When many people think of mobility they tend to think of stretching; you know, the classic sitting on the ground trying to grab your toes and making the pained grimaced face of someone who wished they had payed more attention to their flexibility years ago.
And while stretching and flexibility definitely have their place within mobility, it’s certainly not the whole picture.
We define mobility as the ability to move the entire body freely and naturally.
Just because you can stretch one appendage really wide does not mean you have good mobility. Lots of people trade off flexibility with strength. Being flexible without the strength to offer stability can lead to injury. Equally, being strong but lacking the full range of movement can do the same. And if you are lacking in specific endurance for a movement both flexibility and strength will fail you eventually as those muscles fatigue.
So we need it all for good mobility; endurance capacity, strength, range of motion, and agility and co-ordination.
When your mobility is on point, movement becomes easy.
General mobility work, like yoga, pilates, movement flows, etc are a great starting point for keeping our joints healthy and increasing our range of motion. A good all round strength programme should give us the stability needed to support this range of motion, correct any muscle imbalances, and help with muscular endurance. And a dedicated balance practice will help with co-ordination and to tie all these things together.
Muscle tightness and injury are two main causes of a reduction in mobility. This is not the platform, nor am I the person to go to for dealing with specific injury, so consult a professional for this.
Muscle tightness is pretty common though and can be caused from a variety of situations. Overuse, fixed positions, poor technique, poor posture, and post exercise muscle soreness can all contribute to that tight muscle feeling.
There are a variety of tools now available to us for self treatment and aiding increased mobility, and the following are 4 of my top tools that I use regularly.
Many people have commented that my mobility tool box looks like an Ann Summers party.
Although they may look like sex toys they are not.
Except for one.
Voodoo Muscle Floss Bands
These are basically latex bands that act like a compression band on steroids. They are wrapped around the muscle or joint and the muscle/joint is then put through a range of movement or used alongside other mobility tools such as rollers.
This does a number of different things. Firstly, it helps to break up any adhesion that might occur in the muscle fascia allowing the muscles to glide pass each other easier. This is where it got its name ‘Flossing’, clearing the crap between the muscle surface.
The bands are also utilising something called Ischemic Compression, whereby the bands temporarily restrict the blood flow to the applied area. As the muscle/joint is moved, blood will start to collect above the wrapped area, and when the band is released this new fresh blood floods the affected area to aid recovery and flush away any gunk.
The bands also ‘distract’ the joint, creating more room in the joint capsule itself, allowing freer, easier movement and the potential flushing of the joint with lubricating fluid.
These bands are also used to help with some inflammation of joints.
Just be careful and do your own research on how to use them. You are essentially using a tourniquet, so be warned.
To my mind nothing beats the well practised thumbs of a burly masseuse, but sometimes time and money are a concern. It’s definitely money and time well spent, as I talk about here, but not always practicable.
This is where the massage gun can come in handy. Basically it’s a small machine with a rhythmic attachment that pummels the desired muscle. The theory is that it helps to increase blood and lymphatic flow, release lactic acid, break up former scar tissue, relieve muscle spasms, and activates the nervous system to that area. Many people also use it as a warm and/or cool down method.
Not all massage guns are created equally so do a bit of research on them.
My all time favourite one isn’t a massage gun at all, but an attachment for a standard jigsaw, yes as in power tool. I love it because it’s pretty severe and great for getting into those big muscle groups like the quads and glutes. I also use it on the underside of my foot to ease out the plantar fascia and to really mobilise my big toe.
Sadly my jigsaw broke and I haven’t gotten around to getting a new one yet, so I bought a cheap purpose built massage gun from amazon. For 20 quid it’s not bad, nowhere near the power of the jigsaw, but this makes it more suitable for more delicate areas (Get your mind out of the gutter! That’s coming up next). But stay away from boney bits!
The thing I can’t stop thinking about when I use it though is how much it reminds me of the Anal Intruder from the film Top Secret!
The Magic Wand
This is a cheap rechargeable version of the acclaimed Hitachi Magic Wand. It came out in the late 60s as a legit massage tool for relieving sore muscles.
Almost instantly the device was repurposed as a sex aid, and clearly a bloody good one too. In fact, huge numbers of scientific papers have been written on the effectiveness of the magic wand for sexual arousal, even for those with anorgasmia, where orgasm cannot normally be achieved. But I digress…
It turns out that those Hitachi boffins of the 60s were on to something.
This little tip came to me from @timferriss, a fellow sufferer of elbow tendon issues, and now I pass it on to you.
When the wand is set to it’s highest setting it appears to deliver just the right amount of hertz to relax muscles in a hypertonic (chronically tense) state. Simply hold the wand onto the main body of the muscle (not where it attaches to the bone and tendons) for as little as 10-30 seconds.
Now, an original Hitachi model will set you back upwards of 100 quid, so being a bit of a cheapskate I looked for a budget alternative. There are many.
The one pictured is cordless, rechargeable, batman black, and had very good reviews online. None of the said reviews had anything to do with hypertonic muscles mind you. But I thought I’d give it a go at £20.
It seems to work well for the method above. I also like to use it on my more sensitive areas. (STOP IT!)
I use the percussion gun for massaging various places but it is too harsh on the more tendon and boney parts. The wand is great for these areas, in fact I used it around my ankle this morning to aid a bit of healing blood flow into a site of injury.
One thing to be aware of is that it’s HUGE, and pretty damned loud, so if you are a little shy about these things just know it’s not a ‘hide in your handbag’ affair. It did come with a fetching pink carry pouch though.
This sounds unpleasant, doesn’t it? I’d like to say it’s not but that would be a big lie. But it does feel amazing once you’ve done it. So what is it?
Gut smashing is to your abdominals what foam rolling is to your legs. In short, its a way of doing self myofascial release on those delicate stomach muscles by using a ball rather than a roller.
You don’t want the ball to be too hard either, but it needs to be tough enough to take your weight. I use one of these small, football sized yoga balls. They cost a couple of quid and don’t burst.
The trick is to lay on the ball, take a deep breath, then release the breath and allow the ball to sink deep into the tissues of your trunk. It is one of the most disgusting sensations when you first try. I honestly couldn’t tell whether I was going to be sick or shit myself the first time. Thankfully I did neither, and neither have any of my clients to date, so don’t panic.
As with foam rolling we are looking to spend some time on those areas that you really don’t want to spend time; the gnarly, gristly feeling bits. You’ll know when you are on them, don’t worry. Contract against the ball on the areas then let the ball sink into you some more. Move systematically over the whole area, not forgetting the sides.
You’ll feel all manner of disconcerting tugs and jabs, as well as the odd sensation of feeling your blood pulsing.
We hold so much tension in our core and this is a great way to address it. Gut blasting helps to unglue that adhesive tissue, break up scar tissue, and lengthen out hard to stretch muscles. It also stimulates the Vagus nerve, which plays an major role in our parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest aspect related to chilling the hell out.
As an asthmatic I find it helps release the tension around my diaphragm making me breathe easier.
It’s brilliant to do before bed to aid sleep, after grieving heavily, and after a heavy lifting session. Not so good on a full bladder, or if you a pregnant, obviously. Also avoid doing BEFORE a lifting session as you may find you lose a little of your core integrity.
Here’s Kelly Starrett again showing it:
And one final thought on gut smashing; warn the other inhabitants of your house that you are doing it. It can be quite disconcerting for people to walk in on you, heavy breathing, groaning, and grinding your nether regions into a ball. (And to be clear it’s your abs, not your nether regions anyway.)
So there you have it, 4 of my top mobility tools, and a hefty dose of sexual inuendo. Who knew mobility could be so risqué.
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