Getting Mobile…one joint at a time!

Strength and Conditioning: Getting mobile

When it comes to strength and conditioning, most people associate it with improving physical attributes such as strength, power, endurance etc through physical training. Largely, they are correct, however this is only one of the goals. Equally important (and in my opinion actually more important), is the goal of keeping people injury free! How can you get faster and stronger for longer if your laid up with a dodgy back or a strained hamstring? Its just not going to happen. And any athlete who doesn’t take this area of their preparation seriously is asking to come a cropper in the future, its just a matter of when rather than if!

But how do you stay injury free with all the training that needs to be done for your sport whether it’s sprinting, rugby, MMA etc? Well clearly you can’t control the contact based injuries that you will undoubtedly encounter although training smart always helps! However there are some controllable injuries such as muscle tears, sprains etc that can be reduced through sensible and intelligent training.

In terms of training goals, Injury prevention and performance enhancement are on the same spectrum, with a great deal of crossover, and at the risk of contradicting myself here, I would say that by far the best form of injury prevention is increased strength in the key muscles and movements that the sport requires. Many injuries occur due to the body being unable to handle the forces imposed on it during sporting activities therefore if you increase the forces that the body can both produce and absorb, your reducing your likelihood of injury and your well on your way to transforming yourself into a more bulletproof athlete. With that being said, there are some other considerations that need to be addressed if you are to fully prepare yourself for training and competition.

These include:

  1. Mobility Training- Exercises to develop the range of movement of the joint in question.
  2. Flexibility- Working on the muscle and its ability to move the joint through the required range.
  3. Stability- the ability to resist movement and maintain the required body position.

Mobility, Stability and Flexibility work together like the three tenors….they can work in harmony, but if one of them is off their game the whole thing goes to pot so to speak!!

So it’s not as simple as stretching to gain increased range. It doesn’t matter how flexible your hamstrings are, if your hips don’t have the required mobility they are not going anywhere? And what about if you actually don’t want your body to have mobility in a key area? For example if your an MMA fighter going for a takedown you need to be stable and stiff through your core on the point of contact for a more explosive shot. If your a sprinter driving down the home straight you need a stiff and stable core to help you produce force through your arms and legs. So stability training also plays a very important role in the process too!

So how do you apply all this and how does it really work?

Lets get Mobile…..One joint at a time!

A relatively recent contribution to the strength and conditioning field from Gray Cook and popularised more so by Mike Boyle is the concept of the Joint-by-Joint approach to training. Essentially what Cook and Boyle are saying is that each joint of the body has different needs and requirements according to the functional make-up of the human body. The requirements of each joint are shown below: (there’s a video of each of these at the end of the article)

Joint Main Requirement Exercise to Develop
Ankle Mobility Knee to Wall Touches
Knee Stability Hop and Holds
Hip Mobility Fire Hydrants
Lumbar Spine Stability Plank Rows
Thoracic Spine Mobility Foam Roller Crunches
Shoulder- Scapular Stability Bosu Push-Ups
Shoulder- Glenohumeral Mobility Wall Slides

I am a firm believer in this approach and adopt these principles in my programmes. What does it mean? Well it means that if you are including exercises emphasising lumbar spine mobility your probably not training your body in the optimal and the way it was designed to function, and possibly worse than this, you could be training your body for an injury down the line! When your looking to develop mobility you need to be targeting the ankles, hips and thoracic spine and actually staying away from the knees, lower back and scapular as these joints need to be trained to be stable. Some exercises are shown in the table above. There is the odd exception to this rule and Ill go into this later, but generally speaking this is the approach I take.

Here’s some videos of the exercises shown above:

Knee to wall touches (Ankle Mobility):

Hop and Holds (knee Stability):

Fire Hydrants (Hip Mobility):

Pain Site Vs Pain Source

Very often injuries occur and are diagnosed and then treated. The injury seems to disappear and then as if from nowhere 2 months later it comes back to haunt you again. Sound familiar? This is often caused by a lack of mobility or stability in a key area. So for example knee pain is often caused by a lack of mobility in the ankle or the hips and the knee then seeks the mobility that the other joints should be providing for the movement in question. Over time this results in pain either in the joint or the muscles around the joint. Shoulder injuries can often be caused by a lack of thoracic mobility causing the muscles around the shoulder to have to seek extra range under load which they are not meant to do and simply cannot cope! So always look up and down the kinetic chain for issues that may have caused the pain.

I initially came across this concept again through by veteran strength coach Mike Boyle and through my experience and having spoken with many physiotherapists working in high performance sport I believe it applies across sports. If you can get yourself screened by a qualified professional you’ll give yourself a better chance of avoiding injury, although the exercises in this article will help you along the way.

Here’s the last few exercises for you:

Plank Rows (Lumbar Stability):

Foam Roller Crunches (T-Spine Mobility):

Bosu Ball Push-Ups (Scapular Stability):

Wall Slides (Glenohumeral Mobility/Scapular Activation):

Of course there are many other movements you can use in your programmes this is just some of the ones I use with my athletes.

Now go get mobile!!


PS if you’re looking to learn more about mobility, strength and conditioning you should check my MMA S&C workshop on the 17th March  and my 3 day accelerated development coaching course on the 8-10 June they will both be great events along with the other workshops on the site too.

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  1. Gav March 3, 2012 at 5:43 am

    Great blog post Brendan. I got a lot from this and have even made some notes.


    • Brendan Chaplin April 5, 2012 at 8:25 am

      Cheers Gav hope your good mate :)

  2. benjamin March 6, 2012 at 12:00 am

    BRILLIANT! i was lucky enough to find out about mike boyle last year and have been following his programmes, i started using these drills in my clients programmes (warm ups) along with the foam roller at the start of the year and they have been a massive benefit to my programme design. there was one exercise i didn’t know about and that was the (Fire Hydrants), they look like a brilliant exercise i’ll start using it tomorrow!!

    thanks brendan.

    • Brendan Chaplin April 5, 2012 at 8:26 am

      Great stuff mate Boyle is great, lots of knowledge :)

  3. Brendan Chaplin March 7, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Thanks for the comments guys muchas gracias!

  4. Pingback: Watering down your S&C Programme?? - Brendan Chaplin | Brendan Chaplin

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