Now that we have gone over some different factors that contribute to our range of motion (http://www.ehmobility.com/blog/mobility-what-is-it-and-what-inhibits-it), let us go over the different tools that we can use to clean up poor mobility.
#1. The bracing sequence
I cannot stress this enough. The very first thing you need to do to enhance your mobility is to get your spine in a braced and neutral position. Do this by going through your bracing sequence: Squeeze your butt. Squeeze your belly. Keep your belly squeezed and now unsqueeze your butt. Going through this sequence establishes the strongest position for the human body. It will maximize your potential not only for flexibility, but also strength, endurance and power.
#2. Bands and banded distractions
In physiology, distraction is a term used to mean separating two joint surfaces away from each other. Not dislocating the joint, or even subluxating (a partial dislocation) it, just simply creating a little bit of space. When a joint capsule, or the muscles surrounding a given joint, become super tight, they can pull the joint surfaces closer together. Two big things happen when the joint gets closed like this: synovial fluid gets drained out, and the bones now get in the way of movement. Synovial fluid is an amazing lubricant. It is extremely slick, with the consistency similar to a raw egg white. Synovial fluid should prevent friction between the two joint surfaces, and it also acts as a medium for transporting nutrients into the cartilage. Every time you create compression in a joint, the synovial fluid should get pumped into the cartilage. Then, as the joint pressure releases, synovial fluid can fill back in. Think of this in terms of the knee while going up stairs, or of the elbows and shoulders during a bench press. But if this fluid gets squeezed out of the joint, and then that pressure remains long enough for your tissues to adapt to that length, the synovial fluid will not return until the pressure is released and normal movement begins again.
After this fluid has been squeezed out, there is no longer anything to prevent friction between the pieces of cartilage in the joint. They can now rub each other away until there is nothing left. Cartilage has very little blood flow. It gets most of its nutrition from synovial fluid. And while some kinds of cartilage do not appear to heal very well once damaged, SYNOVIAL CARTILAGE can heal given time and nutrition.
This is how many cases of arthritis may happen. The joint simply has too much pressure around it and rubs the cartilage to inflammation.
Using a thick exercise band is an extremely cheap, and infinitely useful, way to undo tightness in a joint. Simply anchor down one end of the band to something sturdy and stable, such as a squat rack, or steel door frame. Then, anchor the band in such a way to your body so that it pulls on the joint your are trying to affect. For example, if you want to pull on your shoulder, wrap the band around your wrist, turn your palm up to the ceiling, and then back up so the band gently pulls your whole arm straight out. This is not a strength exercise. Let your arm relax as much possible. Be lazy and let the band do all the work. All you need to worry about is holding your posture so that you do not get pulled over.
#3. Yoga Tune Up balls/ foam rollers.
Foam rollers have exploded in popularity since the early 2000’s. And for good reason. Even an untrained athlete who uses a foam roller in the most rudimentary way can reap massive benefits. You do NOT need to have a physiology degree to understand simple ways of using them. Foam rollers work to accomplish a few things, including rehydrating tissues to improve stiffness, and increasing circulation to help boost recovery time, along with giving an overall sensation of relaxation once you are done. Simply put, foam rollers are your own massage therapist, and the more you learn about to use them, the more benefits you can experience.
A general rule of thumb is that SOFTER IS BETTER. Using massage therapy tools such as foam rollers, for most people, does not mean trying to dig deep down into your tissues as hard as you possibly can. Listen to your body. Pain is your brain's way of saying something is wrong. So if you are going so far as to create a lot of pain, you should probably back off some. In addition, many foam rollers out there are rock hard. If you are unaccustomed to this type of work, this can bruise you and cause more pain. Even if you are accustomed to this type of work, using hard objects such as concrete blocks or lacrosse balls may harm you even if you can ignore the pain.
Yoga Tune Up balls are a much more refined tool, but function much the same way as foam rollers. They are pliable, grippy latex balls of pure awesome. They come in three different varieties: the originals, Plusses, and Alphas. In addition there is also the Coregeous Ball. The different sizes allow you to target different areas of your body with varying depths, which allows you you adjust depending on your pain level or what you are wanting to achieve.
#4. Compression Floss.
Compression Floss, specifically Voodoo Floss, is one of the most useful mobility tools out there. I specifically recommend using Voodoo Floss because it is grippy. Other types of floss may be smooth and can be difficult to wrap with because it slides down itself. Voodoo Floss does not have this problem.
Compression Floss should feel uncomfortable. If you aren't feeling anything when you use it, you have either done an extreme amount of work and need medical attention, or you have it on so lightly that nothing is being done. Wrap with about a 75% stretch around the area you want to change, working upstream and downstream of the area.
Floss accomplishes many things all at once. The compression will apply a deep tissue massage. The grippiness of the floss will pin down to your skin so that you work on improving sliding surfaces while you move the muscle underneath. It can drain swelling. It reduces your circulation for the duration of the wrap to help give a boost of fresh blood once it comes off. And if places around a joint, will create a joint distraction.
The downside to using Voodoo Floss: it can be pretty uncomfortable. It should only be used for about 2 minutes at a time, with a 2 minute break between wraps. I typically recommend going for two minutes on, two minutes off for 10-20 minutes.
And be sure to listen to your body. If you feel like you are going numb, or if you feel any other kind of sketchy sensation, please take the floss off and shake the body part out.
Contract-relax means taking a limb to end-range, and then getting your brain engaged to stop it from restricting your ROM. Sometimes, expressing certain ranges of motion is kind of like walking through uncharted territory. It can be scary, and there can be an almost unreasonable fear of future injury. Your brain/nervous system can quite literally lock down on tissues to create more stability for the sake of stopping your from stretching out so far when that range of motion has not been expressed in a while. But if you can take the limb to end-range, tense the surrounding musculature to engage your nervous system, you can get things to relax and let you go farther. Basically, I look at it as being that you take the muscles to a range your brain will lock them down at, then by engaging the muscles, you are showing that you can perform work at that range with no risk. Just my interpretation of it,
Oftentimes, muscles aren’t too short or dehydrated...they are just being held back by fear. The video below shows me using a contract-relax sequence to help improve shoulder extension: