Johnny O'Connor: Mobility the key to better lifting
This week, Johnny talks about the need to sort out your mobility and flexibility before hitting the weights room.
It seems that almost everyone out there has common goals when it comes to fitness and conditioning. Everyone wants to be bigger, everyone wants to be stronger, everyone wants to be more powerful and everyone wants to be faster, but what people often ignore is the ingredients necessary to achieve those goals.
The most common thing that people neglect to pay attention to is mobility. They get sucked into programmes and the search for quick results rather than paying attention to stretching and improving their flexibility and ability to get into certain positions without compromising form.
Rather than look for a quick fix, it can be beneficial to step away from the weights room for a while and get your problems sorted out. If you are stiff or tight in certain areas, try and improve the mobility there rather than adding weight to what is already a dysfunctional area. If you’re moving poorly in a particular exercise, there’s no point adding weight to it because it’s the fastest route to an injury.
Same old story
Pulling back from the weights for a while can be a good idea. Most people starting weights get the same introduction to it as I did. Basically, you go into a gym, you see some buff guys doing some exercise and you try to copy them.
You don’t have any guidelines in terms of form, only something you read in a magazine, but your ego leads you to throwing on weight after weight after weight onto a bar, you think you’re doing well but all of a sudden you’ve a bad back or sore knees and you’re wondering what you did wrong.
Rather than hurt or embarrass yourself, step back for a few weeks. Be honest with yourself and leave your ego at the door. Go to your physio or see a physical therapist and get them to screen your movements and see where your form is a bit awry so you have a bit of direction as regards what areas you need to be focussing on.
Attack those areas specifically for three or four weeks and you’ll see the improvements when you get back to your regular routine, you’ll find that you can move more efficiently, you can get into better positions and you’ll be far more comfortable lifting weights.
There are plenty of different ways to improve your mobility. Guys from a gym in San Francisco called San Francisco Cross Fit, for example, have uploaded a series of videos on YouTube concentrating on improving the mobility of different parts of the body. Below is one on how to improve the mobility in your ankle, but there are loads more on different parts of the body if you want to browse through them and see what suits yourself.
It’s not as if you have to be spending hours and hours on these areas either, 20-30 minutes a day is plenty. A good way to improve mobility in areas that need it is combining foam rolling with stretching. I’ve mentioned how beneficial I find foam rolling in previous articles and it’s something that I do every day.
When I first got a foam roller, I only used it for cracking my back and it was just through ignorance that I discovered how it can be beneficial elsewhere. What you’re looking to do is improve your tissue quality, which is vitally important. If you have poor tissue quality, your movement patterns and subsequently, your performance, is affected.
When you find a knot in your muscles, roll the foam roller over it until you break it down. It is slightly painful, but only in the way that a massage can be painful if your trigger points are hit. Anyway, it’s good for you, it’s beneficial for the entire body, it helps you move more efficiently and is great for relaxation and recovery.
Work on the areas you feel you need to. If you don’t need to target your hamstrings, don’t. If your glutes are bothering you, spend more time on them. If your left side is tighter than your right, maybe do twice as many reps on the left side on your quads, hamstring, glutes or whatever muscle group is bothering you.
Not everyone can afford to have regular massages, but foam rolling is an excellent equivalent. Sometimes even the likes of a hockey ball or a tennis ball can work as well. If you are to buy a foam roller, I would advise buying a higher density one. You get used to the ones that aren’t as dense after a while to the extent that doing it with a wavin pipe would be as effective.
Foam rolling works best when you have a good stretch afterwards. Let’s face it, stretching isn’t awful exciting and it can be hard to convince people to do it, especially after a hard session when all you want to do is relax. The more you stretch, the more mobile and flexible you’ll be and it’s not as if it takes an age to go through the stretches for the various muscles in the body. 30 seconds on each side for every muscle every day is all it takes.
Yoga has been mentioned as a great way to improve flexibility and it is a great medium when applied correctly. To be honest though, I find that there is often more quantity than quality in a yoga class and as people are divided up into beginner, intermediate and advanced groups, it’s based more on skill levels than the needs of individual bodies.
If you want to save time and money you might be better off focussing on the areas that need attention on your own rather than in a class. From personal experience, I’ve found a combination of foam rolling and stretching more effective than yoga, but it’s each to their own really.
Johnny O'Connor plays professional rugby with Connacht. He has previously played for London Wasps and has made 12 appearances for Ireland. He is also a certified strength and conditioning coach. Johnny regularly posts articles from top strength and conditioning coaches around the world on his Twitter page. Click here to follow Johnny on Twitter.