Mobility is defined as how a joint moves, or the ability to produce a given movement. It exists on the opposite side of the continuum as Stability, which is the ability to resist an unwanted movement.
Flexibility is defined by the length of a muscle. It exists on the opposite side of Stiffness.
The two are often confused. In fact some believe if they are flexible, they also possess great joint mobility. This is not the case.
Stretching your calf or pectoral muscles does not always improve the mobility restrictions of the ankle or shoulder joint and in some cases mobility is structurally limited with no amount of Corrective Exercise or Stretching being able to improve it.
As a component of a fitness screen, both mobility/stability and flexibility/stiffness should be checked. The outcome of the screen is what you get to work with.
The screen is the foundation that the coaching of movement lays atop and holds true whether you subscribe to the train movements before muscles, or muscles before movement tribes.
During the initial screen I take the client through several simple tests to see how they move. The purpose of each screen is given as well as the coaching cues. Some screens require less coaching than others due to simplicity. If the client runs into issues performing certain moves I keep going through the screen and re-visit the problem technique using finer approaches. This is the value of having more than one source of education in screening and corrective exercise approaches.
It still surprises me when I’m told “this is the first time a trainer has done any sorts of test with me.”
During the screen I note the clients relative tightness (flexibility) and asymmetry (mobility),figuring out their learning methods and determining if we will get along. If a person is complaining and whining throughout the screen I know I’m not the coach for them.
I follow the “Joint by Joint” approach first introduced by Coach Mike Boyle. My approach being from the ground up and involves the major movement patterns found in exercise. The results of the screen drive the warm-up (the what and why of things) and sets the stage for how training is presented and progressed (the how of things.)
Multi-faceted client needs are dealt with via a multi-faceted approach and no two clients share the same warm up or program. Daily homework is assigned and kept to three moves at most.
A few personal notes on Mobility training.
Chronic pain in a given range is an automatic referral. If the pain has been medically cleared then work within the pain free range. This may involve exercise modifications or complete changes of exercises. The ability to adapt on the fly is key.
In the case of frozen shoulders, going into the pain range may be a necessity in order to break up scar tissue. These cases can be stressful to both the client and trainer and I highly recommend against inexperienced trainers taking on these clients.
Range of Motion is client defined. Achieving 90 degree squats may not initially happen and progress is measured one inch at a time. This is OK.
Keep homework simple and accessible. “Grease the Groove” (frequent,irregular sets not performed to failure) works quite well here. Like many things volume and consistency are key. The client may be totally new to exercise and not have a great deal of fitness equipment lying around the home.
Loaded and Unloaded Mobility training have their places. Get your mind off the weight listed on the stack, the size of the Kettlebell or the number of plates on the bar. This is about competency before intensity and even low loads can be performed with client appropriate levels of intensity. Load is not the only variable you can adjust.