Strength and conditioning sessions are a vital part of any complete training routine. They allow an athlete to improve core strength, work on better movement skill and add to muscular strength and endurance. However, exercises should always be planned around your own ability. One factor affecting exercise ability is mobility, in short how much controlled movement you have through your joints.
Identifying potential weaknesses in your range of motion can help you plan suitable flexibility and strength routines to improve your mobility while ensuing your selecting exercises that are a match for your ability. Identifying range of motion issues is also useful for coaches and athletes looking to address technique and postural issues as well as help spot potential injury red flags. The right amount of mobility will ensure optimal joint movement, however poor mobility may reduce the range of motion you can produce effective force over. Conversely, excessive mobility can decrease joint stability and control of movement.
Here are some basic movements that you can test yourself at to get an idea of your mobility and any possible limitations to your training. When you try these, always move into a sustainable, non-forced range of motion.
The Bend Test
Your range of motion in a bend is a useful indicator off mobility through your back, glutes and hamstrings.
You can try this from a seated position, where you run your hands down your legs and as far towards your feet as comfortably possible. Note where you get too, but also where you feel the restriction coming from.
A standing version of this is similar, but it also measures your mobility while your hamstrings are ‘loaded’ by the weight of your upper body pulling forward. A good target to aim for would be a fingertip touch to the floor. If you struggle to get past your sock line then it’d be a good idea to look at including some hamstring mobility into your training.
The Crouch Squat Test
Your depth in a crouch is dependent on the collective mobility of joints in your ankles, knees, hips and to a degree, back. While going ‘full crouch’ isn’t something you need do when squatting with a loaded barbell, it’s useful to see which joints might be limiting your movement or be potential problems later. Common issues with this one are ankle range, where it’s common for people not to be able to do this without their heels being raised.
You can use this movement as a stretch in itself, raising the heels as much as is needed, and reducing over time. If calfs are your issue, then also look at some soft tissue release as well as some active mobility work, such as stretching your calfs together on a step, moving in and out of stretch to work to lengthen the muscle and strengthen it through its range.
The Shoulder Test
Shoulder mobility is important in triathlon particularly in the swim and run. In the swim, we need good range for an effective stroke and limitations may force over rotation or twisting. On the run, poor mobility or shoulder posture could see a hunched position which may affect upper back posture and limit breathing.
From a kneeling position raise your arms out in front of you, palms facing, until you start to feel a restriction or your feel yourself arching your lower back. An optimal position here would be arms straight up towards the ceiling in line with the body. Also, look out for any asymmetry between the arms, i.e. if one has more range than the other. Symmetry in the body is important for optimal alignment and performance of movement patterns. Those will a lot of restriction in this movement may compensate in their swim with an overly arched back in order to ensure their arms are high enough in the water, which may cause discomfort, but it will likely push your legs deeper into the water too, creating more drag.
Have a go at these every few months to monitor, and hopefully you should start to see your movement along with your ability to hold posture and technique.