Is Mobility Work Really Necessary?
Sure, that’s a controversial question, but with multi-level certification programs costing tens of thousands of dollars extolling not only the benefits, but the necessity of mobility work, something smells afoul in the exercise and fitness world.
Some questions need to be asked.
Before I get there, you should know that I used to do a lot of mobility work. A LOT. Multiple times per day. For years.
Now I do none.
Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
More about that in a minute too.
First, you need to know how I came to this conclusion, otherwise, you’d think I was just plain ol’ dumb.
I’ve spent the better part of the last decade looking for the perfect system of performance and rehab first and foremost for myself, and for my clients secondarily. The closest thing I know of is the RKC – the Russian Kettlebell Challenge system founded by Pavel Tsatsouline, which I joined in June of 2005.
However, even that isn’t perfect – it’s missing something.
I had struggled with right knee pain daily in every movement since 1989 when I dislocated my patella wrestling. My treatment was my coach putting it back in place, an icepack, and an Ace bandage. I was on the mat the next day.
I was trained in programming and technique by my weightlifting coach and by 1999 I had studied all the latest whizz-bang theories including “functional training,” and had gotten quite proficient at pulling my belly-button to my spine, to activate my Transversus abdominus, which according to Paul Chek, was absolutely necessary to protect my lower back. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell my left SI joint, which popped out or sprained or whatever from squatting with my belly-button pulled to my spine. Oops.
In the meantime, I had developed chronic pain in both knees. I picked up my back injury deadlifting in 2002. I left my job as a strength & conditioning coach and started my own business and was trying to qualify for Nationals again. (I qualified in 2000 but couldn’t go.)
From there, I devoted myself to studying the Optimum Performance Training program, with limited success. I got much more flexible, especially my hip flexors. By all measureable improvements, I had massive amounts of core stability and strength. I was a pro at all the correctives. Pick one, I could max out the reps. I had the strongest gluts in my little world.
But I couldn’t maintain the flexibility. I had a love affair with my foam roller (to quote my good friend Brett Jones) and then later my PVC pipe. I even knew all the stretches in my fancy stretch cage.
The writing was on the wall in January 2005. I was yet again making a run at a qualifying meet for weightlifting when I felt a sharp stabbing pain in my right hip – like someone stabbed me with a flat head screwdriver.
After months of joint massage, chiro, and physiatrist’s treatments, I went to get an MRI. I’d torn my labrum. The cortisone shot I got wore off the week before I was supposed to go the RKC. So squatting at my RKC was interesting to say the least.
By late 2005, my body had had enough. I had torn the labrum in my left hip that September and I could no longer squat or do any hinge movement like Cleans, Snatches, or Deadlifts without excruciating knee pain. Going to the bathroom was fun. I held on to the sink and lowered myself on the can and used my arms to get up. Did I say that was fun? I lied.
I got heavily involved in an outlier organization / certification in January 2006. We held the cert at my studio and after a private session with the system’s creator, I was completely sold. My knee pain and range of motion had greatly diminished. All from lying on my back and rotating my head and eyes to the right. Hold that thought, we’ll get back to that one – it’s very important.
I was so impressed with this system and it’s results I wrote extensively about it, told anyone who would listen, and even got it partnered up with the RKC.
In the meantime, I took my time studying the material I had paid $2000 for. My business partner and our trainers all signed up for the next level. My wife even got involved in this system. She’s a Physical Therapist and she found so much value in the system that she took all the courses offered, and even studied in their “master’s” program.
(As an aside, my wife is not only a tremendous athlete – Division 1 scholarshipped athlete in Volleyball – she is incredibly smart. Incredibly. She graduated suma cum laude from college while playing volleyball. She got a 780 out of 800 on the logic part of her GRE, and she graduated from the #2 physical therapy program in the country. Trust me, you don’t want to start an argument with her. I add in her bio so you know that someone with a medical science background has validated the conclusions you will read about shortly. And yes, I am aware that it was a true act of God that she married me.)
We had seen some remarkable changes in our bodies. On most days, my knee pain was gone, if not manageable. I felt hopeful about lifting heavy again.
