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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Which to do first, Mobility or Stretching?

Flexibility is the amount of motion we can create through a joint and there has long been the debate as to what is the best way to increase our flexibility and therefore our ability to move. As babies and young children most of us started out with full range of motion throughout our body and the ability to move anywhere and anyway we wanted.  As we grew a little older to the infant stage we still had phenomenal motion and could perform the "perfect squat" and didn't have to think about it. Knees pushed out, feet stayed flat on the ground, below parallel and with an upright and stable spine.  Then as we moved our way through grade school and beyond, things changed for most of us.  We weren't able to touch our toes anymore, we lost our ability to sit on the ground cross-legged and we generally became very stiff from sitting too much and wearing thick heeled shoes causing a shortening of our posterior chain.

As we were losing our ability to have full use of these motions our tissues were beginning to get very tough, beat down, knotted up and generally not the healthy texture they should maintain.  We were often taught the best way to be flexible was to continue to stretch, take up yoga, pilates or any other form of stretching to help lengthen out your muscles and tissues.  While I have nothing against any of these movement practices and think they are useful I think we are skipping an extremely important step in regaining and improving range of motion.  Mobility and soft tissue work.

Very similar in muscles
Think of it this way, if you have a tightness in your hamstring caused by knotted and beat up tissue compare it to having a knot tied into the middle of a piece of rope.  When we are stretching we are taking the insertion points of that hamstring and moving them further away from each other to increase that motion.  If we re-enact that same process with our piece of rope and pull both ends away from each other what will happen to the knot?  It's going to get significantly tighter and be even more resistant to becoming untied.

This is where mobility work needs to play a significant role. We need to utilize soft tissue work
Untie and break up knots before stretching and realigning fibers.
whether it be massage, foam rolling, or any other type of mobilization tool to "untie" the knot.  If we continually stretch and make that knot tighter it will get more difficult to undo.  If we get to the knotted tissue early we can have a better chance of getting it to loosen up without as much pain.

A recommendation for tissue work would be as follows: start with it post any activity, this is when your body will be at it's warmest and you'll get the most benefit out of this work.  Myofascial release, however you choose to do it, would be your first area of work to break down and loosen up the knotted tissue.  A good goal would be 10-15 minutes.  If you have the option afterward to use vibration therapy it can clear out any congested material in your muscles and help with the recovery procress.  At the end include all your stretching to help with the elongation of the muscles after all the knotted tissue has been given a chance to loosen up.

Take care of your tissues, it will make your body feel much better and help you many aspects of your life.

Fix It Early, Fix It Often.

"The resting state of the human body should be pain free."  -Kelly Starrett.
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