Learning Objectives:

  1. Understand the limitations of static stretching when used in a warm-up.
  2. Describe what mobility training is and how it can be used as a warm-up.
  3. Implement mobility training exercises into training with clients.

Not too long ago, it was thought that static stretching was an important part of a warm-up for fitness clients and athletes. The reasoning, with no objective evidence, was that a “stretched” muscle helped in preparing for higher intensity work and preventing injury. However, due to numerous research studies showing that static stretching does not “warm-up” a muscle and, in some studies, does not reduce the risk of injury, the use of mobility training has taken the place of static stretching. Mobility training is a combination of range of motion movements, dynamic stretching, and strength development.

Static Stretching: The Good and Bad

Thanks to research, fitness professionals now have a better understanding of what static stretching can, and cannot do, in terms of preparing a body for higher intensity exercises. Bracko (2002) suggests the benefits of stretching were previously based on perceived notions. A review of literature by Shier (2004) found 20 studies showing static stretching, performed immediately before activity, decreased performance on: maximum voluntary contraction of knee extensors, jump height, jump force, and jump velocity. But Shier (2004) also found seven studies suggesting that regular stretching, not specifically stretching before exercise, improves performance on: maximal voluntary contraction of knee flexors, contraction velocity, eccentric and concentric contraction force, counter-movement jump height, and 50-yard dash time.

Small, McNaughton, and Matthews (2008) conducted a review of literature to find out if static stretching in a warm-up prevents injury. They reviewed research between 1990 – 2008. Only seven of 364 studies were used for review. Four randomized clinical trials showed that stretching did not reduce injury, and one of three controlled clinical trials showed stretching did reduce injury. The researchers indicate there is moderate to strong evidence that static stretching does not reduce injury.

Mobility Training – What and Why

Mobility training for a warm-up appears to have started with Crossfit work-outs. According to the site crossfitinvictus.com, Kelly Starrett, a Crossfit trainer and physical therapist, modernized mobility training with Crossfit athletes. Mobility training in fitness and sports performance must not be confused with mobility training in physical therapy. In physical therapy, mobility training, or manual therapy, is when a therapist moves a clients’ joint to restore function and/or alleviate pain symptoms (crossfitinvictus.com). From an article published by crossfitinvictus.com, it quotes Kelly Starrett describing mobility training as: “a movement-based integrated full-body approach that addresses all the elements that limit movement and performance, including short and tight muscles, soft tissue restriction, joint capsule restriction, motor control problems, joint range of motion dysfunction, and neural dynamic issues.”

The site foreverfitscience.com indicates the difference between mobility training and flexibility training is that a person with improved mobility can perform exercises, or day-to-day movements, with fewer restrictions in range of motion and will be stronger, have better balance, and coordination. A person who performs only flexibility exercises may not have as much strength, balance, or coordination. Mobility training uses the following movements and stimuli to the muscles: full range of motion of joints, movement in all planes of motion, strength, core stability, vertical and horizontal movements, and a lot of imagination to think of new exercises/movements.

Mobility Training – Subjective and Objective

When “Mobility Training,” is put into Google, approximately 576,000,000 results are presented. They range from “The 10 most important mobility and flexibility exercises” to “Mobility exercises you must do if you train hard” and “The beginner’s guide to mobility & stretching.”

There appears to be two kinds of mobility training: 1) exercises and movements that have a small “foot print” (small foot-print mobility – SFPM). These are exercises done in the same spot while moving the body and limbs, and 2) exercises done while moving over a distance of perhaps 10-98 feet (3.08-30-meters) (large foot-print mobility – LFPM).

