Do your hips feel limited when trying to squat like this gentleman above? Perhaps your shoulders feel stiff when trying to bring your arms overhead? Maybe your ankle mobility is limiting your performance?
Regardless of where your mobility problems lie, it is your body, more specifically your brain that is intentionally causing this. You likely feel a stiff muscle, tendon or joint however that is simply the body attempting to provide more rigidity to better handle the physical stress that is consistently placed on the body.
I often think back to many of the players I worked with in the National Football League. The vast majority of them had ankle mobility restrictions, specifically into dorsiflexion (the ability to pull the top of the foot up). These athletes were constantly sprinting, pushing, cutting and accelerating which required them to be on the balls of their feet. Their heels were rarely on the ground, therefore their calves/achilles tendons were constantly operating from a shortened position. The brain smartly adapted to this by creating stiffness within the calves which enhanced the elastic or spring like property of this muscle. This allowed them to use less energy and take less time to push off as they were closer to starting in the position.
This adaptation was beneficial for performance however when left unchecked would often push them too far into one extreme and place them at risk for a variety of injuries. The body essentially forgot how to move in less of an “all or nothing” manner. This “all or nothing” way of moving is beneficial for the high horsepower activity of sport, however becomes problematic when relied upon off of the field.
The same can be said for all of us. Our brains will adapt and limit mobility in a variety of different areas if we are only training the body in one way.
Now don’t take this the wrong way as our bodies need to know how to rev the engine for sport or training. However we also need to be sure that we are not dependent on this and able to move in a multitude of ways.
For this reason I often encourage athletes and patients to incorporate exercises into their training that is not forcing them to strain excessively. You shouldn’t have to grit your teeth or flex every muscle within the body to accomplish the task. If this is the case then efficiency of movement is not possible.
Stretching muscles will not fix this issue, as we cannot overpower the nervous system. Instead the best solution is to address the root cause of the mobility restrictions by incorporating suggestions such as those listed above.