In Part One of this post, I shared the first two mobility myths with you. They covered foam rolling and self massage tools, as well as stretching.
If you missed those, you might want to click back to Part One and read that first.
In today’s Part Two of this break down of common myths about ‘how you become more mobile’, I’m sharing insights with you on two particularly cantankerous myths…genetics and yoga.
I know, the yoga one, eep. Here we go…
How To Improve Your Mobility
What if I am just naturally stiff and inflexible?
Mobility as determined by your genetics is myth number three about mobility.
It’s probably true that you weren’t born with Neil deGrasse Tyson’s intelligence. But it’s also true that Neil didn’t just sit there with his big brain knowing he was already as smart as he could be. He took what he had and he grew it.
While you might think you’re just unlucky in the genetics department for mobility, you’re actually not likely at your genetic endpoint yet, and here’s why –
Your nervous system sets your “current mobility” (your range of motion you have within your control) much lower than your maximum. It’s as if it’s a well-meaning, but overbearing mother who helicopters around her child keeping them “safe” from everything.
This happens via the stretch reflex, which you experience as a tightening sensation when your nervous system senses that you’re exceeding your normal range. And that’s a totally fair thing for your body to do, because without it, you’d injure yourself all of the time.
The stretch reflex acts as a ‘central governor’ mechanism and is trying to keep you safe by keeping you well below your threshold. So what decides your threshold?
- Your previous experiences, ie, the positions you are in most frequently are what your nervous system will set your threshold around.
- Your muscle’s ability to function at that particular range of motion, ie, if you don’t have control and strength in that range of motion, it’s going to be disallowed by your nervous system
In order to bump your threshold up, you’ve got to teach your nervous system that you have control over those ranges that are just outside of the current threshold.
This means creating a safe environment for your nervous system to respond to stimulus, then exerting force into your tissues at their current end ranges, then heading through the window that opens up as new range of motion is granted.
Over time, these new ranges of motion you’re capturing become your new ‘normal’. If you’ve never done training like this, begin with my Unbreakable Body: Jump Start Program. You’ll get an introduction to this method of training and see your mobility start to grow accordingly.
Which type of yoga will make me more mobile?
I’m saying it right up front, the conversation around yoga is a bee’s nest. It can be wonderful for helping you clear your mind, center yourself, and find peace amidst a busy day. It also can be a hot mess of poorly executed ‘stretching’, ‘flexibility training’, and ‘mobility work’.
When talking with colleagues who are yoga teachers and who dig into the science of how the body becomes more mobile, they agree, there’s a lot of room for improvement in how yoga can be a training tool for mobility.
One friend and yoga teaching colleague said it best, “One way yoga can possibly help you tap into your mobility is by giving you some parasympathetic stimulation (ie, help you chill out) that reduces the overall tonicity of your muscles. Is that what most yoga is doing today? No.”
If you’ve been reading along in Part One and Part Two, you already can see where there are holes in how some classes present yoga, but let’s recap it here –
- Static stretching does not teach your nervous system how to control the new range of motion you’re trying to access. This includes laying in one position for several minutes.
- Mechanically changing the length of soft tissue (by being pushed further into a stretch, for example) does not change the structure of the soft tissue.
- If you’re always starting back at ‘baseline’ every time you do mobility work, it’s a sign you’re not giving your body the stimulus it needs to maintain new ranges of motion.
As I said in Part One of this post with regard to passive stretching, while it alone is not helpful for improving mobility, it does help some people to relax and bring themselves more into their body. And that’s wonderful.
Some yoga is leveling up these days to incorporate more active work and end range strengthening, and those are the classes worth seeking out.
Now that I’ve covered these four mobility myths, there’s a chance you’ve thrown your hands in the air and said “this is too complicated, forget it!” It’s ok friend, realizing that your body is far more complex than you imagined it to be can be both overwhelming and incredibly exciting, when you consider just how much you can learn and influence in your body.
You’re not stuck with mobility that sucks, unless you decide you are.
You can get smarter with your training time, which means you end up not wasting your precious time on stuff that isn’t moving the dial.
When you realize your body is complex – and you choose to engage with it and learn about it and take care of it – the world of what’s possible opens up tenfold to you.
To continue your learning, you can do a few things…
My online Unbreakable Body programs guide you through smart physical training help you improve your mobility and strength. They’ll also teach you how to take care of your body yourself, so that you can create your own activities and workouts that will support excellent choice if you want to take the reigns as caretaker of your body, while being supported in the journey with custom programming and continuing education.
No matter where you take it from here, go forward with the intention to become ever-wiser about how you spend your time as the caretaker of your body.