Mobility and Flexibility Programming for Athletes

13 Aug Mobility and Flexibility Programming for Athletes

Performance and corrective exercise for sport is predicated upon a systematic approach where the strength and conditioning coach first identifies the kinetic chain dysfunction, next creates a plan to address dysfunction/performance, and finally implements the corrective and performance training program.

The process by which the development of mobility within the kinetic chain occurs is the implementation of joint range of motion and flexibility modalities. The fitness professional must understand it is not one type of training or group of exercises through which mobility in within the kinetic chain is developed for the athlete. It is through a comprehensive series of differing types of training modalities this goal is achieved.

It is through this integrated approach to mobility training by which the fitness professional can develop the required ranges of motion and muscular extensibility for their athletes. An integrated approach to mobility training will incorporate 3 categorical types of mobility training: 1) Responsive, 2) Operational, and 3) Dynamic.

  • Responsive: Self-myofascial release and static stretching
  • Operational: Active joint range of motion
  • Dynamic: Multi-planar and multi-directional functional movement


Responsive Mobility Training

Responsive mobility training consists of two types of modalities, self-myofascial release and static stretching. The goal of these modalities is improved extensibility of soft tissues associated with the muscular system of the kinetic chain. Self-myofacial release utilizes a bio-foam roller, stick, or therapy ball to apply pressure onto the muscular system of the kinetic chain whereas static stretching incorporates passive movement of a muscle to the first tissue tension point and holding it for a specified period of time.

Self-myofascial release addresses two components within the muscular system for improved extensibility. Research indicates that the application of concentrated pressure is influential on fascia in the muscular system. (Michael Clark, Director, National Academy of Sports Medicine) The pressure applied improves the extensibility and viscosity of the fascia located in the muscular system. In addition, self-myofascial release techniques reduce over activity in muscles spindles causing hyperactivity within associated soft tissues.

The process by which self-myofascial release is implemented is with the use of a bio-foam roll, stick, or therapy ball by the cliental. The fitness professional will instruct the client to roll over the target muscle searching for “hot spots” where tenderness or mild discomfort is felt. After the client locates a trigger point (i.e. “hot spot”), instruct the client to maintain pressure on the spot for 15-20 seconds. The application of pressure for this period of time allows for an autogenic inhibition response within the muscle spindles and an elongation of fascia in the muscular system to occur.

Static stretching addresses extensibility within the muscular system of the kinetic chain through the process of taking the target muscle to its first tissue tension point and holding this position for 30 seconds. Research indicates the benefits provided by static stretching are in improved viscoelasticty in both the fascia and muscular systems.

Empirical evidence also suggests the greatest benefits from static stretching is received from a “hands-on” approach by the fitness professional with their cliental. This allows for the fitness professional to monitor improvements as well as implement the exercises correctly. Static stretching appears to be best implemented after self-myofascial release techniques and prior to any operational or dynamic mobility training. Both self-myofascial release and static stretching techniques can be performed daily and should always be a part of a comprehensive mobility training program for sport.

Operational Mobility Training

Operational mobility training is comprised of actively moving a joint through a specified range of motion. This process is achieved through the utilization of the agonists, synergists, and antagonists associated with the target joint. The activation of a joints agonist causes reciprocal inhibition of the associated antagonist. This results in a greater range of motion within the targeted musculature and associated joint.

The implementation of these operational modalities occurs when the fitness professional instructs the client to utilize a joint’s agonists, synergists, and stabilizers to move an extremity limb into a stretch position and holding it for 2-3 seconds. An example of this technique would be instructing a client in the active straight leg hamstring raise to contract the quadriceps/hip flexors to actively move the leg into a position where the hamstring is inhibited, holding this “stretch” for 2-3 seconds, then returning the leg to the floor, and repeating for 10 repetitions. Operational mobility exercises are to be performed after responsive flexibility training and prior to any dynamic activities.

Dynamic Mobility Training

Dynamic mobility training is the process of integrating the entire kinetic chain into multiple planes of motion. Force production, reduction, and stabilization are key components of dynamic mobility training where the client will be required to stabilize components of the kinetic chain while simultaneously performing corollary movement patterns. Research indicates dynamic mobility training improves the rate of force production and reduction, motor unit recruitment, and neuromuscular efficiency within the entire kinetic chain. As a result, dynamic mobility training is the final series of modalities to be performed prior to athletic activities or strength training activities.

The implementation of dynamic mobility training requires the utilization of minimal loads (body weight is ideal), the maintenance of proper posture during the movement pattern, the ability to control the movement patterns associated with the exercise, and the correct sequencing of the neuromuscular firing patterns required of the exercise. An example of these requirements would be the multi-planar lunge where the client is required to perform a lunge movement in multiple planes of motion. In order to perform this exercise correctly, the client must maintain the proper postural positions of the exercise, correctly sequence the force production and reduction requirements of the exercise, and synergistically recruit the entire kinetic chain.

The process by which dynamic mobility training improves the range of motion and extensibility is through the process of reciprocal inhibition. It is recommended the fitness professional implement the dynamic mobility modalities after the responsive and operational sections of a conditioning program. A volume of 1-2 sets and 10-15 repetitions of each dynamic mobility exercise is ideal for most athletes.


Ranges of motion for sports performance are developed through a comprehensive series of responsive, operational, and the dynamic training modalities. Each type of mobility has a specific purpose in creating extensibility and the joint range of motion for your athlete. Keep in mind the goal of mobility training is the development of extensibility within the muscular system, and proper range of motion within the articular system through multiple planes of motion.

About Performance Coach Sean Cochran: Sean Cochran, one of the most recognized performance coaches in sports today. A career spanning positions with 2 major league baseball organizations, over 10 years on the PGA Tour and work with top professionals including three-time Masters, PGA, and British Open Champion Phil Mickelson, future hall of fame Trevor Hoffman, and Cy Young award winner Jake Peavy provides Sean a proven track record of success.  He has been involved in the production of numerous performance videos and authored books including; Performance Golf Fitness, Complete Conditioning for Martial Arts, and Fit to Hit. He has been a presenter of educational seminars for numerous organizations including the world renowned Titleist Performance Institute.

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