How to Understand Mobility and Prevent Injury

Rich Froning Lifting


So, we know we need to move dynamically into and out of the position we want to improve, we have two choices on how to do so: actively or passively.

-Actively – we use our own strength and control to get into the right position – if we could do this, we would not have a movement restriction/mobility issue and probably would not be reading this article.

-Passively – we somehow get our bones into the right position using assistance, either another human being or some sort of tool/prop/momentum. The assistance can put us into ranges we could not achieve actively.

Using passive movement we are able to bypass the brain’s panic buttons by gently encouraging movement into new range (not forcing it). This is because we are not using the paranoid and tense primary muscles surrounding the joint, which would put the brakes on as soon as they realised what was going on. As a result, we can get the joint to feel new positions that it would otherwise never experience – giving the brain lots of information to prove that the new position is not as dangerous as it previously thought.

So we know that passive movement is a sneaky way of expressing our joint feelings to our beloved brains.  What else can we do to convince it that the new position is safe? As ever, we can learn a lot from babies and kids. The younger years are by far the most rapid learning phase of motor skills (and pretty much everything else), why?

Because kids are not scared to make mistakes. When learning to stand and walk, they fall over. A lot. In lots of different ways. Each time they do, like Thomas Edison, they are learning yet another way that does not work.

The brain realizes “when I lean over to the left too much, I fall over. Next time I’ll try contracting muscles on the other side of the body to correct it and see how that goes”, but in far more dimensions than we could consciously comprehend.


We can use the same idea in our training by adding variation into our movements. Instead of squatting with a perfect set up each time, play with foot position, twist them out, twist them in, go wide stance, narrow stance, one foot further forward than the other – every time you do, you are teaching your body how to get in and out of a squat-like movement with more extreme “errors” than you’re likely to ever face in a regular squat.

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This gives our brain confidence that it can handle almost any squat and by comparison our regular squat will feel super comfortable.

Improve your movement – task focus

Passive movements, with a lot of variance, what is next? Task focus. Another way of ensuring the movement slides under the radar and avoids getting shut down is to take our attention away from the joint we are working on. By driving the movement with a different part of the body, we are we not thinking about the joint we are working on, increasing the chances of keeping those muscle contractions reactive and not conscious/pre-emptive.

We want to avoid predicting the movement as if we do, the brain will tense the muscle up prematurely, preventing us from feeling end range.  A sly way of doing this is to give another limb something else to concentrate on.

By concentrating on moving our hand, we let our subconscious deal with the joint feelings we just happen to be creating in the working shoulder, learning which muscles need to be fired automatically, rather than having to think about it first. This is far more useful than getting the muscles to work only when we think about them – imagine trying to consciously contract shoulder stabilisers when performing a heavy snatch – not likely.

When focusing on a task, you can supercharge its effectiveness by being very accurate. For example, being very precise with the floor touches.  This is why using markers to aim for during drills is a smart move.

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By adding a focused element of coordination we are teaching the muscles fine motor control (skill) in the new range of motion. The reason this works is that to produce small accurate movements, the brain needs to fire just the right number of muscle fibres, and by building experience of how many muscle fibres are required, it sends a signal to the brain “we need to use this position well, so get comfortable here.”

This is often referred to as a ‘neural notch’ – essentially a specific length of muscle where it is accustomed to contracting from so will happily default to. This is why yogis are incredibly flexible in the hamstrings but usually have poor vertical jumps, and why basketball players are the opposite. They have developed a lot of skill (and a big neural notch) at different muscle lengths so are very proficient at using one but not the other.

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