There’s a movement afoot that talks about mobility in terms of a fitness regime.  It’s something that as a former dancer and a practicing physical bodywork therapist I am most passionate about as it helps to monitor and keep the body in check on many levels as a ‘prehabilitation’ or preventative modality for injury.

With any movement comes three main factors of performance.  Power (or output as I prefer to label it), Stability and Range of Motion are the keys to any movement execution and any healthy operation of a functional activity. 

There is so much known about developing POWER and building more power, training power movers, targeting power muscles.  POWER POWER POWER!!!  It’s the glamour-puss of the physical realm.  It’s the blue ribbon 100m sprint, the 50m swim, the shot put throw or the heaviest squat.  But it is foolish to believe that you can focus on one aspect of the equation without having to address the others.

To be able to perform a movement you must have a stable base to operate from, whether this be a well placed foot, a stable hip for a kick, or a stable shoulder girdle for a throw.  This was well drilled into me as a dancer with instructor and teachers always reiterating ‘forget about the working leg – concentrate on your supporting hip’.  It’s often hard when you are really trying to push that leg higher, get that kick longer or throw that ball further.  You want to put all your energy into your working leg/arm, when actually you need to focus on keeping that supporting stable base solid so that the POWER generated is focussed into action.  Without a stable base, any power acting on the object is dissipated as stability will downgrade the results of power acting on a movement.  Indeed in the body, stability will steal from power, recruiting power movers to stabilise rather than being recruited exclusively for power.  Stability is so often the key to good movement patterning and getting that stability is often the point of so much preventative and rehabilitative exercise work.

Without Range of Motion – power is useless.  If you haven’t got the capacity to move something across a range of motion, your ability to generate power is diminished significantly.  Power = Force x Velocity.  Velocity is measured as displacement of an object over time.  ie you can move something quickly through space.  Without the ability to move an object through space you have diminished your power output.   Thus, Range of Motion or the ability to generate movement of an object through space is vital to the power equation. 

Take for example a catapult.  If you increase the arc of movement that the boulder you are flinging (if you want to go mediaeval), you increase the speed at which it travels.  To do this, if you can increase the length of the arm of the catapult, you are able to generate a further throw.    

So how does this relate to our bodies?  Well we have to make sure that as much time as spend on developing strength, or power, we also attend to the other elements of stability and range of motion.  Range of motion exercises are loosely defined into three categories:

1)   Passive Range of Motion

2)   Active-Assistive Range of Motion

3)   Active Range of Motion

For the purposes of this discussion we are focussing on the Active Range of Motion that an athlete exhibits in moving his own joint space through a desired pathway. 

So in order to do this – an athlete is required to maintain the joint space movement.  One of the ways to do this is flexibility training.  Targeting muscles and ligaments through sustained and passive stretching to increase the length of structures.  In exercise terms stretching and range of motion are two very different types of beasts.  So for the sake of the article, let us qualify that Range of Motion exercises are more about trying to encourage a joint to move across it’s full axis of movement. 

Range of Motion exercises are not stretches – they are in fact ‘movements’.  Patterns of movement that keep our joint spaces open.  A full squat for example requires the knees to fully bend, hips to extend and the spine to flex.  If we don’t go into this range of motion often enough, our joints become unable to perform the movement with ease.   They are unused to moving across such a full arc of movement and so when they are required to do so, can become irritated and even broken if we do not have the correct support to enable the action. 

So moving knees through a full range of movement is vital to ensure that you can do a full squat.   A range of motion exercise regime would encourage movements that encourage this full movement, without sustained stretching or heavy load.  Air squats for weightlifters, grande plies for dancers, Malasana in yoga are all examples of taking a range of motion in a controlled environment and without excessive load or strain (as in sustained pressure) to encourage freedom of movement. 

In this way, range of motion aims to encourage full joint operation without stress or load.    In this way you see people doing sequences of movements in controlled and consistent patterns and rhythm without excessive holds and load.  Tai Chi, Vinyasa Yoga, Qigong – these are all examples of a range of motion exercise pattern that aims to keep the joint spaces open and operating freely. 

We can build this into our own regime via simple ‘sequences’ that we can incorporate into our daily regimes.   It is not about doing lots of sustained stretches and flexibility work, but moreso about a more free flowing sequence of movements that work through our major joint spaces, practising the full movement capacity of each joint. 

In any sport or repetitive motion, you have to perfect your technique – that is the way you do something.  Drilling technique via repetition is one of the only ways to ensure that a movement pattern is rehearsed and finely tuned to ensure the consistent and functionally correct way of performing an action.  So keeping this in mind, if we are able to repetitively train our joints to maintain their full capacity, it should in theory lead to a better operation when indeed we have load or extra stress (resistance) brought into the equation.

So find a good way to incorporate some Range of Motion into your routines – even if it is 10min before your workout, swim, bike or run.  Work through the range of motion you need your body to operate and you may find yourself being thankful for years to come.