How to Become a More Resilient Barbell AthleteMay 09, 2023
Why Strength-Based Mobility Training Is Your Ticket To Pain Freedom
I could sit here and tell you all day about how mobility training is going to “bulletproof” you and make you completely resistant to injury, but in reality, that just ain’t true. When you look to perform at a particular level, small injuries here and there are basically inevitable. It’s part of the package. Training hard offers you so many benefits in your life, but it also has its toll on your body.
So…does this mean you should just accept it and just pray that you don’t get injured? NO! Common now…
As someone who is serious about their sport, you already know that it’s worth it to invest your time and effort into mobility training for so many reasons. In this article, we’ll break down how Primal Mobility takes steps to build resiliency for our clients, the difference between recovery vs mobility, and how you can start implementing the Primal Method today to drop your pain and crush your workouts without worry. You don’t need a physical therapy degree to learn how to leverage mobility training.
Let’s get after it.
Understand the Benefits of Becoming More Resilient
A person who is able to withstand or recover from difficult conditions” / “able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed.
I’m a firm believer that everyone should be chasing resiliency. We should all be looking to have resilience and the ability to withstand difficult conditions…it just makes life better. That being said, it’s certainly not easy - but it’s simple.
You get it…you are someone who loves to hit the gym and get under a barbell. You understand that there’s endless value to being strong and how that brings benefit to your mental and emotional status. The stronger you become, the more capable and confident you are when life throws all sorts of shit at you. But the only way to get there is to be consistent with your efforts, right?
Mobility training is a resiliency tool. It helps you feel unbreakable. Unstoppable. Like you’re able to confidently attack anything in the gym/life without fear…because that’s what strength does. You already know that training your mobility is important (duh), but let’s open up to chat about the various alternative benefits it brings (because I see it as way more than just a helpful tool for pain reduction and injury prevention).
Benefits Of Being Resilient
More patience (you feel better, so aren’t as irritable)
More mental clarity
MORE confidence in your body and its abilities
A greater ability to manage stress
Less breaks away from the weights
Less thinking about the nagging discomforts that come up during training
More movement freedom
Feel more agile and capable
Easily play with your kids in funky positions
The less warm-up time needed
You don’t think twice about the health benefits of lifting weights, so you should know that extending that effort into building strength in your joints through real mobility training is a compounding investment.
So let’s have a look at how Primal approaches mobility training through what we call the Primal Method.
The Primal Method and its Principles
The way most people view mobility training is via stretching, foam rolling, banded distractions, etc. but will often not even consider that strength is actually the main pillar that creates sustainable change to the muscle tissues.
The Primal Method has 5 pillars that we use as a guiding principle to create life-changing mobility, rapidly. It’s an interesting approach, as we can use these 5 pillars in each individual mobility workout, while also separating them into unique mesocycle training blocks as well. The reason we follow a specific blueprint like this is that it gives us a clear path to follow that will naturally guide us to long-term changes.
We’ve got physical therapists on our team helping us provide an evidence-based approach to mobility that improves performance, training, and recovery. Whether you are in Olympic Weightlifting, CrossFit, or Powerlifting or have general fitness goals, the Primal Method can help you become more resilient.
Here’s how it looks
Pillar 1: Awareness & Connection
Your understanding of your unique movement compensations and how they’re affecting your discomfort and injury risk, as well as your ability to engage and contract your muscles in deep, unfamiliar, weak ranges of motion. This pillar is weaved into all movement in the effort to build and grow proprioception.
Pillar 2: Build New Ranges
Creating flexibility in particular areas to develop new movement opportunities and space to begin laying a new foundation.
Pillar 3: Stability
Building trust within the nervous system; proving that your body can manage deep ranges of motion without losing control (often approached with isometric techniques).
Pillar 4: Movement Control
Further building upon that trust within the nervous system that you are able to control your body as you move deeper and deeper into the limits of your range of motion and through your movement patterns.
Pillar 5: Strength
The final influence on the nervous system is that fosters long-term retention of your results. You are now proving to your subconscious mind that these ranges of motion are available, safe, and manageable so that your body does not store them away as “unuseful”.
As you can see, everything we do leads us toward strength. It’s like the icing on the cake, the glue that holds it all together, the final nail in the fence. It’s important to remember that you’re not just stretching when you’re training your mobility…you’re strengthening and developing resilience.
