Mobility: Get a Clue!

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I chatted with someone recently who mentioned that he attended a mobility workshop. Well ya shoulda been to Strength Camp, my friend, where mobility isn’t treated as a category, but as an integral part of our holistic message. I want to thank everyone who attended. WHAT A CREW!! You guys were amazing. The energy was electric and the information flowed like the sweat pouring off our necks and faces as we moved in new and sometimes unique ways.

Whew! Looking forward to the next one!

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Today’s workout:

Jerk Max. Try this progression: work up to a heavy single or double strict Behind-the-Neck Press with spot-on posture (no chicken necking!). Add 10-20 pounds to that and begin your Jerk circle up to a Jerk max.

Bench Press/Inch Worm Pushups. 5 reps/length of room. 3 rounds with rest between.

Macebell swings/mobility pushups (hip stretch-paint the ceiling)/Plow-Outs (roll into plow, then extend legs out away from you without arching back). Heavy swings, 6 per side/ 6 mobility pushups (3 per side)/12 plow-outs. How many rounds in 10 minutes?

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We are all controlled by reinforcement of rules
Passed by those who are merely the tools of a system
Where achievement is based on deceit of the masses
By someone in whom they believe

– SubHumans, Straightline Thinking


(no, you won’t like the song, but I do, and have since I was 15)

Mobility: Get A Clue!

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Around 1903 a man named Alan Calvert introduced barbells to America. This sent some quivers to the strength community’s collective G-spot. George Jowett, respected strongman and physical culture writer, and one of the many converted barbell worshipers, wrote over 30 years after the fact:

“The Monumental Contribution of Alan Calvert to American Barbellism will ever be an enduring corner stone in its solid foundation. Intelligently he taught men how to be strong and healthy, defeating prejudices and ignorance.”*

Calvert’s doctrine was preached from the pulpit of his magazine, aptly titled “Strength,” America’s first actual magazine completely about…well… being strong. Started in 1914, Calvert spent 11 years vehemently promoting heavy lifting and progressive weight training as the paths to strength and ultimately, overall wellbeing.

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Then he rejected all of it. The more graceful but far less intense ideas of a man named Edwin Checkley seemed to make more sense to him. He spent the rest of his life promoting a barbell-free lifestyle, instead emphasizing postural awareness and breathing through bodyweight movements.

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A massive flip flop such as this seems ultimately as rigid as any dogma. How hard would it have been to simply take to best of all worlds and create truly capable bodies? Apparently pretty difficult, since 90 years later we struggle with the exact same stubbornness.

Now nothing written here will really apply to almost anyone who happens to go to a 24-Hour Fitness or a Bally’s or a California Family Fitness or a Crunch Fitness or any of the fluffy institutions that make up the Fitness Industrial Complex. By now, if you are one of the three people who read this blog, this is probably blatantly clear. Sure, there might be a few of you trapped in one of these hells trying to change the corporate paradigm a bit and be as much of You as you can within their walls, but you’re an exception. Fight the good fight.

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(Mace tries the atlas stone at Strength Camp… and she knows quite a few mobility flows as well)

But the average gym member is not there for their health or empowerment, so their quest for abs, butt or arms falls tragically short of anything I’m trying to appeal to. Their workouts are categorized, and they might spend an obligatory amount of time addressing each file: cardio/weight training/flexibility. The body and its abilities, to them, are a collection of parts and sections lacking anything resembling holistic adhesiveness.

Oh, but our little underground strength world is facing a similar problem. We gave up training body parts years ago, understanding instead that the idea of movement and ability has nothing to do with just isolating our anatomy into sections. We try to grasp the idea that cardio and weight training are meaningless as categories as well.

Yet we still section off our focus on range of motion and joint safety training, what is often referred to as mobility.

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(The crew warms up for a workout that consists of intense bodyweight movements)

Mobility training is now what you halfheartedly do at the beginning of your workout, and might be coerced to do if other people are forcing you to at the end because you’ve heard somewhere that it is important. This separate obligatory category of movement is reserved for book-ending workouts and involves boring circles or dreary, brain-farting limb lifts and raises that are less exciting than playing Twister in an old folks home.

Out of this world have come mobility gurus, folks who are keen on correcting us, fixing our organic machines that have developed glitches in their movement matrix. Not at all unlike Alan Calvert’s hero later in life, Edwin Checkley, except for us it is just warm up and cool-down stuff.

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(Calvert’s Strength Magazine*)

Here’s a quick observation: no one is actually DOING this stuff. There is a ton of money being spent on workshops and DVDs promoting mobility amongst the modern strength world, but a quick 5 minute (if that) bout with super low intensity calisthenics and boring physical therapy moves ain’t really going to win many battles against your 30-90 minutes of redundant movement patterns. Even if you love having 5-10 different exercises thrown into your WOD blender, I GUARANTEE they still follow similar paths of movements. Not a lot of actual variety in many of the workouts seen today, even if the exercises seem weird and different.

