By Kathi Havlicek, MovNat Team Instructor

Mobility training is often thought to be only for people who:

  • are really tight
  • have trouble to get anywhere near, for example, a Deep Squat position
  • are afraid of “wrong movement,” since this is often associated with pain due to straining unused muscle range of motion

But there is also a different side concerning Mobility training; a side that’s less obvious and has nothing to do with gaining more range of motion itself.

There are people who can get down into a Deep Squat with ease. They relax down there. Whereas, the former group struggles to get anywhere near that range of motion. But some people of this group, who can flex and extend themselves into crazy positions with ease have a different issue: insufficient control in their end range of motion to protect them from injuries / inflammation. I used to be one of them.

In martial arts, it was quite fun to see people look at you with disbelief, when they attempted a lever technique and your respective joint just kept moving with the lever without apparent unease of the person who was at the receiving end of the lever technique…me. Until, yes, until it was too late. There was no warning, no initial stretching sensation. There was only one point where it all was too much – the point when you hit the end point of that joint and when you start clapping/submitting. At that moment, even the fastest reaction time of your training partner was unfortunately not quick enough to avoid mild damage as your joint simply couldn’t go any further. As a child and teenager, it took me awhile to recognize the point where to submit; once I got close to my joint’s end range and before my strength failed in order to avoid the lever to accelerate into my end range. 

When I moved on from Judo to martial arts such as Iaido, Jodo and Kendo, including training-weapons (Iaitō / Bokken – training swords,  Jō – stick), I was taught another lesson. I developed wrist tendonitis on both sides, which accompanied me for almost 2 years. In the worst phases, I wasn’t able to hold a pen without significant pain – tricky for writing exams during my studies – until I found a physiotherapist who put into words, what I realized before but didn’t know how to address properly yet. He told me I was lacking strength, especially in the end ranges of my joints. And I had a tendency to be hyper-mobile. This fact in combination with explosive movements such as hits / “cuts” with those weapons caused the inflammation.

So, he gave me the advice to stop stretching (yes, I could still experience stretching sensations in my forearms when stretching my wrists) and to build up strength for my active range of motion (the range I could actively lift into against a resistance).

I got rid of my inflammation and lost some “range of motion,” especially in my wrists in the last years, but I gained so much more: good mobility in my wrists, meaning the strength and by that freedom to load my wrists in the required angles during crawling, pushing overhead (weights or stabilizing myself in a handstand) and performing explosive movements without injuring myself. 

What I learned through this and aim to teach others in order to avoid the same long journey I had to struggle through: mobility training (improving access of your active range of motion) is not only for those of you, who struggle to get deeper into a position, but also for the ones who can access positions with ease but have a really hard time when aiming to hold those same positions at 98% of their end range. At 100% of your end range, we just stabilize through our joints, not muscularly. Therefore, get out of that range slightly and see how you fare with actively holding and also moving there.

So, generally speaking, for your Mobility Training – no matter if you are really tight or really flexible – with training, we want to create adaptation. If you experience no challenge during your training, be it a mild stretching sensation, muscular exertion, or coordination struggles, you are unlikely to work in a range / intensity / volume / complexity that will lead to adaptation. Be mindful that you don’t need all of those at the same time though.

With regard to Mobility, when you have a tendency of being tight, you will most likely experience a stretching sensation first and possibly also a muscular exertion. When you are more on the flexible side and you move with ease through the mobility exercises, look for the points / positions of your joints where you experience muscular exertion and work more in those ranges to build up your joint stability.

On the subject of how to improve your personal Mobility, MovNat currently has two great Mobility E-Courses led mainly by Danny Clark. Both the basic and the advanced program provide really nice tools for how to improve mobility and access a more active range of motion with practical movement patterns. Moving through these guided sessions provided me with more insight to where I built up excessive tension over time, and I was able to reduce that tension by following along. Additionally, I noticed transitions, which felt easy when moving through them, became challenging once I paused close to my end range – indicating where I can still better protect my joints by building more strength close to my end ranges. Thanks for these insights! :)

About the Author

Photo credit: Sigrid Aicher Photography

Katharina Havlicek is a MovNat Team Instructor, MNOC Coach, and Level 3 MovNat Certified Trainer at Sporthalle Wien, one of MovNat’s licensed gyms located in Vienna, Austria.

Kathi carries our MovNat fitness concept in her heart and knows playful and creative training elements lure even adults into practice. She relies on coffee, but even without a caffeine kick, she’s always full of energy. You can follow her on Instagram at @KatharinaHavlicek.

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