Mo Mobility Mo Problems

Categories: Uncategorized May 29, 2013

More from our buddy Josh Halpert...

Mobility has gotten to be the biggest buzzword in the fitness industry today. I see it daily on social media: videos of new mobility drills, stretches, joint mobs, distractions, and glides. This is great stuff! I am happy to see the overall trend of the industry take an appreciation for better movement. 

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However, does every population need more mobility? Do athletes like figure skaters really need more flexibility? Perhaps Biggie Smalls was right, more isn’t always better.

If my hyperbolic picture wasn’t obvious, in the case of figures skaters, creating more mobility only seems to create more problems. Yes, skating is a sport which requires it’s athletes to be mobile and flexible. On top of the positions the athletes are put in on a daily basis, they are doing static stretching for several hours each week. Many of these athletes began skating as young as 4 years old and have been “bendy” their whole life. Skaters are hypermobile which can make them just as injury prone as an athlete who is immobile and stiff.

I currently train over 10 high level female figure skaters. Their ages range from 11-17 and they are amazing athletes to work with. I’ve run these skaters through the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) countless times and always see the same trends. They score exceptionally well on the mobility and single leg stance tests but in some cases score a 1 on deep squat, push up and rotary stability. For those unfamiliar with the FMS, these findings simply mean they cannot perform basic movement patterns that all humans should have some capacity to do.

I couldn’t provide the skaters with many “stretches” that they could do correctly on their own, let alone give them any real benefit. They could go full range through any Brettzel variation and most other stretches did very little for them. They didn’t need it anyway. What the skaters needed was more intrinsic stability. They are hypermobile in all the wrong places –  lower back, shoulders and hips. This lack of stability in conjunction to overuse is the cause of many of their injuries and could also hinder their performance on the ice.

Now, all of these athletes are over-trained from skating 15+ hours per week, as well as injured. In some cases they are jumping as often as 70 times in a single session. Many of those jumps end up as falls on unforgiving ice. In addition to all of this they are balancing school and the social life of a teenage girl. This is my long winded way of saying they have a lot on their plate.

As a coach, I needed to prescribe a warm up that was simple, short and foolproof. What the skaters needed was a set of drills that would not have diminishing returns. Therefore, the drills performed would continue to provide benefit even after the athlete has become proficient. The drills needed to be easy to remember and quick. If the skaters were expected to show up 10 minutes early to the ice rink and go through a warm up, all these factors had to be considered. This is where the resets really shine!

About three months ago I revised each of the skater’s warm up/homework. At that time I prescribed almost all Original Strength resets.  As a result the girls are all feeling more stable on the ice and experiencing less stiffness afterwards. Their primal movement patterns have cleared up considerably and they are feeling less drained from longer skating sessions. The beauty of the resets is they do just that,  provide a reset after a long day of school for them. It’s like wiping the brain to a blank canvas so they can can start fresh with their skill work on the ice.  This sets up a more conducive environment for learning.  Plus, the more the skaters work on the resets, the better they get which lays the ground work for progressions.  Most importantly the warm up/homework is basic enough that they are able to do it before and after skating every day! 

Each time the skaters use a reset, they are cultivating more reflexive stability. This is paramount for their sport. Not only do they need to be stable on less than an 1/8th inch blade while on the ice, they must be graceful in the process.

To recap, not everyone needs more mobility but I have yet to see a case where someone wouldn’t benefit from more reflexive stability or strength. Mobility does not always “stick” or last if it isn’t followed by appropriate integration. Reflexive stability is the glue of the entire system. It allows you to be authentically mobile and resilient.  This is not an anti stretch or mobility post. This is simply my experience using the Original Strength resets for a population that responds better to reflexive stability drills compared to traditional mobility work. 

Here are two examples of homework I’ve given my skaters:

Warm Up 1:

1. 4 way hip clam shell sequence 

   1. Clamshell 2. Reverse Clam shell 3. Rev Clam with abbduction 4. Rev clam with hip extension x 15 each 

2. Hip rocks with head nods 

4. Upper Body roll x 5 each side 

5. Lower body roll x 5 each side 

6. Dead bug x 10 each side 

7. Baby crawl 10 yards forward 10 yards back 

 Warm Up 2:

1. 4 way hip clam shell sequence 

   1. Clamshell 2. Reverse Clam shell 3. Rev Clam with abbduction 4. Rev clam with hip extension x 15 each 

2. Prone with head nods 

3.  Hard rolls x 5 per side 

4. J dog x 5 each side 

5. Plank – 10 seconds ( maximal total body tension)

6. Leopard crawl 10 yards forward 10 yards back 

I usually start the skaters with some glute activation because most of them are lordotic and I’ve found this to be the easiest way teach them the concept of contracting the glute. They all need to improve or maintain internal hip rotation for their sport, which is entirely rotational based. Next is some kind of head nod reset with a hip rock. With this we are getting the vestibular system activated and warming up the hips. The head nod also provides a nice stretch and glide of both the anterior and posterior fascial line.  After this I like to get some cross-body rolling pattern in. It free ups the spiral lines in the body and is a gentle way to prime the body for rotation on the ice.  Occasionally, I will put in a quadruped rotary stability drill such as bird dogs or j dogs for the sake of challenging contra lateral  balance.  I like using dead bugs or hard style plank because it incorporates the whole body to prevent anti extension in the lumbar spine as well as sync the x pattern. Last is a crawl pattern to integrate everything that we did before and through a locomotive reset. Each skater started with baby crawls before progressing to harder variations. All of this can be completed in less then 10 minutes and they are ready to go.

With the exception of the clamshell sequence and the hard style plank all of these can be found in Tim and Geoff’s new book, Original Strength. 

Get original mobility via reflexive strength.


Josh Halbert is a SFG Kettlebell and Bodyweight instructor. He trains predominately high level professional and youth athletes out of Kinetic Systems Strength and Conditioning in Columbia , Maryland .  His passion is to inspire people as much as they inspire him. He can usually be found inverted in a handstand or horizontal in a human flag on his facebook page:

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