In November 2007, I finally made my comeback after a 7-year hiatus from the platform. I snatched 10kg under my personal best. Not bad.
But from then on, things seemed to start going downhill. More and more complicated work was required to maintain my gains – to manage my pain.
Then it all hit the proverbial fan in the second half of 2009. I worked up to an all-time volume PR of 315lbs for ten sets of 5 on the Back Squat following Pavel’s “Hot Wheels For Summer” program. I took 2 weeks off, traveled to Hungary to teach an RKC, and then flew to San Diego for my wife’s RKC.
When I returned home, I stepped under the squat bar and almost got crushed with 225lbs. Plus, I was starting to get some of that old recurring knee and hip pain again. Especially in my left hip.
I was flabbergasted to say the least.
How does something like that happen?
I sought council from multiple people within my organization including the creator, and no one could provide me with significant reasons why this happened. Just more specialized joint mobility work was needed, that was all. Something smelled fishy to me.
In November of 2009, I called up my good buddy Brett Jones, and asked for his help, looking at my situation through the lens of a different system.
I flew up and spent a day with him and much to my dismay, I learned that for as much mobility work as I had done, and as much visual, vestibular, myofascial and proprioceptive retraining I had done, I was walking around with a “naked spine” – I had zero “reflexive core stability.”
Your “core” is made up of two parts – and despite the pet theories of the creator of the system I was involved in, it is fairly well documented that there is an Inner Unit and an Outer Unit. The Inner protects the spine and prepares the body in anticipation of movement – it’s subconscious, and the Outer does the “heavy lifting” so to speak. The subconscious protection of the spine in anticipation of movement is what’s called “reflexive core stability.”
It’s reflexive. And my reflexes were “offline” so-to-speak.
Needless to say, my a$$ was more than a little chapped when I discovered this.
I had spent so much time, so much attention, so much energy, and so much money learning this system only to discover that it had let me down.
As I started asking questions in the community, and making statements and assertions about the system, I started to get tarred and feathered.
People were saying that I didn’t know how to use the system; that I needed to seek the advice of “Master Trainers” (I was living with someone who went through the entire program but didn’t pay to become a Master Trainer.); that I didn’t complete the systems’ protocols, which aren’t etched in stone – they’re theories, trails that you follow, per the individual. (Case in point: One Master Trainer was working with someone to help his shoulder pain. She calculated that there were over 11,000 different combinations of drills to be done to help “fix” his shoulder. Seriously.)
All this got me to start wondering if the body was really as complicated to run and maintain as we were being led to believe. After all, Brett got me “working” again after just one simple exercise from his system. (Great system too.)
I started looking for the simple.
After 10 years of trying to fix stuff, I decided that I was either a complete idiot or that there was a lot of confusion in both the medical and fitness industries about how the body truly operated.
I leaned away from the whole “complete idiot” thing – after all, I have a BA. Sure, it’s in History and not the hard sciences, but my minor was in Philosophy, and that means I was taught how to think, reason, and deduce.
I was standing in the parking lot of my studio somewhere about this time with my buddy Tim Anderson, who I’d met through this highly complicated, very expensive certification process.
He was having chronic hamstring problems.
He had a personal consult the cert’s creator, who had led Tim to believe that the root of his hamstring issues were that his sunglasses were too tight and the pressure of them against his sphenoid bone, more specifically, temporal-sphenoid joint, was causing his hamstring to shut down via the dura.
Yeah, if it didn’t sound so scientific it’d be almost laughable.
At that point I looked at Tim and said, “Seriously?”
“I’m sorry dude, that just sounds like bullsh*t to me. I just cannot believe that we are that fragile.”
And at that moment, it was like a light bulb went off in both of our heads.
We started investigating another system independently of each other and Tim and our buddy Mike McNiff, who was in the expensive cert process with us, started putting some things together on their own.
When All Else Fails…
Easter of 2010, Tim came over to my house for lunch.
