MOBILITY TRAINING FOR THE YOUTH ATHLETE
We’re excited to have Strength & Conditioning Coach Todd Davidson guest posting on the #YADacademy blog today, utilising his extensive knowledge base to chat with you guys about the importance of mobility training for youth athletes. Thanks, Todd! We’ll have to get you back again to share more of your expertise with us all soon!
Mobility can be described as the range of motion available at a joint.
It is important to learn how to identify mobility deficits in a youth athlete (also known as screening), how and why mobility training might differ between youth and adult populations, and the pros and cons of specific types of mobility training. Most Strength & Conditioning coaches will know that mobility has become a bit of a buzzword in the sport and fitness world in the recent years.
Even titling this article as ‘Mobility Training For The Youth Athlete’ makes me slightly uneasy, as it implies that you need to dedicate an entire training session in order to improve mobility… this article will outline why that is most definitely not the case.
Before we dive in to the HOW of mobility methods, let’s start with WHY we should even care.
Previously, I’ve spoken about the benefits of calisthenics for improving the effectiveness of something called the kinetic chain. In mobility terms, when mobility is lacking in one area (let’s take the ankle), this will impact further up the kinetic chain (i.e. the knee).
Entire books have been written on the subject of mobility assessments, so for the sake of simplifying this blog post; effective mobility assessments take us away from a grenade approach of “10 best stretches for [insert muscle group]” to a sniper approach of:
Why am I using this mobility method → to address this type of restriction → in this particular athlete → in this specific way?
Now, let’s get in to the nuts and bolts of a few examples of methods designed to improve mobility:
• Banded distraction (mobilisations with movement)
• Foam rolling
• Static stretching
• Dynamic stretching
Let’s take a whistle stop tour of these mobility modalities.
Banded distraction, sometimes referred to as mobilisations with movement, relates to the use of a band to alter a joint’s position. When a joint is not in its correct position, targeting a specific muscle with foam rolling or static stretching becomes limited.
For those athletes that spend forever and a day foam rolling and stretching and see minimal return on the investment, it could simply be that the joint was never in the right place to begin with.
If an athlete complains of a pinching sensation, it is likely the joint needs ‘distracting’ back into place before any foam rolling or static stretching will be effective.
You might be wondering how and why mobility restrictions exist.
As babies, we were all born with full range of motion… only to overload our bodies with the same repetitive and/or inefficient movement, which can see our muscles resembling something not too dissimilar to a child’s crayon scribble.
When muscles become chronically shortened, the brain perceives tightness and can restrict a muscle groups ability to produce force.
Whilst foam rolling can help reduce our perception of tightness and muscle soreness, it is incorrect to say that foam rolling results in any structural changes within a muscle (Behm & Wilke 2019).
Reducing our perception of tightness can, however, lead to a short term increase in range of motion. Since this range of motion is only short term, it is imperative that we use these newly uncovered ranges of motion in our training… otherwise we are doing the equivalent of opening a new document, only to forget to hit save.
Static stretching is similar to foam rolling, in that it reduces our perception of tightness, rather than inducing structural changes to the muscle. Static stretching feels good because it increases our tolerance to a stretch, but does not necessarily lengthen the muscle.
Whilst it can negatively impact power, this effect can be mitigated if it is immediately followed by some kind of pulse raising activity. That said, kids spend so long sat still these days, that asking them to hold static positions in training may lead to boredom and, as such, is unlikely to be a productive use of what little time kids actually have available to move.
Dynamic stretching ticks so many boxes when it comes to mobility work. Several movements can be combined into a series of movements, termed movement complexes.
When done consistently through a full range of motion, with a conscious focus on your technique, it can elevate muscle temperature, switch on underachieve muscles and look to mobilise key areas.
On a final note, by loading the range of motion achieve in a dynamic warm up, with exercises such a goblet squats, we are letting the brain known that it is okay for us to access range of motion. This reduces our perception of tightness, and can eliminate time unnecessarily wasted on foam rolling, static stretching and other passive mobility modalities.
• Foam rolling and static stretching only work to reduce our perception of tightness
• Foam rolling leads to short-term improvements in range of motion… which must be immediately loaded to lead to longer term improvements
• Dynamic stretching and strength training, when done through full ranges of motion, and when done consistently, improve mobility long-term.
Sources and recommended reading
Behm, D.G. and Wilke, J. 2019. Do self-myofascial release devices release my-fascia? Rolling mechanisms: A narrative review. Sports Medicine, pp. 1-9.
Bishop, C., Villiere, A. and Turner, A. 2016. Addressing movement patterns by using the overhead squat. Prof Strength Cond J, 40 (7-12), p. 6.
Reiman, M.P. and Matheson, J.W. 2013. Restricted hip mobility: clinical suggestions for self-mobilisation and muscle re-education. International journal of sports physical therapy, 8 (5), p. 729.
The Squat Bible by Aaron Horschig.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Todd Davidson is a Strength and Conditioning Coach accredited by the United Kingdom Strength and Conditioning Association. Having learned his trade as an intern with the Strength and Conditioning teams of Great Britain Boxing and Great Britain Paralympic Table Tennis in the build up to the Rio Summer Olympics in 2016, Todd has since introduced Strength and Conditioning to an all-girls school in England and is currently undertaking a Postgraduate Certificate in Physical Education through St Mary’s University, with the long-term aim of integrating Strength and Conditioning into the national Physical Education curriculum. Follow Todd on Facebook and Instagram for more athlete development content.