For many years I have employed a mobility series prior to each day's training. Over the period I have refined the selection, and as we will see the mobility exercises employed borrows heavily from yoga. This practice is designed to serve two distinct purposes. Clearly one key objective is to prepare the athlete for the session to come. The second function is to allow the coach, practitioner and the athlete themselves to discern how their body is moving on each day. In turn this can serve to guide any self therapy or performance therapy intervention needed to address the area of restriction or altered function detected during the course of the athlete's daily mobility routine.
This practice is far from unique - many top coaches and practitioners, particularly in track and field athletics, customarily employ mobility exercises as part of the warm up prior to each daily session. Moreover, variations of the exercises employed have been a part of practice in pursuits such as yoga for centuries.
A notable example is AltisWorld where the warm up routine is designed to serve as a daily screening process. The protocols employed by each of the coaches at Altis features an element of mobility - the selection of exercises may differ somewhat but mobility remains a key theme.
That said, in other sports the use of mobility exercises prior to training and competition has perhaps fallen out of favour due to the fear of blunting speed and power expression with the use of static stretching.
There are two important points to note here. First, mobility exercise are somewhat distinct from static stretches in that the athlete actively moves themselves into the postures, and indeed in many of the mobility exercises the athlete is actively weight-bearing. In this sense, mobility exercises can more accurately be categorised as dynamic flexibility.
Moreover, the mobility routine is followed by the dynamic part of the warm up that comprises drills and other activities (e.g. running, jumping) of increasingly intensity. This is important to note, based upon the finding that where a blunting effect is observed following stretching, this effect is transient and is eradicated when the stretch protocol is followed by dynamic activity.
With respect to the selection of mobility exercises, as the pictures illustrate a key theme is spine mobility, or more specifically the articulation between each part of the spine, and associated structures - in particular pelvic girdle and shoulder girdle.
It is also important to note that these movements and postures involve not only musculoskeletal structures, but also connective tissue and myofascial structures. For instance, a number of the exercises involve different portions of the thoracolumbar fascia that serves as a corset and natural back belt, in addition to providing points of attachment for numerous muscles of the shoulder girdle, trunk and hip complex. For these reasons some have taken to 're-branding' such mobility exercises as 'fascia stretches'.
It is the quality of these articulations and the coordinated function and motion of these structures that is the focus. What is optimal with respect to range of motion will differ according to the sport or athletic event, and will also depend upon the functional anatomy of the individual.
As such, rather than emphasising range of motion, the key indicators are rather the quality of the motion and how evenly the range of motion is 'shared' between each segment of the kinetic chain. That said, we can expect there to be some level of chronic adaptation in response to this daily practice, so that improvements in mobility (i.e. active range of motion) will be observed over time.
By extension it follows that the most sensitive 'detection system' for any areas of restriction or altered function is the athlete themselves. Practitioners speak about athletes who are 'body aware'. This can be further defined using such terms as somatic awareness, proprioception and kinaesthetic sense. Whilst it is critical that the coach and practitioner remains diligent about observing the mobility routine each day (and the dynamic warm up that follows), the athlete is also an active part of the process of detecting and notifying what they are feeling and any perceived restriction or altered function.
With mindful practice on a daily basis the athlete can become more highly attuned so that they are better able to discern daily changes. Over time we therefore observe that athletes become better able to self-screen with a greater degree of sensitivity and specificity. The mobility routine thus serves as a daily calibration.
Mindfulness is a key element in this process. Given that the athlete is the critical player in the process by extension it is hugely important that they are fully invested in the process and 'tuned in' when they complete this routine each day. Clearly there will be very little sensitivity in the detection system and very sloppy calibration if the athlete is not paying full attention and taking appropriate care with how they are performing each exercise.
Conversely, when the athlete is fully engaged in the process and in their daily practice, the mobility routine can be a highly effective tool to help the athlete to 'tune in' and enhance their mental and physical readiness for the training session to follow.
Over time this mobility series therefore becomes a ritual that is an integral part of the athlete's physical and mental preparation. At competition time this becomes highly valuable as a means to focus the athlete, whilst also providing welcome diversion and a tool to help combat pre-competition anxiety.