Mobility Screening in 5 steps

 

If you think Mobility is just a buzz word many people use nowadays, you are generally right.

However, knowledge is what makes a difference between a buzzword and a powerful tool in the process.

The screening process allows any serious Coach to assess an athlete’s general level of physical competence and potential injury risk factors, but also allow a checkpoint to verify where the training is going and what outcomes are bringing in.

Combat Sports are no exception.

Let’s get a step by step assessment protocol that will cover most of the main biomechanical markers and save your time: you can run it with multiple athletes at the same time.

Before going deep into the testing, let’s define the elements we are playing with:

Flexibility, Stability, and Mobility.

Flexibility is the absolute range of motion in a joint or system of joints and directly correlate with strength, balance, and coordination.

Mobility is the degree to which the area where two bones meet (joint) is allowed to move before becoming restricted by the surrounding tissue such as tendons, muscle, and ligaments.

Stability: If Mobility relates to movement, Stability relates to control. Stability is defined as the ability to maintain control of joint movement or position by coordinating actions of surrounding tissues and the neuromuscular system

All of the above have something to do with your performance, movement and troubles in getting some executions smooth.

What body parts need to be mobile? Which ones stable?

The following picture will give a better idea of which parts require what.

This is the kinetic chain continuum, in which you can read each element and its specific need:

With this in mind, we can already start evaluating our athletes and building the blocks for a testing protocol (and I assure you, everyone will love having your routine tests done)

Hips and shoulders, for instance, have a huge impact on striking execution; think about Jiu Jitsu or Grappling or Wrestling.. kicking, punching, force development and re-activeness, they all have to do with Hips and Shoulders. Hence an improvement in the above areas will guarantee a better performance, but also a better chance to stay injury free.

The Tests:

  • Thomas Test – a quick, simple assessment used to examine the length of the muscles involved in hip flexion. Assessing their length can help determine the tightness of the athletes’ primary hip flexor muscles, including the rectus femoris, iliopsoas, and iliotibial (IT) band.

Lay down on a table – let one leg of the table at the hip level. Pull the other leg up by the knee. If the lower leg starts raising the hip flexors are tight. If also the shin comes up then the rectus femoris is tight too.

Check on both side and see asymmetry. Take note and think how this can affect movement and striking executions.

  • Active Straight Leg Raise-challenges active hamstring and gastrocnemius range of motion and ability to dissociate one leg from the other whilst maintaining a neutral spine. Asymmetry will effect technical execution of bilateral exercises and increase injury risk particularly in sprinting.

  • Trunk bracing (Plank): Hold the plank with one foot off the ground, check the shoulder girdles, core (Glutes, abs, and erectors) stability and endurance during prolonged bracing.

You can see pretty clearly where weaknesses are and regress their damaging effect, planning the right exercise routines or at least avoid aggravating it.

 

  • Shoulder Flexion test: Lay down on the floor holding a broomstick or a light bar. Move the bar keeping elbows locked and straight from the hips up behind the head touching (or trying to) the floor.

A good execution will show neutral lumbar spine throughout the movement, good thoracic mobility and good ROM in the shoulder and chest. Things that prevent this from happening are tight Pectoralis and/or Latissimus Dorsi (Lats) which lead to a sequence of issues (neck, rotator cuffs, etc)

Especially in boxers/kickboxers, considering their stance and related posture (always flexed spine, rounded shoulders and overstretched Infraspinatus, Trapezius and Teres Major), this can be the chance to help increase the longevity of their career or at least improving their ROM.

  • Overhead Squat

have your athlete perform a squat whilst holding a dowel/broom stick over head

You can line up a squad or a class at the same time and go around checking and taking notes. Check those points in the picture and make sure you do not only look them from the side; interesting things can happen at the front too.

Caving knees for instance, shows generally poor med gluts activation, but also leads to the feet rolling inward. Careful for ACL injuries, because landing after a jump will often play on that spot loading up on that ligament.

How do we evaluate?

Any Test in order to be useful and purpose must have some sort of evaluation system to know what is good, acceptable or to improve (goes without saying that women, men, kids have slightly different biomechanics, so you need to be aware of that too, but do not worry too much at this stage)

You can find lots of benchmark/tests online so to have an idea, but ultimately you can create your own evaluation/scoring system. The tricky point is, it must be scientific, systematic and logical.

For instance, you can decide for each exercise which one are the main points to control (conditions, coaches and athletes can vary, but it is critical to control as many factors as possible), failing this point makes your data totally useless.

Validity and Reliability of your testing

Tests made for your own gym only need to be valid “internally” (getting the answers YOU seek and want to retest); on the contrary if a test was made to be used across the whole Federation it would also need to be valid “externally” (data can be accepted anywhere and compared).

 

Reliability instead is about the test being repeatable, keeping control parameters exactly the same way no matter the external conditions.

Finally, you can decide how to score points, what you want to see for a full score and when/why to detract point from full score.

Example: In the straight leg raise:

  • we are assessing Hip Flexion and Hamstring Flexibility
  • we can either use the following table as guideline OR you can make your own method (for instance, over 90° is excellent, 90° is good, between 90° and 60° is Average, Below 60° is Poor) probably less precise but still reliable for your in-house measurement. would not be “externally” valid though because other gyms may use other systems. NOTE: if you want to be really precise you can use a goniometer.

You get the point, right?

Slowly you can easily build your own system and make sure everyone gets screened the same way, at least in your gym. It becomes your very own tool.

As usual, the above list is not meant to be exhaustive; it is, however, a good start for grasping the concept of Assessment and Testing.

 

Try the drills and let me know.

As usual, thanks for reading me and please hit the SHARE button on the social media.

Let us know what you think and do not hesitate to get in touch with any question!