Joint Mobility – Roadblock to Fat Loss

by T C on June 6, 2012

If you hit a plateau in fat loss or even struggled to get stronger in some of your lifts, joint mobility may be an area you want to explore to fix your metabolism or stagnating strength level. When it comes to fat loss, most people are in a hurry to earn a bucket of sweats so they can quickly drop the extra kilograms. The impact of joint mobility is rarely considered as it does not seem to contribute a great deal to a successful weight loss program. Usually, most people would think about how long and how hard they exercise and what kind of resistance training they’re doing in an exercise program rather than how they move.  Little did they know how joint mobility affects the way they move in exercise and can have a profound impact on not only fat loss but also strength and performance. According to Gray Cook a well-known physical therapist in his book “Athletic in Balance”, mobility is one of two fundamental building blocks of strength, endurance, speed, power and agility. The other being stability is tied in closely to mobility. Therefore, whether you’re training for distance such as marathon or into team sports such as basketball or soccer you will need some basic level of mobility to perform well. BTW, joint mobility refers to the degree of movements around a joint.

Very often, I get people that comes to me for personal training for weight loss and all they want is get a hard workout at the expense of good exercise techniques and sometime even risking injuries. To me, it’s just not right to do that because (1) client safety should come first, (2) you can’t build strength on poor mobility, and (3) fat loss is not at its optimum.

If you allow yourself to practise bad biomechanical movement, you will deepen the connection between the brain and body to repeat the faulty movement more readily. Obviously, it will be a recipe for many problems such as re-occurring injuries and stagnating strength gain.

How Does Poor Joint Mobility Affect Safety of Exercise

squatting with heels off the ground

Me Squatting With Heels Off the Ground

When you lack certain joint mobility, your body will almost certainly find a way around it to perform a given task. The most classic example I get in personal training is a guy who is so stiff or have poor mobility around his ankle and hip joints that he has to squat with his heels coming off the ground all the time. That is an unsafe way of squatting especially when you start loading up more weights to the exercise. Imagine squatting on your tippy toes or balls of your feet loaded with external weight, I can tell you it is certainly not a great position to be in and that puts a lot of strain on the knee joints (Just look how awful I looked on the picture on the right).

 

squat with torso leaning forward

Me squatting with torso leaning forward. This is an awful way to squat.

What if you keep your heels down then? Well, you will fall on your back if you manage a neutral spinal posture. The backward fall is due to the backward shift of  the centre of mass in your body. If you manage to keep your heels down solid on the ground you would need to lean your torso forward which will cause strain on your low back due to the failure to maintain a neutral spinal posture (Just look to the picture to the right how weird I look). Either way it is not a safe or efficient way to squat. And as a personal trainer training a client I would not allow my client to perform the squats in either way as I do not want to do any harm to my client and there is no way you can build strength on a weak base like this. BTW, in some cases not able to squat with good technique can be more complicated than I described.

How Does Poor Joint Mobility Affects Performance

When exercising or working out, performing and practising safer and better techniques should be the cornerstones of the exercise program. The exercises you do in your workout should not only help you look better but also should help you enhance your physical performance be it sports you participate in or simple task such as carrying your heavy grocery bags or lifting things overhead. As mentioned in the squats example above, a less than optimised movement may increased risk of injuries it will also affect physical performance. If you have poor mobility, your body will develop compensatory movements and start developing bad biomechanical habits. This would no doubt affect sports performance because poor biomechanical movement will consume excessive energy and effort to carry out skills required in a given sports. As a results, fatigue set in fast which is not a great thing but certainly a good news for your sporting opponents.

Think about doing standing a single arm shoulder press. If you lack adequate mobility in your shoulder due to tight shoulder joint, you won’t be able to fully extend your arm due to the shoulder restriction. This would affect your performance in your shoulder press. It will be an uphill task to get stronger and press more weights because you can’t do a full overhead lockout that help keep the weight centered down through the body to the heel.  Fatigue will set in quicker than in a situation you can do a full overhead lockout.

How Does Poor Joint Mobility Affects Metabolism & Weight Loss

In terms of metabolism and losing weight, having optimal joint mobility will certainly have an impact. If you have inefficient movement due to poor joint mobility, you are going to experience premature fatigue and not be able to work at the intensity required for increased metabolism. When fatigue set in early, less workout done, less intensity, less calories burnt and less metabolic effect. Also, think about having the joint mobility to do full squat compared to not able to. I’m pretty sure you will get a more metabolic workout with the full squat than a half squat.

Think about it…if you’re always injured due to bad biomechanical movement pattern because of poor joint mobility how effective can you be when you try to be  in your best shape in the long run.

If you know you have poor joint mobility in any areas, I suggest find ways to loosen or stretch those areas before you build strength on them. You will find that you will gain more strength and less likely to risk any injuries. It is also important to implement stretching into your workout routine to allow the body to loosen up, maintain and improve mobility.

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