While many training programs emphasize the importance of flexibility training, few highlight the significance of a daily joint-mobility routine. Joint mobility, also known as dynamic or active flexibility, is the ability to move a joint through its full range of motion. It’s what allows you to put power behind your overhand serve.
Joints rely on movement to function properly. Lack of movement causes the joints to become stiff. Unlike muscles, joints have no direct blood supply. They rely on synovial fluid in the bursa to “wash away” waste products that build up and compromise the integrity of the joint. If the joints become stiff or “stuck,” everything around them suffers. A full-body, joint-mobility routine is essential for athletes – a daily routine counteracts the tension created in volleyball training and everyday life.
According to Natacha Nelson, a chiropractor and former AVP athlete now living in Manhattan Beach, Calif., joint mobility is the foundation for longevity in an athlete’s career.
“Joints that are able to move through a full range of motion allow muscles that connect to the joints to completely contract and expand and move through their full range of motion properly, which gives muscles more strength and power and prevents injury,” said Nelson.
Whether you’re on the court or beach, jumps and dives take a toll on your body.
“Every time you land, something has to absorb the shock. The muscles, tendons, and ligaments aren’t designed to do it all,” said Nelson. “You want the discs throughout the lumbar spine to absorb the shock. If [waste buildup] is jammed in the spine, that weight load is going to be translated to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Over time inflexible joints lead to sprains, strains, and knee and low back pain.”
To prevent injury to the low back, two factors are essential: mobilizing the hips and thoracic spine with dynamic moves, and stabilizing the lumbar spine with stability exercises like planks and bridges. Doing so will not only protect your low back, but also your knees.
While injuries may occur on the court from fast-paced movements, the root of the problem may actually result from lack of movement during an athlete’s downtime. Prolonged sitting, whether it’s in the classroom, office, or in front of the computer, creates immobile joints. Add on poor posture—slouching, rounded shoulders, and a forward head posture—and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Over time limited joint mobility can result in poor performance when game time hits, and eventually it could lead to pinched nerves and degenerated discs.
Joint mobility training may not be as exciting as agility drills and technique practice, but if you want to perform and feel your best for many more seasons to come it’s a must. And there’s never a bad time to get mobile. In less than 10 minutes you can get your daily fix. Perform these exercises upon waking, before practice, or after sitting for longer than two to three hours.
- With the right hand, grab your left wrist behind your lower back, keeping the left arm straight and palm facing out. (A) Externally rotate the shoulder so the palm faces in towards your buttocks. (B)
- Focus on opening the chest and bringing the head of the shoulder down the spine.
Perform 5 repetitions on each side. Hold each repetition for 5 seconds.
- Stand tall with feet hip-width apart, arms down by your sides. Keep the arms straight as you lift one arm and circle it backwards. (C)
- As the arm returns to your side, circle the opposite back. (D)
Perform 10 repetitions per arm.
- Stand tall with feet hip-distance apart, hands clasped at your sternum. (E) With your knees softly bent, lean forward and keep chin tucked. Keep hips neutral as you begin to twist coming into a side bend on the right. Keeping glutes activated, send hips forward and lean to the back, always protecting the neck. (F)
- Circle to the other side and fold. (G) Return to the start position.
Complete 3 circles in each direction.
- Sit with your knees bent in front of you, feet flat on the ground close to buttocks, hands out to the sides behind your hips.
- Drop your knees to one side keeping sit bones on the ground. (H) Without lifting your feet off the ground, come back through center and drop knees to the other side. (I)
Repeat in a fluid motion for 10 repetitions per side.
Runner’s Lunge with Thoracic Spine Twist
- Start in a push-up position. Step your right foot to the outside of your right hand in a runner’s lunge position. Lift your left arm up towards the sky, twist, and gaze upward. (J) - Return to push-up position, step the right foot back, and repeat on the other side.
Perform 5 repetitions on each side.
Originally published in February 2014