2 Advanced Strategies to Rapidly Improve Your Mobility and Make it Last

By Danny Clark, MovNat Performance Director

Do you want to move beyond just becoming more flexible, but also more coordinated, controlled, and capable in life?

Are you frustrated with a lack of progress or inspiration in your mobility training?

Are you ready to take your base mobility to the next level?

If so, we want to help you! In this article, we will give you to the tools, including arming yourself with key scientific mobility knowledge, of how to take your foundational mobility skills to the advanced level. 

Improving your mobility not only makes you more capable in life, but it gives you the confidence and creativity to take on more movement possibilities. Mobility training can be both a fun and frustrating endeavor. For example, unlocking an advanced movement that at one time felt impossible to you, such as the Bent Sit to Deep Squat transition, can be extremely empowering (and practical)! 

But, all too often, you may find yourself working on mobility for long periods of time and making little to no meaningful progress…or worse, even set yourself back. How frustrating! Fortunately, there’s an easy solution: adopting *new* and more advanced strategies that give your body the stimulation it needs to continue to change and adapt.

Making the Move to Advanced Mobility Training 

Our goal at MovNat is to help you simplify the process of becoming more mobile and thus, more capable and confident. In the early stages of building a base of mobility, making big progress is often as simple as spending 5-10 minutes each day moving on the ground practicing MovNat’s simple and practical ground movements. Our best selling course MovNat Mobility helps you go a step further by organizing your practice into simple, progressive, and accessible classes designed to help you reach specific mobility goals and milestones. 

As your brain gets used to these new positions, you can learn how to relax into them and experience rapid progress. Simply by tuning into your body while moving on the ground in the basic sits, kneels, squats, knee hand positions, and lying positions – especially while practicing relaxed breathing – will get you far.  

But sooner or later you are going to hit a plateau while coaxing your body to get super deep into these same, base movements. This is the time to introduce more challenging movements into your practice.

In this article I’ll help you make the move to advanced training through these two key strategies:

So, let’s dive in.

Strategy #1 – Challenge yourself with harder Natural Movement transitions

Since the majority of progress in mobility happens in the brain (see more about that in the “nervous system” section below), it’s important to change up the movements after they feel comfortable and familiar.  Even if you still need work on the basic movements, such as the squat, kneel, or tripod transition, switching up the movements just in itself can help keep the progress coming at a higher level due to its ability to keep you motivated and engaged.

One way to improve your mobility practice is by making movement transitions more challenging. For example, challenging yourself to transition from Side Bent Sit to a Deep Squat can not only help you unlock a new transition, but also help improve each position (SBS and DS) independently. The trick here is that this novel transition gave you motivation to put yourself in very unfamiliar ranges of motion and learn how to accommodate them through better mobility (range of motion, coordination, and control). As long as you were ready for it (having an efficient Side Bent Sit and Deep Squat is a good prerequisite) you probably felt a whole new sensation in your body and explored new and meaningful ranges of motion. Try it by following the video below:

Challenging yourself is one of the keys that keeps progress coming and drives you into the attaining advanced levels of mobility, bit by bit. But, there’s another important piece of the puzzle that helps you unlock higher levels of mobility: awareness and understanding of your body’s mobility systems. 

Strategy #2 – Acquaint yourself with the three mobility systems of your body

First, let’s go over the three primary systems of the body that create our mobility:

1 – The muscular system, which is responsible for producing the force required by the movements.

2 – The nervous system, which is responsible for regulating how far the muscular system relaxes (ie, stretches) and also for signaling the force and coordination of the muscular system to execute the movements.

3 – The fascial system, which is responsible for holding everything together (along with bone), via connective tissue, as well as providing the elasticity to make the movements more energy efficient and powerful.

All three of these systems have the potential to change dramatically (ie, adapt) but require the right “dose” of stimulation to do so (and not get overstressed, leading to injury).

When using basic strategies, such as simply moving through various positions and transitions that challenge your mobility, you are naturally engaging all three systems at a basic level.  But you are especially engaging and changing your nervous system. 

As an example, do a Deep Squat to Deep Knee Bend transition.

In the early stages, you are most aware of your nervous system which has the strongest ability to change quickly and produce improvements. But, working primarily on the nervous system makes for rapid progress until the learning becomes less engaging, as we discussed in the last section. So, how do we work on all three systems equally?

Becoming increasingly aware and connected to each of these three systems allows you to be more deliberate, precise, and even scientific with how you train. Therefore, awareness helps you more efficiently make the progress you want. 

Try out the following drills to become more connected to your 3 mobility systems. We’ll use the Long Sit Forward Reach as an example.

