Neuromuscular Mobility and Efficient Movement: PART 1 ‘Definitions’

BY JAMES HONEY, STRENGTH & CONDITIONING COACH, PINNACLE PERFORMANCE


Many modern lifestyles inhibit and prevent people from being able to move fully and freely. Sitting at a desk for hours on end, rotating between the bed and the sofa, and generally giving the body no opportunity to move, create a recipe for movement dysfunction and mobility disasters, not to mention an increased injury risk and reduced quality of life. Enhancing this capacity for movement is therefore an essential component of any training program which aims to improve health, wellbeing and performance. The following will outline how we at Pinnacle Performance implement specific mobility based work, and some of the science behind it.


The term ‘Mobility’ is often misunderstood. The following definitions can be referenced when understanding what exactly it is, and how we can best implement training to enhance it.


FLEXIBILITY: The absolute range of motion (ROM) of a joint or series of joints; passive ROM.

STABILITY: The capacity for the body to recognise a movement pattern or position, and remain controlled and safe throughout .

MOBILITY: The capacity to use a full ROM through a dynamic movement. The combination of adequate flexibility, with a component of stability, allows for the use of this ROM through an active range; active ROM.


To outline these components in some detail, lets look to the images below. The first set of images is an all-fours rockback. This is a very nice way to assess the flexibility required to complete a squat pattern, and will expose any areas which are lacking ROM. Essentially, this is a dry-run of a squat, completely taking gravity out of the equation and therefore allowing the full passive range to be shown. The key areas to look for are the major joints involved; hip, knee and ankle. This is a great tool to asses what an individual’s true squat should look like and whether there are any restrictions to further assess and correct. If the person can get their hamstrings to touch their calves then the same should be possible in their squat.

The next images are of a kettle bell ‘Goblet Squat’. This should exactly replicate the previous squat depth shown in the all-fours rockback. If this depth is not replicated, then it is very likely a neuromuscular stability issue to be addressed. The human body is one large protective mechanism, and will work hard to preserve itself against anything it perceives dangerous. In the sets of images, we can see that the hip, knee and ankle position found in the passive test is perfectly replicated in the active movement, showing adequate stability through these joints and the torso, showing perfect mobility.

If this were not the case however, with perhaps the hips higher or the hips tucking under, then we can deduce that the body is working hard to protect the spine by creating extra tone (tension) in the hamstring muscles/general hip and posterior chain musculature to prevent a potentially dangerous position occurring. Essentially, if you have not taught your body that a deep squat is completely safe, and you spend everyday sitting down on a chair with no movement or mobility stimulus occuring, then your body will stop you from squatting.

Generating stability in a movement pattern is quite a simple process, however it does require consistent repetition to ensure the pattern is ingrained. Think about learning how to drive or ride a bike. The first few times, the movement feels completely alien, however the more often you practice, the more it becomes second nature.

In our example above, the Goblet Squat is actually an incredibly efficient way to improve the squat pattern, as it provides an anterior shift of the centre of gravity of the lifter, allowing for a more vertical (and neutral) spine, whilst teaching appropriate midline stability and torso positioning. Breathing through the drill is a very effective way to reduce any inappropriate neural tone, as is utilising a large pause at the bottom of the squat. Motor learning is enhanced through a variety of routes, so using mirrors for visual feedback, a box as a depth marker, breathing as a tool for relaxing the nervous system, and appropriate cueing where necessary will all speed this process up.

Of course, the mobility we have discussed here is referring to the broad topic of ‘efficient movement’ and not just a squat, which can refer to everything from touching your toes to sprinting 100m. The fundamentals discussed are essential to refer back to when learning or teaching any sort of movement, considering the definitions of mobility, flexibility and how stability links the two.


Stay tuned for Part 2 on neuromuscular mobility and some more of the science and application behind it.

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