A cross-section of SFPM seen on videos on YouTube include the following:

  • Archer squat – side lunge while raise the arm opposite the lunge direction.
  • Leg pull (hip flexion), side lunge, push-up position walk around with hands, stand and leg pull other leg.
  • Split stance, flexed trunk, T-spine rotation with shoulder abduction.
  • Reaching crab – reverse quadruped position, raise body with legs and arms, reach back with one arm.
  • Squat to stand – holding toes in a squat, extend knees to stand up, keep holding toes.
  • Paint the fence – flex and extend shoulders while flexing and extending wrists.
  • Shoulder Tut – arms out to side, one hand supinated the other pronated, lateral trunk flexion while internally rotating one arm and externally rotating the other arm.

The above exercises are found on one of the best videos of mobility training, published by Luka Hocevar (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjwaAdncNb4).

One could assume that if we perform “movement” before we start higher intensity training it will help with training and prevent injury. But without objective evidence, this is an assumption. Having said that, many clients are not interested if there is objective evidence that mobility exercises have been proven to improve performance and reduce injury. Most clients are more interested if the exercises feel good, get them ready for higher intensity training, and are fun.

Personal trainers, on the other hand, want both. Personal trainers want the subjective (the exercises feel good, gets clients ready, and are fun), and they want the objective (do the mobility exercises in fact improve performance and reduce the risk of injury). Personal trainers must adhere to the same code as physicians, “First, do no harm.”

In the realm of objective findings about LFPM improving performance and reducing injury are the mobility exercises developed by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). This warm-up, called the FIFA 11+ was developed in 2006 by the Santa Monica Sports Medicine Foundation and the Oslo (Norway) Sports Trauma and Research Center as a warm-up to prevent injuries in amateur soccer players. It was studied by the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Center and was based on a randomized controlled study and one countrywide program in amateur soccer that significantly reduced injuries and injury costs. Since the FIFA 11+ launch, research has confirmed the preventive effects of the program and have evaluated its effects with female and male amateur soccer players (Bizzini and Dvorak, 2015).

The FIFA 11+ warm-up, done within an area 98-feet x 40-feet (30-meters x 12-meters) consists of the following movements: partner running drills, front plank variations, side plank hip abduction variations, Nordic hamstring strengthening, single leg partner drills, squats/lunges, jumping, and higher speed running.

In an article published on the site stack.com (2019), it is indicated by not doing static stretching and using movements that are more game-like, as well as moves that activate and strengthen the core and leg muscles, the FIFA 11+ program significantly reduces injuries as well as improving performance.

Stack.com suggests young players do not like warming up because they just want to get going with drills, practice, or the game. But players and coaches like the performance-enhancing effects of the 11+ program. In a review of literature, Bizzini and Dvorak (2015) found that regularly using the FIFA 11+ warm-up had the following results:

  • Improved agility
  • Enhanced jumping ability
  • Improved functional balance
  • Improved static balance
  • Better hamstring/quadriceps strength ratios
  • Quicker stabilization times of the lower extremity and core

Conclusion

No matter which kind of mobility training is done, it is recognized as a more efficient and fun way of warming up compared to stretching. It is energizing for clients and trainers because of the flow and movement patterns.

References

Bizzini, M. and Dvorak, J. (2015) FIFA 11+: An effective programme to prevent football injuries in various player groups worldwide—a narrative review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49:577–579

Bracko, M.R. 2002. Can stretching prior to exercise and sports improve performance and prevent injury?, ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal, 6(5), 17-22.

crossfitinvictus.com/blog/mobility-vs-flexibility-whats-the-difference, Retrieved November 21, 2019.

foreverfitscience.com, Improve performance with mobility training, Retrieved November 19, 2019

Shier, I. 2004. Does Stretching Improve Performance?: A Systematic and Critical Review of the Literature. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 14(5), 267-273.

Small, K, McNaughton, L. & Matthews, M. 2008. A systematic review into the efficacy of static stretching as part of a warm-up for the prevention of exercise-related injury. Research in Sports Medicine, 16(3):213-231.

stack.com, Why the FIFA-11 program may be the worlds best warm-up, Retreived November 20, 2019.