We got to talking about this stuff. Somehow we got on the subject of the one page in the manual of the third level of our expensive cert system. It was called “WAEFs – When All Else Fails.” And it was 2 neurological “triggers” that were supposed to reset the brain when all the joint mobility, visual, and vestibular drills failed to make positive changes for the individual.
• WAEF #1 was an acupressure point.
• WAEF #2 was the cross-crawl.
I looked at Tim and had my own personal “Eureka!” moment.
“You know what this means, Tim?” I asked.
“It means that if these are the “override switches” that always fix everything when everything else fails, then why not START the system here? Why all the joint mobility?”
He urged me to continue.
“It means that either [name withheld] knows that this works and he built a system to take people’s money by making it seem so complicated or he completely missed the significance of this. Either way, he’s either a liar or a fool.”
We immediately tested out this theory with the cross-crawl as it seemed to make the most sense intuitively.
The results? Instantaneous. We went out and played Frisbee before lunch and it was the first time I had run and jumped pain free since 1989.
So we started playing with the ever so-humble yet incredibly powerful cross crawl.
Mike and Tim were busy talking theories about the simplicity of the body and I was running my own independent “research” with myself, and my clients.
In April of 2010, my wife, Mike, Tim, and I all got together one Saturday and started playing with these theories.
I won’t bore you with the details, but through our experimentation, the following two things happened:
1. Mike, a Navy veteran, who’s suffered multiple concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder, had severely limited range of motion and pain in his neck. After one drill, he regained full neck ROM and thoracic spine rotation and the pain in his neck disappeared.
2. I, with “bad hips and knees” scored a full 21 out of 21 on the Functional Movement Screen, from applying one other drill. (I didn’t do the drill just before the screen – that would be cheating the screen. I had done it about 20 minutes earlier, achieved a pain-free Pistol, and then sat back down to discuss ideas with the others.)
All of our work was based on the human development process. How we grow from the moment we are conceived until we are about three years old.
At the end of the day, we came up with the following hypotheses:
1. We are designed to do certain things very well – walking upright is the primary thing.
2. The human body, although very complicated, is relatively simple to operate and maintain especially if you look at how we developed. (We all developed pretty much the same way.)
3. Modern science and the fitness industry, for whatever reason, has over-complicated the care and maintenance of the human body by hyper-focusing on different areas.
4. You actually have the innate ability to fix your own movement restrictions, asymmetries, and compensations on your own – you already know how to, the answers lie within your brain. You just need to “refresh your memory.”
And then we went home to test these ideas on clients and ourselves.
That was April 2010.
I won’t bore you with the details since then, other than we all, personally and professionally, have seen amazing changes in our bodies – from how they look to how they operate. And more importantly, how much easier it is to maintain them.
In 2011, Tim and Mike wrote a book called, Becoming Bulletproof, which is already starting to cause ripples in the fitness industry.
And instead of doing mobility work or “movement prep,” I do 4 to 5 drills, called “Resets,” that are in Becoming Bulletproof, which take me all of 5 minutes, 10 at the most, just to “shake” off all the sitting or lack of movement that I do.
Why do they work so well?
There are two simple reasons. In fact, they are so simple, you may be tempted to dismiss them. Do so at your own risk. For what I’m presenting to you here, right now, may be your very ticket to free yourself from the need to see “movement gurus” and “movement specialists” (Doesn’t that sound medical – almost gastrointestinal?).
Remember earlier when I said the very first drill I did with the guru system creator guy was lying on my back rotating my head to the right?
Well it turns out that movement stimulates your vestibular system. And your vestibular system is the key system in the human body – the one system that underpins all others. In fact it’s so important, that it’s the first of the body’s systems that starts forming inside a fetus a mere 21 days after conception.
Not only that, but the design of the womb – a structure in which fluid-filled sack grows, nurtures the continued growth of the vestibular system by allowing the fetus to move in all three dimensions.
And that is the key – all movement, especially head movement, influences the vestibular system. All of your muscles are tied to your vestibular system along with other areas of your body, like your head (which I already mentioned), your hands, your feet, and your core.
From your vestibular system, and especially from head movement and control, you derive your balance, coordination, and posture – also known as strength.
