The Mobility Formula
Season 3 Episode 5 Transcript
Movement, mobility, flexibility, strength… these are all familiar words, but how do you know if you’ve got em’? And why should you care? The second question is easy- the way I see it, movement is medicine. And I mean that literally- I have some examples:
Now, as to whether you’ve got good movement- I have a pretty simple formula to determine where you fall on the mobility spectrum, because make no mistake, it IS a spectrum! The formula is this:
Flexibility - Strength = Mobility
Let’s dig into this. Don’t think of it like math class! This is a formula that’s about YOU, and how you work. So try to apply these pieces of the formula to yourself. Ready? Ok:
Mobility is movement. This is what’s after the equals sign. This is what we’re trying to get to. Mobility is what lets you move confidently through your world. And it’s made up of a number of different factors, that pretty much are facets of either strength or flexibility.
Mobility (movement) requires flexibility of your muscles and tendons and ligaments. We don't always think of the connective tissue, the ligaments and tendons, when it comes to flexibility but they’re very much involved and important.
When you’re not actively doing anything with a muscle, it’s called being “at rest”. When you contract the muscle, it shortens and moves a joint. This is called flexing. Then, when you’re done moving the muscle, it has to lengthen or extend to straighten the joint back out, which is actually done by an opposing muscle flexing the other direction- think biceps and triceps. One bends your elbow, the other straightens it. You can also open lots of joints past their resting length, which we call stretching.
Ligaments and tendons need to be flexible as well. These are pieces of connective tissue, the white stuff on anatomy pictures, that connects muscles to bones, and bones to bones. It’s white because, unlike red muscles, it doesn’t get much blood flow. A healthy diet and good hydration are important to keep connective tissue lubricated and flexible, and flexible muscles allow for their proper movement too.
All this ability of muscles and ligaments and tendons to lengthen is your flexibility. Sometimes, even lengthening TO their resting state can be a challenge if the muscles have been in a constant state of contraction. The muscles get stuck in a tight state because they’re not moving and exercising and being strong. Plus, the state of your muscles IS the state of your tendons, and the ligaments can get dry and brittle and stiff if there’s poor circulation happening in the joint because it’s not moving much. For example, do you have trouble walking barefoot? It could be because your calves and your feet have been contracted to help you balance against a shoe heel for your whole life, so you didn’t fall flat on your face!
On the flip side, damage or injury can cause inflammation in connective tissue, and the swelling that comes with that can further inhibit flexibility. Not to mention, the lack of blood flow to connective tissue means it won’t heal quickly so these problems can linger.
So improving your flexibility is a critical piece of mobility. The other piece of the formula is strength.
Strength is the power you have to either move or hold a joint still against resistance. Again, think of the biceps and triceps, and imagine you’re a baker. Your biceps come into play when you, say, stir a batter with a big spoon. You use your triceps to push the elbows straight when you’re kneading bread. And when you pull a tray out of the oven, you tend to hold the elbows in a bent position and use your back and legs to stand up and then put it on the counter.
I think most of us understand being strong. Here’s the kicker, though: strength and flexibility work against each other. This is why our formula is “Flexibility - Strength = Mobility The stronger you are, the less range of motion you will have around your joints. For one thing, this is because of the sheer mass of the muscle impeding the movement- the bulky muscle gets in the way of the movement. Also, the strength of the muscles pulls on the joints in both directions, so they can’t open or close as far. It’s like a swinging door- if the hinge is set too tight, they won’t swing as far or as easily.
This means it’s entirely possible to be overly tight and lose mobility because you are too muscular. However, that’s not usually what happens! Very few people train and work their bodies to this point. What’s much more likely in our world is to lose strength from NOT moving as much as we should or could be. Then, what little muscle you have left hangs onto the joint as tight as possible for dear life, trying not to let the joint become unstable and fall apart.
So lack of strength will lead to lack of mobility because of the tightness it causes around joints, and also because that tightness leads into decreased flexibility as well. It’s a vicious circle that gets balanced out when we incorporate THREE pieces into our daily movements, whether they’re traditional “exercise” or the normal life movements we already do frequently. And those 3 pieces, dearest listeners, are another topic for another episode. Tune in again to my Holistic Lifestyling show, and learn how to balance your strength and flexibility- next time.
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Fun Fact: I'm an herbalist and a movement coach. Not a doctor, or a pharmacist, and not pretending to be one on TV.
This is a public space, so my writing reflects my experiences and I try to stay general enough so it might relate to you. This does not constitute medical advice, and I encourage you to discuss concerns with your doctor. Remember, however, that the final say in your wellness decisions are always yours- you have the power to choose, you are the boss of you.
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This website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not medical, mental health or healthcare advice. The information presented here is not intended to diagnose, treat, heal, cure or prevent any illness, medical condition or mental or emotional condition. Working with us is not a guarantee of any results. Paula Billig owns all copyrights to the materials presented here unless otherwise noted.