Mobility: Choosing the Right Tools

By Jon Gilson

Mobility is about one thing: being in the right place at the right time. It is simply the right joint angle for the task at hand, the ability to achieve positions that confer mechanical advantage and maximal muscle recruitment during movement.

Like any training adaptation, mobility is forged through increased exposure to the appropriate stimulus.

The method is simple: find a restriction, beat the offending tissues into their original state, and stretch, dynamically or statically. Repeat for frequency rather than duration, maintaining regular schedule, and drink a lot of water. Continually analyze your movements for new or recurring restrictions, and repeat.

Mobility devices have two potential uses: reforming muscle tissue through myofascial release and scar tissue breakdown and/or increasing range of motion by stretching muscle tissue. Most items on the market are geared toward reforming: foam rollers, lacrosse balls, Trigger Point kits, and Rumble Rollers are all meant to remove restrictions by applying pressure and breaking down scar tissue to reverse the mobility-robbing effects of high intensity training.

They differ in shape and relative hardness, giving more or less access to certain areas, and requiring more or less pressure to achieve their ends. Stretching the resultant tissue is easily done without special aids, although the appropriate application of resistance bands can help the solo athlete achieve certain stretches that would otherwise be difficult without a partner or other specialized equipment.

A solid mobility kit contains some kind of roller (foam, GRID, or Rumble), several lacrosse balls (two to three, for the individual trainee), and a resistance band. The roller is used to reform large areas: the quads, glutes, IT bands, adductors, and lats, while lacrosse balls are better suited to small area work in the shoulders, upper back, and lower leg. Once the tissue is softened, the band aids static and PNF stretching.

Pre-made mobility kits, like the Trigger Point Hip and Back Kit, simply take these concepts to the next level, providing purpose-built devices for accessing the large muscles of the upper leg and the smaller muscles of the lower leg, along with slightly softer balls for working the psoas, erectors, upper back, and calves.

Kit selection is usually a matter of personal preference. All mobility aids will work if properly implemented, and choosing one comes down to experience and pain threshold. Generally, more experienced trainees choose firmer or more specialized devices.

For beginners, a simple foam roller, several lacrosse balls, and a band will do the trick.

For intermediate and advanced trainees, the GRID roller from Trigger Point provides a more nuanced surface than a standard foam roller, and is harder as well. The Rumble Roller provides protruding knobs, providing deeper physical penetration into muscles than either of its flatter cousins. Choice here is up to the individual athlete; there is no definitive proof that one solution is more effective than the others.

The Trigger Point Hip and Back Kit is a great mobility solution, but a bit more expensive than other options. The included instructional DVD more than makes up for the cost difference, taking the athlete through guided mobility sessions aimed specifically at remedying the issues caused by long-distance endurance training and sedentary lifestyle. Originally developed with the triathlon market in mind, it’s a good solution if you’ve ever spent too much time on a bike, running, or sitting at a desk. The Kit includes a foam block, helpful for working the lower legs, and a carry bag.

Mobility is essential to athletic performance. Whether you purchase your tools here or elsewhere, functional training requires the ability to put yourself in the right positions at the right time, optimizing technique, conferring safety, and maximizing output. Start mobilizing today.