more the thoracic spine can move unrestricted through the sagittal and transverse planes, the more likely the surrounding musculature can more efficiently function.
Ensuring Soft-Tissue Quality Requires Time Not Equipment
The restrictions on soft-tissue work are usually self-imposed. Going into this event, I was under the impression that our venue would be an empty basketball court, but because of how accessible these drills and exercises are, this wouldn’t have been a problem at all.
Most of the mobility drills and stretches that we demonstrated required little to no equipment and can be manipulated with bodyweight alone to yield an effective response and positive adaptation. For the ankle, drills like the ankle-wall drill, myofascial release with a lacrosse ball, or dorsiflexed ankle drill require next to nothing to complete. Further up the kinetic chain, we can use the couch stretch, bretzel, or saddle stretch for the quads. The hips can be mobilized with the cossack squat, half-kneeling drill, or the posterior hip stretch. And on up the chain…
Though that is nowhere near a definitive list, the larger point is that equipment should not be a constraint; the primary reason that people have insufficient movement quality is due to a lack of time invested on a regular basis to ensure continued improvements to flexibility and posture.
Where was the Foam Rolling?
I have nothing against foam rolling—in fact, I advocate for foam rolling and actively add some variations to the majority of our corrective exercise protocols. When foam rolling is added, it is usually in short bursts. 15-20 seconds per side on areas that aren’t an issue or an approaching problem. This time expands only slightly for areas that are problems, from 30 up to 60 seconds on problem areas. I can’t give a detailed account of what areas may be problems due to the individualized nature of these protocols, but the calves, pecs, and traps tend to be a focal point.
When we do advocate for foam rolling, we do so in these short bouts because we’ve found greater adherence when the demands are so limited.
Foam rolling didn’t make the cut for the mobility workshop because there are greater uses of time, particularly when we’re trying to get a new population to engage in movement and tissue quality initiatives. Foam rolling may provide some relief and facilitate some long-term improvements in these areas but mobility drills are a more proactive approach than SMR/ foam rolling as foam rolling mainly addresses issues once they’ve already become an issue.
Nutrition Workshop Coming Soon
I’ll be presenting at Bloomsburg University once again in just under two weeks. The topic will be cutting-edge and nontraditional dietary modalities for high performance. The event is open to all BU students and is hosted by the BU Strength & Fitness Club. For more information and event details, contact the BU Strength & Fitness Club directly at BUStrengthAndFitness@gmail.com.
Most of the programs that we design and implement at Ruthless Performance have some meticulously detailed cool-down for an athlete to do following their last exercises of the day. And in most cases these are some combination of mobility drills, breathing techniques, or myofascial release strategies.
Past all of the very significant reasons that a proper cool down in crucial for athlete development, there’s a handful of additional benefits an athlete will receive by doing their prescribed combination of mobility drills at this particular time. When an athlete does these drills early on in the workout, likely in their warm-up or as an accessory drill between main sets, more mobility (active use of ROM) is required of the articulations themselves–like in the spine or at the hip.
But after a workout, while there is more blood circulating in the muscles, the mobility drills will more specifically target these areas–even if it is the same exercise that is done pre-workout.
There also seems to be more lasting changes in range-of-motion when these exercises are completed post-workout. Whereas in the warm-up, these drills serve to enhance proper movement and function during the workout, but the lasting effects seem to be negated by the workouts themselves.
This is why we recommend including high-priority mobility drills in the pre and post-workout time period.