By Tom Garbett

Strength & Conditioning Coach

Pain Free Performance Specialist

Pain Free Performance-Stretching and Mobility

Stretching can be a very personal thing, do you stretch pre session, post session, not at all, everyday?

Many a conversation has often come up on camps or training days and you will see some athletes religiously spending 15 minutes stretching post session and others walking straight into their apartment to shower, change and head back out to soak up some sun before the next session. The “stretchers” will be thinking how on earth do they not get injured?

As I said, stretching is a very personal thing and some people find it helps and makes them feel good and others not so much. In this article we look to differentiate between flexibility and mobility and how this can help prevent injuries and enhance your performance.

What is the difference between flexibility and mobility?

If you have watched the short video from Rob Bridges about the importance of mobility a key quote is that it is “the biggest difference I see between elite athletes and amateur athletes”

By the textbook the two terms are defined as:

FLEXIBILITY: The ability of a muscle or muscle group to lengthen passively through a range of motion.

MOBILITY: The ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion or the ability to control movement through a range of motion.

Mobility and flexibility are different, but they are related, and this is important to note. The concept of mobility incorporates flexibility; the main factor for athletes is mobility but this can be limited by your flexibility.

So, the two work hand in hand but more specifically mobility has a range of factors that could affect your movement: –

  • The tissues ability to lengthen (flexibility)
  • The joints ability to move
  • The nervous systems ability to relax and allow movement
  • The neuromuscular systems ability to activate muscles and control the movement through all ranges of motion

The issue we face is people believe it is enough to stay injury free if they can touch their toes or have a perfect 90-degree angle at the knee during the pigeon pose; unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. This is only your muscles ability to passively lengthen to your or close to your full range of motion. The key word there is passively. Passively is your ability to move your connective tissue with the help of another person, tool or gravity – your muscles will passively allow the movement to happen.

What is good mobility?

What we need is your body to actively move through its full range of motion, without the need for tools, gravity or someone placing some pressure against the stretch. An athlete with great mobility is able to perform movement patterns with no restrictions, their movement is efficient, they have the range of motion but more importantly they have the neuromuscular control and strength to move and support the body through this pattern.

An easy example to test the difference between your active and passive range of motion is to lie on your back, keep your spine neutral and passively bring one knee towards your chest using your hands. Now relax that back down and do the same movement again without the use of your hands, control and hold it there. There will be a difference in how close you can bring your knee to your chest and some people will have a greater difference than others. Can you see how this could relate to your aero position or running form if you can’t get into that position without your hand?

So, your super flexible person may or may not have the same strength through the stabilising muscles, balance and or coordination to perform the same patterns with the control needed. This is the difference that needs to be understood and addressed.

How can you improve your mobility?

You do not need to be adding 3 hours a week onto the back of sessions to make a difference, a steady stream of little and often goes a long way. You can take a general sport specific approach, but also delve a little deeper specifically to you – working on areas you know are the issue.

  • Self myo-facial techniques – foam rolling, tennis ball, massage sticks all help to release tight spots.
  • Mobility drills and corrective exercises – actively moving, contracting and relaxing muscles through the joints range of motion and strengthening your stabilising muscles.
  • Stretching – the key with stretching is ensuring it is authentic and not compensatory. Compensatory is having to move your body into different positions in order to get to where you want to with your stretch – for example rounding your back to touch your toes rather than hinging at the hips.
  • Dynamic warmups
  • Or the main sessions for all TTT athletes are the Tuesday and Friday Performance Mobility Sessions, live on zoom.

Within the performance mobility sessions, all of the above are addressed. Included in the two short sessions are stretching of muscle groups key to triathlon performance, mobility drills through full range of motions individual to the athlete and sport, balance work, strengthening of the stabilising muscles as well as the coordination of movement patterns specific to our sport.

To Conclude

In conclusion what we are addressing here is your motor control gap. This is the difference between your body’s active range of motion and its passive range of motion, and we are trying to reduce this gap in order to help your sports performance. Whether that is to help stroke length in swimming, aero position on the bike or your run form to help technique, stride length and reduce the risk of injury.

Our mobility sessions within TTT are very important for our athletes and they are actively encouraged to join in live or follow the recording to help play a part within their performance.

Tom Garbett.

Strength & Conditioning Coach. Pain Free Performance Specialist