The Original Big 3

By Dave Howington, Performance Trainer

Athletes come to us wanting to become better performers; parents come to us wanting their kids to be safer. For both desires, dedicated mobility work needs to be addressed. In our warm-ups and throughout our workouts we always have mobility drills to treat what I call the big three: upper back, hips, and ankles. Here’s why each area needs to be addressed.

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The Original Big 3

Three Areas of the Body to Mobilize & Assist Performance

1. Upper Back

When movement in the upper back is restricted posture will deteriorate, and the neck and the low back will compensate, when I have athletes who come in saying they have low back pain, the upper back becomes one of the first areas I observe. Regarding performance, athletes need mobility in their upper back to allow for better arm movement during activities, such as sprinting and agility. For baseball players, or any athlete in which they need their arm to go overhead, a mobile upper back will help extend the longevity of their career by reducing the risk of elbow and shoulder injuries.

For baseball players, or any athlete in which they need their arm to go overhead, a mobile upper back will help extend the longevity of their career by reducing the risk of elbow and shoulder injuries.

For baseball players, or any athlete in which they need their arm to go overhead, a mobile upper back will help extend the longevity of their career by reducing the risk of elbow and shoulder injuries.

2. Hips

Mobile hips moving well are an absolute must for any athlete. Regarding speed training, lack of hip, mobility predisposes athletes to a higher risk of low back and knee injuries because these two areas often have to move more than is necessary to compensate for when the hip is tight. Along with this increased risk of injury, comes a decreased potential for performance as a lack of hip mobility will slow the athlete down when cutting or changing direction. The inhibition of these maneuvers can largely be attributed to lack of hip movement inhibiting the athlete from efficiently getting into the right positions to perform.

Mobile hips moving well are an absolute must for any athlete.

Mobile hips moving well are an absolute must for any athlete.

3. Ankles

Ankle mobility, similar to hip mobility, creates excess compensation in the knees. Also, tight ankles will increase the risk of ankle injuries. Further, ankle function and health are vital when it comes to the first step and acceleration. Similar to the hips, tight ankles will inhibit athletes from getting into the right positions to perform and build speed efficiently, forcing the athletes to waste movement, and as a result, slowing them down.

Similar to the hips, tight ankles will inhibit athletes from getting into the right positions to perform and build speed efficiently, forcing the athletes to waste movement, and as a result, slowing them down.

Similar to the hips, tight ankles will inhibit athletes from getting into the right positions to perform and build speed efficiently, forcing the athletes to waste movement, and as a result, slowing them down.

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In future posts, we will discuss specific exercises for each, but we hope this helps paint a clearer picture as to why we stress the importance of mobility for our athletes. From a safety component, proper mobility cannot be understated, and from a performance component, athletes who do not move well are lowering their ceiling for their performance potential.

Foam Rolling 101

A trend that has grown in the fitness industry of recent years is called foam rolling, or as some people might call it self-myofascial release (SMR). However, what it does is still a question we must explore. 

There are a couple of schools of thoughts regarding SMR. The first school of thought is the idea that SMR is a way to help break scar tissue. The other school of thought is that SMR stimulates proprioceptive organs within our soft tissue called Golgi tendon organs and muscle spindles to tell essentially tell our brain that a muscle is overactive, and, for lack of a better term, needs to be turned off. 

For myself, I used to think that the first school of thought was the correct one. However, I have come to learn that to break up scar tissue and fascia the amount of pressure and force needed to be applied is not something that can be achieved through foam rolling. However, the idea that foam rolling can help inhibit muscles that are chronically "turned on" is something that is truly valid. 

You see our daily living makes some muscle groups more active than others. For instance, sitting here writing this up, my hip flexors are turned on, my pec minor is pulling my shoulders forward, and my neck is craning forward. If I do not take care of these muscle groups, eventually I will find these muscles become very tight and affect my quality of movement.

This is where foam rolling, and SMR becomes the most valuable, inhibiting these muscles, so that I may activate the right muscles and thereby improve my movement.

The following are videos demonstrating areas I find are key to foam roll:

The Foot - You can use a tennis ball or lacrosse ball.

Calves - This is best when using a foam roller and one leg. 

Quads

Hips/Piriformis

Lats 

 

Finally, when you are done foam rolling the essential part is to get moving. If you foam roll an area and do not then seek to use your new found ranges of motion, then you may as well not even be foam rolling.

Suffice to say, foam rolling is helpful, especially as it pertains to helping us enjoy the subsequent workout and movement that follows.

Thanks,

Dave