The word mobility gets thrown around a lot, especially in recent times with the rise of CrossFit and the increasing popularity of more functional styles of training like Ninja Warrior. But this ain’t no fad, this is essential for joint health and being able to move normal as we grow older. But as climbers, excellent mobility enables us to move smoothly, in sometimes extreme positions, with the strength of a gymnast and the poise of a ballerina.
There is no real golden definition for mobility that we’ve found suitable, so at Base Camp we describe mobility as the “ability to control movements of the body in any direction, with minimal preparation“. Another particularly notable definition is “the bodies ability to perform articulations in a large and varying the range of motion” – although this glazes over the control element a little.
Common Misconceptions about mobility…
Mobility often gets confused with flexibility and how stretchy you are, probably because of the term “hypermobile” which really, should be rephrased as “hyperflexible” as few people with hypermobility actually have control and strength in those extreme ranges. So although flexibility is important, it is only one part of the equation.
FLEXIBILITY + STABILITY + STRENGTH = MOBILITY
In terms of increasing the other parts of the equation, the perhaps the most important bodily system in question is our nervous system, as it is in charge of how far our limbs and joints stretch out and move. We can increase this length very quickly with the right knowledge and application, but how does this translate into the vertical world of climbing?
Take a classic climbing move for example, the high step. Now you may be able to pull your knee right up to you face! That’s great, but can you press your foot down into that position and stand up without the help of the other limbs? After a good squirm and some grunting you’d probably be right where you started or even worse you may now have tweaked a muscle or strained yourself – in this case, you have significant flexibility to go into a deep range, but you do not have adequate stability and strength in that range – therefore, you are flexible, but not mobile.
Flexibility vs. Mobility
Taking that same example, let’s say you are strong enough in the leg to able to raise and lower your bodyweight in about half of the full range of motion, like stepping onto a box for instance as shown here in figure 1.1.
That may be adequate for some basic climbing moves involved in mountaineering, but it will be inadequate mobility for advanced, technical moves like very high steps and rock overs. What will need to be increased is the following three factors.
- The range of motion (flexibility)
- The usable strength within that increased range of motion (strength)
- The ability to control the joint through the movement (stability)
How can you achieve this?
More often than not, we’ve found the missing link in the equation to be strength and stability of the fibres within that deeper range of motion. If one has adequate mobility, those same receptors that control of how far you can stretch will have greater integrity and strength. Essentially, your body trusts you more to not hurt yourself. With increased mobility, your body will allow you to apply more force to those structures, which results in smooth, controlled and ultimately, successful climbing.
What do I need to do to improve?
Ultimately, you know the answer – it’s time and effort. Start to move deeper into the positions you want to be more often. If you do this frequently enough, ie. more than once or twice a week, and you’ll find that you improve. If you are an Urban Member, you can start by attending some of the Member Classes, such as Urban Strength or Urban Core. If you’re training with us at Base Camp, you’ll be working 1 on 1 with Luke to improve your mobility as needed.
Below we’ll post a couple of videos you can try out, and a progression chart for advancing in Pistol Squats.
Drop Knee Squat – This is a really innovative movement we’ve developed for exercising control in the high step.
Pistol Squat Progressions – we have 4 of these posted on my YouTube Channel
Train Hard, Climb High.
By Chase Tucker and Luke Sparrow