by Zac Howe
The fitness industry loves catchphrases and buzzwords. One term that has been circulating around of late is “functional mobility.” What exactly does this mean? To understand what the term means, it is first important to understand each word separately.
Function, as it pertains to training, refers to carry over, or purpose. Training “functionally” develops motor neuron pathways that can enhance brain-body coordination. The adaptations that take place refer to the brain’s ability to recruit muscles to contract and produce a particularly desired movement.
Mobility within a joint is the degree to which the area where two bones meet (known as an articulation) is allowed to move before being restricted by the surrounding tissue, such as tendons and muscle.
When the two words are combined, we get the manner in which people are able to move around in their environment and participate in activities and daily living.
Or, neurological control + articular strength = functional mobility.
Why it Matters
For one, a functionally mobile joint is less susceptible to injury because it has already met and exceeded the demand being asked of it. “Train there to gain there,” as the adage goes. The body will always try to take the path of least resistance. If there is no demand for a particular movement, then the body does not deem the movement as important and will allocate those resources elsewhere.
This is a large reason why people get injured during everyday activities that they used to be able to do without a problem. People tend to assume this is just a result of getting older; however, with a little attention, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Secondly, overall mobility has a large impact on muscle growth and strength gains. If one can’t get through a full range of motion, then he or she will not be able to reap the full benefits of an exercise.
To take action in enhancing functional mobility, it’s important to first identify a restrictive range of motion that one currently has or a range of motion that one would like to enhance. The major movements associated with functional mobility are standing, squatting, bending (or hinging), walking, pushing and pulling.
There are a number of movement assessments available, like the Selective Functional Movement Assessment or the Functional Movement Screen. If self-assessing is proving troublesome, look for a reputable movement assessment specialist (some gyms even offer free assessments) and have an assessment done.
Once an area of focus is found, hone in on some techniques, such as Functional Range Conditioning, foam rolling, yoga and myofascial release, which can all be used effectively.
Zac Howe is an Oklahoma City-based holistic strength-training coach and certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Connect with him at CoachZacHowe@gmail.com or visit ZacHowe.com.