I firmly believe that all people need to train strength and mobility. If you’re older than ten, but younger than dead, regular strength and mobility training should be part of your routine three to five times per week.
The only exception is if you have a job or hobby that provides vigorous and regular movement for the whole body. Sorry, keyboard warriors, typing does not count as grip strength training. Craning your neck into the dreaded iPosture as you play Angry Birds on your phone does not constitute neck mobility.
Without strength and mobility training, your body will quickly turn into the human version of a rusty, sputtering El Camino that always veers to the right and only has one functioning gauge.
It’s hard to keep track of all the great Chinese men throughout history who have said some really good s**t, but one of them once said, “you are only as old as your spine.” If your spine is as rigid and fragile as an old piece of rotting wood, your prognosis for quality of life isn’t so good. You won’t be winning any limbo dance contests, and you have probably stopped gracing the world with your sunny smile. And most importantly, you’ve probably lost your ability to play. This is not ideal.
If you don’t have mobility in your spine (or anywhere else for that matter), your body is literally rusting. It’s getting all bound up like the hinges on old door that hasn’t been opened in 10 years. The answer is pretty simple: Open the damn door! Or at least start wiggling it back and forth.
If putting on your pants in the morning is your 1 Repetition Maximum (RM) then you are in serious need of some strength training. I’m sorry that we live in a cold, cruel world where gravity is a schoolyard bully but nobody can change that. Since we can’t change it, we have to do our best to cope. And strength training is the closest thing we’ll ever come to anti-gravity, unless you’re an astronaut.
Too often, males tend to migrate toward strength training with little to no mobility training, and women tend to migrate toward mobility training with little to no strength training. As far as I’m concerned, every woman should be able to do a strict chin-up, and every man should be able to do the splits.
GIRLS: Strength training will not make you look bulky and/or manly! Strength training makes men look like men, and women look like women. You can thank your hormones for that.
GUYS: Mobility/flexibility work will not make you grow a vagina. It will make you badass a la Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Bruce Li.
But enough with my Socratic philosophizing. Here are some practical tips:
1. Add volume to your mobility training
– Would you expect to get strong by doing only one set of squats in a workout? Likewise, don’t expect to get hamstring flexibility if you only touch your toes when you drop the soap in the shower. I usually do 3-5 sets of every mobility exercise.
2. Add frequency to your mobility training
– To maintain current flexibility, one session per week is sufficient but to gain new ranges of motion (especially as an adult) you need to train mobility 3-5 times per week.
3. Do active/dynamic stretching
– Static stretching is for cooling down and relaxation. A limp noodle may be delicious, but we’re trying to MOVE, not imitate a puddle of water. Active/dynamic stretching is when you have muscles engaged in the lengthened position. This is the type of useful increases in range of motion that you want for a cold, cruel world.
4. Stretch the longest kinetic chain you can
– Fascia spans the entire length of the body, from head to foot. The most bang for your buck will come when you stretch the entire anterior, posterior, or lateral chains. Rotation is a great way to increase the stretch on a kinetic chain.
5. Build strength where there is flexibility (use resistance)
– Consider flexibility training to be strength training at end ranges of motion. You’ll obviously use very little, if any resistance when you start, but building strength where there is flexibility means that we will always have the capacity to control ourselves in the end ranges of motion, and not suddenly be transformed into a ragdoll or a fish out of water when we go into the middle splits.
6. Do compound movements for maximum physiologic benefit
– Tremendous benefits for bone density, body composition, muscular recruitment, hormonal response, and metabolism. Bicep curls alone won’t have the same effect.
7. Control the eccentric (lowering portion)
– Because we’re in the business of fighting gravity, and you’ll get greater strength gains and more time under tension if you control the descent.
8. Change parameters every 4-6 weeks
– Too much shorter than this, and you may not have reaped the full benefits of your program. Too much longer than this and you’ll stop seeing results. There are a thousand ways to tweak this. Set range, rep range, tempo, grip positioning, angle, exercise choice, range of motion, etc.
9. Train to technical failure, not muscular failure
– If you look like a newborn giraffe with Parkinson’s, it means you’ve gone way past technical failure and are engraining terrible movement patterns deep into your psyche. Stop that.
10. Repetition number determines physiologic effect
– About 1-5 reps will give you some hypertrophy but will primarily give you increases in strength without a large increase in muscular size. Olympic lifters and gymnasts often stay in this repetition range and boast incredible levels of absolute and relative strength.
– 6-15 reps will primarily give gains in muscular size. Most body builders spend much of their training using these rep ranges.
– 15+ repetitions will primarily give you increases in muscular endurance. There will not be as big of gains in muscular strength or size.
– These are only general guidelines and help make sure your training protocols are in line with your goals.
Please leave a comment below if you have any questions or thoughts about this post!