For this reason, you need to force adaptability. This is exactly why we implement progressive overload principles into our protocols. Without gradually increasing the stimulus, our body eventually stops seeing the need to progress (no fun). Once your body no longer sees the need to stretch its limits (you just know I had to with that pun) to respond and adapt to escalating stressors, it becomes complacent at that level.
This is where the classic term “plateau” comes from. It’s true in traditional strength training as it is in mobility training.
This is why aimlessly stretching, rolling, or whatever, just doesn’t offer the same type of results. You need to find a way to trigger your body’s adaptation response.
Incorporate Mobility Workouts into Your Routine
Easier said than done, I know. One thing that we know about mobility training is that it’s often the first thing to hit the back burner when you’re stretched for time (I’m on a roll with these puns!). Over time this will often pile up, and eventually, you’re back to where you were, only stretching and rolling when your shit hurts or you feel tight.
Just like anything else, consistency is a key contributor to your results, so you need to find a way to get your mobility training multiple times per week on an ongoing basis. For this, you’ll need to find a way to keep yourself accountable and build a habit around the work. Here are a few ways to start doing this.
Add it to your concrete routine: Find a 10-20 minute time slot in your routine that you can easily get your mobility training in. This can be in the evening during your Love Is Blind Netflix binges, it can be as soon as you get to the gym before you start your warmup, it can be before you cook dinner…whatever works for you, as long as it’s easy enough to implement where it won’t be a massive inconvenience.
Habit stack it: Habit stacking is the concept of building a new habit around an old one to increase the likelihood of it sticking. Here’s an example of how I did this. I’ve been training in jiu-jitsu for almost 12 months now; after a few months, I noticed that I was getting caught in a lot of neck cranks, and my neck was getting crazy sore. Knowing about the common neck injuries in the sport, I made the decision to do something about it to increase my resiliency. So I bought a neck harness and put it in my gym, where it stayed unused for another month. After more time dealing with neck pain, I decided to habit stack it so I wouldn’t keep passing it up. So what I did was put my gym shoes inside of it, so I couldn’t start working out without first doing 50 reps of neck training. Needless to say, my neck is painless today, and now I’m far more confident that I won’t get hurt when I get caught in a neck crank.
Create a daily minimum: Every month, I come up with 3-4 things that I will do on a daily basis for that month to help me work on weaknesses that I want to make progress on. To help make sure I stay accountable for this, I’ve invited a group of buddies to be a part of it with me. We call it our monthly challenge. For this month (April 2023), we are doing 3 minutes of wall sits, 30 burpees, 30 pull-ups, and 2 hours of no phone while being present with the family. Here’s the catch, every day that we miss a single component to this challenge, we have to donate $20 to a charity of choice agreed to by the whole crew. We’re 5 months in, and I’ve seen so much progress in all sorts of areas of my life because of it.
Get a coach: We already know that accountability is huge. Coaching is a game changer, especially for the things that you genuinely don’t feel like doing but know you should. There’s no better way to stretch your ability (can’t stop won’t stop) than to have someone help you stay committed to something that is guaranteed to bring you benefit. Incoming plug -at Primal Mobility, all of our programs are accompanied by a designated coach that knows you, your body, your lifestyle, and obstacles so we can help you get shit done like a BOSS.
Reduce Injury Risk by Adopting Recovery Techniques
There are two crucial components to reducing the risk of injury:
Improved movement mechanics (technique)
Both are obviously very important, but let’s chat about recovery for a moment.
Unless you’re a professional athlete, and all you need to worry about is doing everything necessary to ensure you perform at the highest level, recovering properly before the next workout can be quite the challenge. But hey, I get it. I personally have sleep struggles that really seem to slow me down in my pursuit of recovery (I have two young kids, and I get up at 4 am to work…it takes some serious finessing to get close to 7 hours of sleep).
While sleep will always be your biggest asset for rest and recovery - seriously, prioritize sleep above all else, it will change your life - you can drastically reduce your risk of injury by improving your recovery rate with recovery-based movement techniques.
What are recovery-based movement techniques, you ask? Well, they really just exercise that utilize your deep ranges of motion but will apply low levels of stress to the joints and muscle tissues to reduce any excess strain on the nervous system that may cause a more rapid onset of fatigue during the next training session (the faster your body fatigues, the faster your ability to control the weights, and subsequently the faster your movement mechanics will fall apart, and the greater the chances of injury become).
