by Erin Looney, DPT
I want to spend a little bit of time talking about 3 essential areas of physical wellness – MOBILITY, STRENGTH, and STABILITY. All too often one or two of these is overlooked. This is what makes the human body more susceptible to injury, leading to compensation, overuse, and ultimate breakdown. Part of my job as a physical therapist is to guide my patients toward restoring the BALANCE of all 3 of these elements – key word being balance. This conversation has risen to the forefront of my thoughts over the last 2 months, both personally and professionally.
After several encouraging “nudges” from students, patients, and friends, I have finally jumped head first into the world of CrossFit. And believe me when I tell you, it has been awesome! I’m not sure why it has taken me this long to come around and give it a try, but I’m happy to say I’m finally there. One of the things I love about CrossFit is their understanding, and more importantly implementation, of these 3 essential areas of wellness. We spend a good portion of each class on each of these areas. My friends at Rugged CrossFit (ruggedcrossfit.com) truly get it! I have had to work mostly on my joint mobility in my hips and overall strength, but for some of my fellow Ruggedeers it might be shoulder mobility or that all-too-forgotten-about thoracic spine. Does it really affect the way your shoulders work? WHOA NELLY, it sure does! It’s been 7 weeks and I feel great! I have seen changes each week, which are largely due to my coaches’ implementation of these 3 essential areas of physical wellness. Refreshing to say the least!
So, let’s break it down, starting with mobility. Mobility refers to the body’s ability to move. That means that both joint mobility and flexibility are important. This is one area that dancers excel in. While, I don’t envision all my patients being able to hold their foot over their head, I do think there is a lot we can learn from dancers. They spend a lot of time working on their flexibility and joint range of motion. They truly have a great balance of mobility, strength and stability. While stretching (dynamic and static) is a large part of mobility, it’s not the only way to improve. Addressing soft tissue restrictions (“knots”) through self maintenance practices is also important. Foam rolls, massage sticks, lacrosse balls, and the SOMA system are all great tools to help us accomplish this. I use acupressure and Graston techniques with many of my patients which also address mobility restrictions. Allowing the body to move into greater ranges of motion will enable you to begin to make strength gains in these newly gained ranges.
Would you rather have difficulty getting in and out of a chair, or have the mobility to easily get up and down off the floor whenever you want. I mean that’s a no brainer!
Next, let’s talk about strength. I think most of us have a pretty good idea of what strength is. Keeping your muscles healthy and strong is important. However, one of the areas I see lacking in most of my patients’ routines is the lack of strength variation. Doing the same routine each week is not healthy, nor does the body make gains as quickly. Variation is key. Cross training (yes, all my runner friends) is key. Adding this concept to your workout will allow you to progress more quickly. The sky is the limit!
And lastly, stability. This seems to be an area of confusion for many. Stability has to do with the timing and firing of the musculoskeletal tissues. For example, when you lift and hold your arm overhead, it’s not just the muscles that lift it up there that are working, it’s also the rest of the muscles that hug the joint . Does the rotator cuff ring a bell? The rotator cuff is largely involved in stabilization and therefore involved in almost all arm movements. Don’t only work the big muscles at the expense of the little guys! When everything is firing at the same time the joint is well supported. Would you rather have your joints cracking and popping through movement, or have a nice smooth motion? This is where balance and proprioceptive exercises come in to play. Using free weights, kettle bells, and lower body balance equipment can help you step up your game.
In my world of PT, restoring a healthy balance of these 3 is what I spend most of my time doing. For those of you not in PT, working on a healthy balance is the key to preventing injury. So next time someone talks to you about the importance of foam rolling, stretching, and stabilization (most overlooked), try not to think of it as nagging conversation, but as a step in the right direction. In order to change the way you feel and look, you have to change the way you train and think!
Until next time,
Dr. Looney is a Physical Therapist at Boston Sports Medicine