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(nothun’ wrong with barbells AND bodyweight movements, Mr Calvert.)

Now like Checkley’s pupils, there is an entirely separate world of mobility training where folks don’t do much else. Ya can’t throw a dead hipster in this town without hitting a yoga studio, and some branches of modern physical culture training ebb so far towards mobility work that anything resembling max force development goes out the window.

These would be more like Calvert’s people once he gave up barbells.

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(although he didn’t train women, he featured them prominently on his magazine covers)

C’mon. We are allowed to mix modalities. We are allowed some free thought and imagination. Oh, but with fury, tenacity and big roll of dogma’s duct tape, our guns are stuck to and some part of our tribe takes their hats off to our never-bending, unfaltering clad-in-stone decisions.

Sort of seems contrary to our potential, eh? You and I, these glorious beasts with factory-installed freewill, might want to play with possibilities a bit, always keeping the opt-out option right at our finger tips. Otherwise we end up wearing black and white Nike’s on our feet and nifty Heaven’s Gate Away Team arm patches while eating our applesauce and Phenobarbital breakfast. Heck I’ve recently read several Tumblrs and blogs stating that they have “willingly drank the Kool-aid,” and I’ll let you guess what popular gym community they’re now part of.

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Try something a little different. Our Brutal Recess DVD delves into mobility within a workout, not just as the intro and appendix. Adding some play through rotation and innovative range of motion movements can make a workout considerably more challenging than simply adding reps to a WOD. Yes, heavy lifting and mobility can coexist within a workout. Hell, they SHOULD.

The recipe is simple. A tad of imagination, a smidge of movement understanding, and a skosh of playfulness and you’ll be several steps closer to holistic usefulness, where strength has purpose.

We’ll need much less of the category of ‘corrective exercises’ if we’ve been moving, in many ways, in many directions and with many purposes.


Intensity mixed with mobility. It ain’t so weird.

* Some of the images and much of the historical material here was from the helpful folks at the H. J. Lutcher Stark Center, primarily Dr. Kimberly Beckwith, from her dissertation BUILDING STRENGTH:ALAN CALVERT, THE MILO BAR-BELL COMPANY, AND THE MODERNIZATION OF AMERICAN WEIGHT TRAINING. ‘Twould behoove you to visit their website and possibly kick down a donation to their wonderful research center

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Upcoming stuff:

This Saturday: Swings! I think these are some of the most misunderstood movements around. We’ve got a lot to say about them, so come play with us AT GRANT PARK this Saturday at 10.

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Look, if I said World’s Apart is one hell of an album, groundbreaking in many ways, you wouldn’t care. BUT it is my blog, and I’m posting more SubHumans!!

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Showing 7 comments
  • Ben
    Reply

    Nice post. Nothing wrong with going to a mobility clinic, or any other clinic for that matter. Learning should never be discouraged.

    Keep fighting the good fight,
    Ben

  • Dean
    Reply

    Ok, I’m ordering the DVD… been meaning too for a while now. Nice post!

  • Lisa
    Reply

    It was good Kool-Aid. What can I say?

    Bodytribe offers a wide range of freedoms, I agree.

    I guess I talk about it that way because I’m skittish about joining in, and skittish about cult thinking in our culture. Independent minds, like those at Bodytribe, do tend to think that way. Anyway.

    I’d drink that Kool-Aid again, I would.

  • LisaR
    Reply

    No Kool-Aid for me!

    Fighting the good fight at A Sante Lakeside Fitness in Tahoe City.

    Love what you folks are doing and hope to make it to Sacramento one of these days for a workshop.

  • chip
    Reply

    LisaR: an Oly lifter in Tahoe City? Groovy. We’d be thrilled to have you come play down here sometime.

  • Antonio
    Reply

    I’ve tried the mobility within the workout and sandwiching the workout but did not get the benefits I have from taking 10-30 minutes to focus on “mobility” at the end of my day. But I think your and the online guru’s definition is different. To the online guru I think “mobility” is the ability to come back from or stave of injury, rehabilitation/prehabilitation.

    Through the mobilitywod.com I’ve learned how to specifically fix many different injuries which for somebody like me who insists on wrestling sweaty men, (BJJ) is a life saver. The brand of mobility that you are presenting will not help me fix my injuries. Undoubtedly, it would help me stave off injury by being more flexible and stronger in those ranges of motion but what happens when I’m hurt.

  • chip
    Reply

    There is a difference between rehab and what I call preemptive strike mobility. Pre- and post-workout mobility work is still essential, especially in rehab scenarios. In fact, working out, whether with mobility or with the basic common movement patterns, needs to be approached with serious caution if the body is in rehab mode. A workout is NOT fix, and if the body needs fixing, then it better get it.

    The issue I’m addressing here is the common repetitive workout that doesn’t have the built-in tension release valves that helps the (healthy) body move better helping prevent injury through redundant tension patterns later.

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