Look at it this way, if you want to reduce your risk of injury, make sure you’re recovering properly! If you’re recovering well, even if your movement mechanics are trash, you’ll still have a higher level of resiliency.
Here are two recovery techniques that you can use to help calm your nervous system and prime your body for recovery
Primal Hip Flow
Primal Spine Reach
Remember, while recovery is a valuable pursuit in your efforts to reduce the risk of injury, improving your movement mechanics and exercise technique will go a long way as well. Practicing the exercises themselves is a great starting point, but also incorporating a mobility training program or protocol into the mix can make all the difference.
Recovery vs Mobility Techniques
Now that we’ve discussed recovery, it’s worth quickly dissecting the core difference between recovery and mobility techniques so you can make sure you’re addressing your body with the right approach at the right time. This is the part where I go all exercise science on you–but don't worry, you don't need to be a physical therapist or strength coach to understand this stuff. Whether you're a USA Weightlifting athlete, play college football, or you're someone who loves hitting the gym and training hard, understanding the differences between recovery and mobility is vital.
Recovery Exercise Techniques
As mentioned above, a recovery-based technique is going to cause low stress to the nervous system. This approach will apply low intensity and loading to your deep ranges of motion; it will often implement some form of deep breathing to help provoke the parasympathetic nervous system (a network that relaxes your body after a period of stress and is responsible for life-sustaining things like digestion and circulation) and will have you moving through various lengths of the muscles that you recently trained to help reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and improve circulation.
Mobility Exercise Techniques
There is a common misunderstanding that mobility and recovery are basically the same things - long stretching (which definitely has a place within a mobility protocol), foam rolling, etc. Here is where the two differ, while recovery requires a calming experience for the nervous system, improving your mobility requires an adaptation response.
Here’s why, our nervous system holds onto our current mobility status as a protective mechanism through our stretch reflex (brief overview of what the heck the stretch reflex is, below) and in order to make long-term mobility progress, we need to create change that offers a long term influence on the nervous system. This is done through the development of strength and control of our deepest ranges of motion.
Here is a brief example of two frog-based exercises. One is more geared toward recovery, one is more geared toward mobility:
Simplifying the stretch reflex: Our stretch reflex is the muscle's automatic contractile response when it approaches its current deepest range of motion. As it begins to reach that deep range, stretch receptors in the muscle will be triggered and send a message to the nervous system that we’re starting to explore uncharted territory that might be dangerous (our body doesn’t know any better, these ranges are unfamiliar and considering we don’t currently have good control of these ranges, they may be too risky to play within - the risk of injury may be too high, so it protects itself), and automatically contracts the muscle to protect itself.
Until we have proven to our body that we are strong enough to control and manage our deepest ranges of motion, we will not be “granted access” to the ability to achieve more. What this means is that if we can not control our deepest ranges of motion, our body will not allow us to achieve more by keeping the stretch reflex highly excitable.
Adopt the Primal Mindset
One of our 10 Primal Principles is to use every session as an opportunity to learn. Every time you approach your mobility training, you should be aiming to learn something new from your body - looking to see if one side feels more restricted if you are weaker in one position vs another, how your body responds to a particular stimulus, etc.
Taking the time to tune in and be intentional about your mobility work goes a long way. Not only will this help you better understand your body, but it will also drastically improve your proprioception as well - your ability to understand where your body is in space as you move. This means you will naturally have a much greater carryover from your mobility training into your workouts as a result, rather than if you were to simply go through the motions. This means you may need to pause the Netflix for 10 mins while you pay attention to what your body is telling you as you move through your ranges of motion.
Take your time to tune in, homie; you’ll be surprised at how much more bang for your buck you get.
Resiliency is a byproduct of your ability to move well and recover like a boss. The more efforts you put toward improving your ability to sustain fatigue, bounce back from stress, to manage challenging loads within deep, often weak, ranges of motion, the greater your ability to fight off potential injury.
While we all get antsy to chase PRs and achieve a level of performance that we’re proud of, consider the fact that you’re playing the long game. You’re not trying to crush a PR and then be out of the gym for weeks on end due to discomfort. Play it smart and make some legitimate changes to your mobility and recovery to ensure you keep improving week over week, month over month, and year over year.
If you want to double down on becoming the most resilient athlete you can possibly be, let us show you how it’s done, my friend. Just book a free mobility consultation with our Head Coach, Bekah, and she’ll be able to point you in the right direction after learning more about your goals and injury history.