The Path of a Supple Leopard

You may be reading this as:

  1. someone who doesn’t go to the gym but gets a sharp pain in your shoulder when you pick up a bag of groceries,
  2. someone who used to go to the gym and now feels tightness in your hips after sitting down at your desk all day, OR
  3. someone who currently goes to the gym but is experiencing pain on certain exercises.

Pain and injury do not belong to lifters only. Pain can and does affect simple everyday tasks outside the gym.

Personally, I start my workouts by spending 20-30 minutes preparing my body for the physical stress I am about to place it under. I stretch and roll out my back, shoulders, legs, arms on a foam roller or lacrosse ball, feeling for tightness and tension in my muscles. Known as mobility, this process involves playing Dora the Explorer with your muscle fascia to find balls of tension within your actin and myosin muscle fibers.  It is often overlooked and undervalued. Most people just jump straight into the movement they are about to perform without regard for whether they actually possess the full range of motion to perform the movement. Here are a few specific examples of individuals that might benefit from mobility work:

  1. John sleeps on his stomach with his face resting on his right arm. Without realizing that he has put his shoulders into a compromised position the whole night, he goes to play a pick up football game with his friends and injures his shoulder.
    1. Problem: Sleeping on the stomach has caused anterior tipping of his shoulders, causing his right chest fibers to shorten as well as his shoulder blades to tip forward.
    2. Solution: Thorough warm-up including rolling of the pecs, delts, and lats as well as stretches for the chest before throwing a football.
    3. Tools used: Lacrosse ball
  2. Sarah already has a slight background with lifting through YouTube educational videos and trial and error in the gym but keeps hitting a plateau on bench. Whenever she decides to “push through” she starts getting sharp pain in her chest/shoulders.
    1. Problem:  Sarah is strong enough to push light weight without regard for form but as soon as the tension reaches a threshold point, her muscles start screaming due to the strain placed on the pecs and delts from improper form.
    2. Solution: In order to get Sarah into the proper bench form we need to make sure she has proper thoracic spine mobility, can retract her shoulder blades, and is engaging her glutes (yes, you should be squeezing your butt while benching!).
      • Use a double lacrosse ball to roll up and down the spinal column as well as foam rolling with hands crossed across chest to address the spine.
      • Use a single lacrosse ball and perform shoulder flexion exercises while lying on the ground to address the shoulder blades.
      • Perform couch stretches to loosen up hip flexors so it’s easier to engage glutes during bench.
    3. Tools used: Double lacrosse ball, foam roller

Including mobility as a regular part of your everyday routine can greatly improve performance on day-to-day tasks as well as improving performance within the gym. Joining a gym doesn’t have to be about hitting PRs every week or getting jacked and tan; it can and should be about becoming a better version of yourself physically, in all areas of life.

Disclaimer: Naturally there are some injuries that require specialized and regular treatment by professionals, but for pain with a clear muscular origin, an increase in physical activity, carefully monitored and paired with appropriate mobility exercises can certainly put you on the path to improve strength, flexibility and comfort.

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