Flex (ability) or flexibility, Mobility (mobile ability) or more ability. All of us encounter those moments from time to time when we wish we could improve the way we move for exercise and the sports or activities we participate in. Our current state of mobility and flexibility and how we move when we train, walk or run becomes very clear as we become more active. I often notice that when I change the way I train or try new physical activities it usually reveals where my my physical limitations lie. This is initially a bit uncomfortable for most of us because we want to do things “correctly” or we want to appear efficient. These discomforts can be physical, like when we feel range of motion restrictions and tight muscles in our body, or they can be our egos challenging us a bit.
I’ll invite you to notice your reactions to these discomforts or challenges. Over many years of training and coaching my clients, including myself, it has become very clear, when we challenge ourselves, when we face our limitations head on it rarely feels good. Yet it’s at these precise moments when we learn or figure out new options that illicit changes. The process of adapting to the unfamiliar sensations in exercise opens the door changes and progression. Fitness plateaus are like a signal letting you know it’s time to move on and try something new for awhile. When we challenge our current capabilities the potential for growth and change becomes possible. Staying within comfort zones by not addressing the reasons behind muscle tightness will only lead to more tightness and may interfere with progress. It’s been said that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again, and somehow expecting a different outcome to occur.
Brave those discomforts, they offer hidden lessons that otherwise go unrealised.
To address mobility and flexibility concerns, some schools of thought have formulated many ways to evaluate muscle and joint restrictions. Muscle testing or specific positional strength and resistance assessments can be used to gain & offer some valuable insights. I myself have used mobility assessments and positional strength/resistance muscle tests as an evaluation tool for helping clients decipher performance and mobility issues that they face when they train. I was first exposed to this sort of approach by a system called Muscle Activation Techniques, which is a refined system developed by Greg Roskoph (muscleactivation.com). For me, applying these ways of looking at evaluation and perceiving what’s going on in exercise was heavily influenced by the training I received through RTS (resistancetrainingspecialist.com). Over the last 14 years, and attending many other courses and schools of thought, muscle testing, or positional strength and resistance testing has been a tremendous help in my ability to assist my clients in their understanding of the mobility concerns which they present with. My team and I have assisted and helped folks of all ages improve performance and mobility concerns. More importantly, our goal is to educate and guide our clients in learning to train themselves for their individual lifestyles and exercise choices. When one learns what to do, how to and most importantly why given their bodies individual needs and tendencies, the potential for success is available.
I’ll now attempt to simplify some very complex processes that are part of mobility and flexibility to help clarify some possible reasons behind mobility and flexibility related issues. This won’t be an attempt to explain all of the possible factors involved in mobility concerns as there are many. These will just be a snapshot of what I’ve come across in recent years.
We all live with some strengths, weaknesses, mobility compensations. When I refer to tightness, or tight muscles, I’ll be referring to muscle restrictions or the range of motion restrictions of our joints. There are many structures besides muscles which can contribute to tightness and joint restriction, but for the purpose of this blog, and simplicity, when y0u see “tight” or “tightness” ill refer to muscles and joint range. Perhaps in future posts ill explore some of the other structures and their influence on joint range of motion. It’s possible, that when we feel tight, inflexible, or unbalanced that some muscle weaknesses are present. Sometimes for many years. Undetected muscular weakness is something that we all will present with at one point or another and over time it can result in what we feel and term as tightness and or inflexibility. This is what we notice when we find that our hamstrings are tight, our calves are tight, or one side of our neck or lower back feels tight.
Our Nervous system makes neuromuscular coordination decisions based on externally imposed demands & responds with internal torque generating forces via muscles on bones which then influence joints to allow for or limit motion, and at the same time insure that those joint surfaces stay in contact & remain congruent or together as we move.
This intricate regulation oriented system is how the nervous system creates, monitors, and if need be, limits motion given the forces the body is being exposed to at any given time for the activity at hand. If muscles create forces when contracting (by pulling on bones) in response to external forces, whatever patterned (compensatory) choices are made to influence stability & motion will be made in a protective manner in order to guard against potential risk as we move in order to keep going. This being determined by joint position and the forces the joint may be encountering. High velocity motions & heavy loads added to motions as seen in group fitness settings, boot camp classes and gyms, ballet studios, dance performances, some yoga studios in sports events etc, will challenge the response timing of this protection oriented internal guarding system. Muscle tightness, a component of compensation, may be associated with muscle weaknesses and is typically frowned upon, but without it, stability to a joint, series of joints in a position or the body overall may be compromised. If muscle weaknesses are present, your body will tighten other muscles to protect and keep you going. Tightness can be seen as a way to maintain joint congruency for how we move. Compensation (in this description, tightness resulting from weakness) of the system during a movement can also result in changes to internally generated forces in response to those external forces. This can lead to what is often called mal-alignment and joint contact surface changes over time. Long term, this may end up leading to more mechanical stress throughout the body. From a mechanical context, compensatory joint management is a result of the nervous system centering you or your center of gravity in order to keep you from falling over and to keep you moving. It can also be seen as a protection mechanism when your nervous system senses weakness. Depending on what kind of stressor we are encountering, these positional changes may lead to wear & tear on some aspects of joint contact surfaces which can alter the centering efforts of connective tissues. Your metabolism & state of health play into this as well, however we’ll touch on this in another article in an effort to stick to the context we opened with, that being a mechanical one. The body will then model bone, joint capsule tissues, muscle tissue tension responses & fascial network tensions along those new patterns of force in its effort to create stability and we likely won’t know about it until it starts to limit motion or performance efforts. The initial weakness that offsets one way of functioning for another to maintain stability or centering of your gravity so you can walk or move may not initially be felt. This adaptation mechanism is present in all of us and can seem more obvious in some than others and there are many factors that contribute to our ability to change or influence it. Most of us often only take action when we feel painful symptoms, unaware of what led up to them. At the point where the body tightens muscles, stresses tendons or other components of a joint, or wears cartilage down, as a compensatory response to altered joint & muscle forces, (again this is protective) weaknesses may have been present long beforehand only never addressed or even noticed or detected. Many use pain killers or muscle relaxers to alleviate what are often painful compensatory efforts by the body to keep us upright & mobile. Although they may provide relief to these symptoms, they may miss some underlying causes. These sorts of discomforts, when seen as “check engine” lights, as on the dashboard of your car, can be clues to possible underlying causes of compromised movement.
It helps our understanding to view the body as not make mistakes. It can only respond to our actions and choices and attempt to tweak, modify and adapt accordingly and create a best case scenario in order to keep you centered, moving & weight bearing. These are attempts to create efficiency in response to everything you do, including exercise, yoga, pilates, golf, tennis, walking etc. Coordination changes in the hip can influence pelvic and spinal forces and all of the bodies musculature must then adapt and reorient how to respond. Unaddressed, compensation patterns can become the normal way of functioning and eventually not feel so good. This can impede progress in an exercise program, yoga practice, sports effort, or just walking and partaking in normal daily activities.
Muscle Testing offers an opportunity to assess the contractile capabilities of the muscular system and its role in posture, joint mechanics, flexibility & mobility on an individual basis for their exercise and lifestyle pursuits. This can offer valuable insights as to a persons own training opportunities in a gym, a yoga class or sport when devising an exercise program.
We employ M.A.T. which is Muscle Activation Techniques, developed by Greg Roskopf.
This protocol employs a Comparative Assessment of Mobility (CAM) to witness possible movement restrictions then applies Active Muscle Contract and Sustain (AMC &S) testing to look for isolated muscle positional weaknesses. MAT helps us to devise exercises which are tailored to an individuals specific needs.