And aren’t all these the things we try to fix with our mobility drills and flexibility work?
We’re trying to gain a new range of motion or restore lost ranges of motion, or reduce stiffness or tightness
And that’s why I don’t do mobility work – at least not as most if not all in our community would define it.
I do work that stimulates the vestibular system, which then positively affects my balance, coordination, and posture, and as a result, my joint mobility.
Think about this for a second:
When you were a baby, you didn’t learn how to move by wiggling your joints in circles or cardinal points focusing on the perfect rep.
Your ability to move your muscles and to develop was a very simple process:
• Kicking and flailing to tummy time with head control.
• From there you learned how to roll over.
• Then pull yourself up to kneeling.
• Then you crawled and pulled up to half kneeling and standing.
• And from there you walked.
There was no “joint mobility” work.
The fact is you were born mobile and all your developmental movements were designed to gain stability – which is both the subconscious and conscious control of the body. We can also call this reflexive stability (subconscious) and strength (conscious).
So why do adults get stiff?
Our bodies’ lock down to overly-stabilize (protect) our joints due to our subconscious realization that we no longer can move as we once did. We no longer have the coordination that produces the ability to use our joints fully. This means you have lost some of your reflexive stability.
Therefore, we can conclude that the lack of mobility in your joints as an adult is due to a lack of reflexive stability. Regain your reflexive stability and you’ll regain your joint mobility.
Simple enough, right?
Frying Your Noodle
Ok, right now, you’re probably sufficiently confused, maybe a little frustrated at time and money spent doing joint mobility work and your lack of results, and wondering what in the heck you should do and how you should implement this information, right?
I would be. (Cause I already was.)
Here are some first steps:
1. Remember, movement is natural and easy, or is at least supposed to be that way. You were designed to move effortlessly and inside you is a system – your very own system – to help you move better. All you have to do is “remember” it.
2. Realize that “joint mobility” work, although helpful is an artificial man-made construct. You didn’t do joint mobility work to gain joint mobility, so you don’t need to do it to regain joint mobility.
3. You need to stimulate your vestibular system, and specifically your head movement, because by doing so, you stimulate your core, and therefore improve your balance, coordination, and posture, and also your reflexive stability drills.
4. Spend a little money on yourself – go spend $9.99 and buy Becoming Bulletproof on amazon.com and do the resets found in there.
Here’s a link to the kindle version – http://goo.gl/Q1yTg
And here’s a link to the hard copy – http://goo.gl/HZPtQ
You’ll notice an immediate difference by the end of today.
Of course you don’t have to buy that book, but it sure would help put to the test what you’ve read here today.
As Plain As The Nose On Your Face
You might be thinking that this is too good to be true – that something this simple can’t work or can’t work for you, or that I’m trying to “sell” you something.
First off, simple doesn’t mean valueless. Don’t mistake complexity for value. Just because something is complex doesn’t mean it has great worth. If you could get an “A” in a college course by taking one test or five, which would you choose? Do you want to jump through more hoops or less?
Remember, the more moving parts something has, the easier it is to break and the harder it is to fix. So it is with systems. We have lost the KISS principle – Keep It Simple Simon – in the exercise and fitness world.
Second, I am trying to sell you something. I’m trying to sell you on the belief and the practice that your body although complex, is simple to operate and you should look for the simplest solution. I am providing the start of that solution now, and will show you how to go even further later.
However, in the meantime, you undoubtedly want to know if this works for other people and if so, how well.
That’s the subject of my next special report. You’ll meet a woman, a miracle really, a cancer survivor. And she’ll tell you how well these resets worked for her. So keep an eye on your inbox.
My hope is that you found this special report challenging and liberating at the same time. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars making mistakes so that you don’t have to.
All I ask is that you re-read this special report and really think about how the information in here can really change your life for the better, and if you’re a trainer, the lives of your clients for the better.
Getting in shape and getting stronger doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it’s not. It’s simple.
There’s a beauty and freedom in this simplicity. I invite you to experience it for yourself.
Talk to you soon.