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Mobility Work – Injury Avoidance, or Injury Inducing?

The odds would have it that if you are someone who exercises regularly, be that in the weight room or in the park, you probably do some form of a warm-up. The odds are higher still that out of those warm-ups, most would include mobility work in some form or another. Designed to get muscles activated and blood flowing,it has become a required staple in any well rounded program, helping prep us for activity and exercise.

Personally, I’ve included some form of it for the better part of 8 years now, it being a main part of the first program I completed when I started taking all this stuff seriously. Since then, gym environments have changed from me looking like a fool rolling around on the ground, to just being another person doing their warm-up.

It’s not just us weekend warriors either, with most pro-teams including some form mobility work before games and practices, doing anything they can to get the edge over the competition. All this is driven by cutting edge research and sports science that is striving to reduce athletes chances of injury and increase their performance.

But is it actually working? Is mobility work the key to staying healthy? Or has the research gone too far down one rabbit hole searching for possible benefits without stopping to see what risks it’s digging up in the process? Lately, I’m not so sure…

If my understanding is correct, which I think it is, mobility work in warm-ups is designed to help build strength within smaller muscles of the body, along with increasing the activation ability our central nervous system to those same muscles. This, on first look, does make sense. If we take the abductors for example, we can target this muscle group by including banded lateral walks in our training, and this is something that you will regularly see in a pro-teams warm-up. Injuries within this muscle group have been on the rise for some time now, so strengthening this muscle group through this exercise is a good way to go, right?

Well, maybe not. Some coaches and scientists are now starting to think that these injuries might not be caused by weakness at all and actually may be driven by overuse and over-activation. This is huge; not only does it mean that mobility work might not be the best use of our time, but it might also be increasing our chances of injury.

And although this isn’t a very scientifically verified post so far, some quick back of the envelope calculations can validate it somewhat.

Anyone interested in sports will know that the general consensus is that injuries, particularly of the knee, hamstring and adductor/abductors have been on the rise for some time now. I thought for a long time that this was a little biased, that we were just remembering the more recent cases easier than the old. A bit of digging around shows otherwise…

Looking to the premier league, I compared the number of player days missed due to injury across two time periods – the seasons between 2007 and 2009, and the seasons between 2012 and 2015. During this time, the number of days missed each season went from an average of 12,987 to 19,796 – a rise of over 52%. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge fan of the English premiership and ignorance to the sport could have me missing something huge, but these numbers paint an interesting picture.

If the money spend on sports science and the time dedicated to getting players “healthy” through mobility work has done nothing increase, why then have we seen a statistically significant rise in player days missed due to injury? Truth be told, I don’t know. This is just one man sharing his thoughts on a topic that he used to feel so sure about.

Right now, my warmup includes no direct mobility work whatsoever. For the last six months I’ve warmed up by spending 5 minutes on a stationary bike, doing 10 side-to-side and front-to-back leg swings on each leg, and spending about 5 minutes doing track based drills before hitting the weights. And you want to know how I feel? Better than ever. This is despite my training being drastically higher volume and working on average 60-65 hours a week.

What does all this mean? Really, I don’t know, and I don’t mean to say that mobility work is useless, or that you shouldn’t be doing it during your warm up. As I’ve said already, this post is far from verbatim and it really is just a dump of my thoughts on the topic of mobility as part of a warm up.

I am excited to see what future research will bring to light when it comes to mobility, and hopefully overtime my thoughts on it will clear up somewhat, because right now I don’t know what to think!

What about you?

Do you, like me, think that mobility as part of a warm up might actually increase our chances of injury?

Does this make you think a little differently about its positioning within your program?

Think I’m wildly off the mark with this one?

Leave a comment and let me know!


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