1 – Nervous System: Targeting and Relaxing

Sit on a bolster in Long Sit and reach as far forward as you can. Now in your mind’s eye, connect to the limiting factors in your body for reaching forward. For most people, this will be (1) the ability of the hamstrings to elongate and (2) the strength of the hip flexors to rotate your pelvis forward. Visualize and feel into these two areas, then actively change the position of your body so that you feel the stretch all in the back of your legs (and minimally in your back). Your spine can be slightly flexed, but only if you don’t feel much of a stretch anywhere along your back. Your knees can also be slightly flexed, but only if necessary to allow the rotation of the pelvis. This requires you to actively use your strength to tilt your hips forward. More bolsters can help you use gravity instead of muscle tension, and help facilitate the relaxation of the targeted area. Once you feel the stretch in the right spot, stay here and just focus on relaxing the muscles that are being stretched – not forcing, but steering. While connecting to your hamstrings, talk to them and ask them to release. Breathe deeply and feel the sensation of them relaxing. Optionally, you can add some slow transitions in and out of the forward reach to continue to connect to muscles that support the movement. Do this for 1-2 minutes or 10-20 breaths.

Why it works: The brain’s participation in feeling into the movement and making the appropriate adjustments (relaxing muscle, controlling muscle, adjusting sensation [1,2] etc) is what makes the improvements happen more quickly, precisely, and efficiently. The more your brain gets used to doing this, the more you adapt and become more mobile. Giving yourself a full minute or more in a position or transition maximizes your ability to build awareness and learn while not stressing your tissues too much.

2 – Muscular System: Reaching

Now that your nervous system has relaxed your muscles a bit, you can actively reach forward as far as you can.  Hold the end range of motion for 3 full seconds, feel the engagement of your muscles pull in one area (front of hips) and releasing in another (back of hips and legs), then back off.  Repeat 3 times.

Why it works: By using extra force to push yourself beyond your limits achieved by relaxation alone, you become stronger in new ranges of motion.  This stimulates the body to make longer term adaptations in both the nervous system (stretch reflex inhibition [3] ) and muscular system (better muscle fiber recruitment in active muscles, more structural changes, i.e. sarcomeres in series, to elongate stretched muscles [4] ). Three 3 second holds is one example of a strategy that I’ve used with myself and my students in order to make rapid progress. 

3 – Fascial System: Bouncing

Finally, and ideally only after you’ve done the aforementioned drills to ensure safety, you can reach and “bounce” softly at end range of motion for 10-15 reps.  Feel the way your connective tissue, like a rubber band, elongates to get you extra far, then rapidly contracts to shoot you out of the movement.

Why it works: Connective tissue is inside your muscles, inside your joints, and also attaches your muscles to each other and to bone. It’s everywhere! While connective tissue is lengthened during all types of stretching, studies show that “ballistic” movements are an important component of improving range of motion, though the mechanism of change is still unclear [5,6]. Regardless, martial artists have been leveraging the power of ballistic stretching for years to achieve super human flexibility. It’s just important not to overdo it with too many repetitions or without a proper warm up. Ballistic stretching has gotten a bad rap over the years, mostly due to improper application, but in my experience, it’s one of the most effective ways to increase mobility (when combined with the other drills).

Here’s a video to show you these three drills in action.

NOTE: You can follow the same awareness drills we used for Long Sit here with any movement or movement sequence.  When performing a movement sequence, it’s important to pause at the various positions within the sequence, then make the transitions as smoothly as possible and at various speeds (slow, medium, fast) as you work through the drills listed above. 

Putting It All Together

As you implement these strategies, it is important to listen to all of your body’s sensations when practicing any new and challenging movement. If your body communicates sharp pain, you are probably not ready for that particular drill or you need to make adjustments. Keep practicing, use regressions, and spend some time doing other movements; just don’t be afraid to circle back to a movement that used to cause you pain and reassess. 

Ultimately, the best way to increase your mobility is to apply new movements and movement sequences into everyday life situations. You can start in a controlled setting such as the floor, but then once the adaptations are earned safely and progressively, you can increase the complexity and challenges infinitely by training in nature.

Interested in taking classes that will boost your mobility to the advanced level? You’re in luck! MovNat Mobility Advanced is an engaging and systematic way to improve your mobility with challenging, yet practical, next-level sequences.

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[1] Andreas, Konrad “Increased range of motion after static stretching is not due to changes in muscle and tendon structures” Clin Biomech 2014 Jun;29(6):636-42

[2] Weppler, Cynthia, “Increasing muscle extensibility: a matter of increasing length or modifying sensation?” Phys Ther 2010 Mar;90(3):438-49

[3] N. Mrachacz-Kersting “Acquisition of a simple motor skill: task-dependent adaptation and long-term changes in the human soleus stretch reflex” J Neurophysiol. 2019 Jul 1; 122(1): 435–446.

[4] Morgan, David “The addition of sarcomeres in series is the main protective mechanism following eccentric exercise” September 2002 Journal of Mechanics in Medicine and Biology 02(03n04)

[5] Nele Nathalie Mahieu, “Effect of static and ballistic stretching on the muscle-tendon tissue properties.” Med Sci Sports Exercise 2007 Mar;39(3):494-501

[6] Andreas, Konrad, “Effects of ballistic stretching training on the properties of human muscle and tendon structures” American Physiological Society July 2014 PDF

This content was originally published here.