How to Achieve Optimal Mobility and Flexibility

Take a moment to think about your top fitness goals — did improved quality of movement come to mind? When we discuss fitness goals with our students at Stark, most people don’t think of adding improved quality of movement to their goals because it’s often forgotten about. Our chiropractors advocate for doing mobility sessions to improve your functional range of motion, but you don’t just have to take their word on it-  and Rolandas Mensikovas, the mastermind behind the training programs at Stark, also emphasizes the importance of prioritizing mobility and flexibility in addition to strength training before it is too late.

Improved Movement Should Be Prioritized

You can’t have optimal health without incorporating movement and a proper diet. Rolandas Mensikovas says, “Movement is something we’re fundamentally meant to do. We are designed to move. In the 21st century, we move less and more linearly in a very structured manner, in terms of programming.”

Think about it: you go to the gym a few days a week for approximately an hour before spending the rest of your week sitting down. Whether sitting in a chair at work, on your couch, at the dining room table, or in your car — your movement repertoire doesn’t expand during day-to-day life unless you prioritize improved movement.

in the middle of a gym, a man on his hands and knees arches his back up to mobilize his spinal vertebrae

What is the Difference Between Flexibility and Mobility?

If someone is assisting you with stretching your leg while you’re lying down, would you agree your leg is more likely to get into a straight position than if you tried to do the splits yourself? That’s the difference between flexibility and mobility.

Flexibility is passive, while mobility is active. Having good mobility means being capable of moving in and out of positions with control versus inactively being put into stretches. The body will only allow you to get into positions if it believes it’s safe to be there and if you have the strength to get in and out of that position. Mobility is the combination of flexibility and stability.

a man performs the pigeon stretch, where his front leg is in front of him, perpendicular to his chest, with the other leg back behind him, in order to stretch his hips and glutes

Flexibility and Mobility Issues Aren’t Structural

Rolandas Mensikovas says, “Flexibility and mobility issues are almost never structural. They’re not because your hamstrings are tight. It’s almost always a nervous system protective mechanism that comes from structures talking to the nervous system. For example, the joint capsule will talk to the brain first. And if the capsule is tight, it doesn’t matter how much you stretch superficial tissues: quads, hamstrings, whatever. If the joint capsule is tight and doesn’t have good movement ability, the brain will say, ‘my joint is tight so I will tighten up the tissues.’ Otherwise, the joint is vulnerable. It’s a protective mechanism.”

How to Optimize Your Training for Healthy Movement

There are a lot of details that dictate movements you can or can’t do — such as sex, age, movement experience, injury history, and tissue hydration status. The first step is testing to determine your starting point, like Stark’s orthopedic assessment with our chiropractors. Throughout your life, virtually everything you’ve done has tightened you up. If your goal is to get better, you need to focus on healthy movement!

You should start with long steady stretches to get your tissues to unwind. Your brain must understand that you keep asking it to get into a lengthy position. Hold those stretches for a long time, and remember to breathe! You aren’t really stretching anymore if you’re not incorporating your breath. You can go on walks outside if you feel like you aren’t connecting to your breath while stretching (walks help connect you to your breath).

After regularly stretching and when you feel your body is ready, you can begin integrating movement. This is called loading the stretches, which means controlling contractions against yourself. Make sure you’re loading the stretch and then holding it — you want your brain to get stronger in these positions. It’s truly about mind-body connection!

Mobility is Connected to Connective Tissue Health

Mobility is connected to connective tissue health — connective tissue health is connected directly to your state of health, breathing, state of hydration, and exposure to specific demands for that connective tissue. If you’re not doing anything that causes specific adaptation to that connective tissue, you can’t expect to get stronger tissue over time. From a connective health point of view, it takes anywhere between 18-24 months to have a complete turnover.

lying on his side, with his arms outstretched holding a grounded kettlebell for stability, a man performs a hip CAR, or controlled articular rotations

Please take your time when working to improve your connective tissue health. While no one workout will ever make a difference, every workout will cause some adaption. The process should be slow, long, and frequent. You’ll notice a difference in mobility and flexibility over time if you continue to repetitively stretch, incorporate a healthy diet, and do workouts that cause the joints to change over time due to continuous demands (repetition over a period of time). If you need help or want more personalized guidance when it comes to improving your mobility, consider mobility sessions with Stark’s chiropractors!