Why You Should Flex #everydamnday for Mobility Gains

Today, I’m excited to share the blogging stage with fellow Staff Coach and Director of Programming, Dan Cerone. Enjoy this absolute beast of an article we put together about FRC, a ground-breaking system we’ve recently been implementing in our coaching practice, and be sure to let us know what you think!

A Quick Intro

On Instagram these days, you can’t go through a day without seeing at least one picture or video of someone performing exercises that bend conventional wisdom and challenge the range of motion normally exhibited by the body and its joints, in the gym or otherwise. Examples of this include yogis putting one leg behind their heads, and CrossFitters doing one-arm muscle-ups.  Along these lines, many people have started performing movements that are not only done outside of what is considered “normative” ranges of motion, but doing so in multiple planes of motion and in incredibly difficult positions. Fitness professionals like Dewey Nielsen and Hunter Cook often perform these unconventional feats of human movement and give new life to what is possible.

The good thing about all this is that it makes both fitness professionals and the general population rethink what they previously thought about what the human body is capable of. The downside however, is that many people subsequently try to either duplicate or “one up” what they see at the drop of a hat, without the prerequisite joint integrity and strength to do so. Given that so many of us have the mobility of the Tin-man, these feats can actually be incredibly dangerous and potentially harmful. In order to perform those jaw-dropping feats of mobility, Dewey and Hunter actually went through hours and hours of deliberate practice utilizing the principles of a system created by Dr. Andreo Spina, called Functional Range Conditioning.

FRC-functional-range-conditioning-logo

A few months ago Jeff, myself, and staff coach Jake Roswell got the opportunity to attend the Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) seminar led by Dr. Spina himself and Dana John Hemblecher.  Since then, the entire Halevy Life team has seen tremendous benefits utilizing this system both on ourselves and with our clients. The purpose of this article is to dive deeper into the principles behind the FRC system, go over some of the basics behind what we’ve been doing, and hopefully go further into more complex concepts in the near future.

FRC and the True Definition of Mobility

When many people see the concepts of FRC being applied for the first time, they immediately think that it is some type of yoga or “flowability” class. On the contrary however, the best way to summarize FRC is that it is a system that supports sports performance, injury prevention, and movement practice by improving articular control as well as by preparing the body’s tissues to absorb load. In turn, this allows for a decrease in the potential for injury, and an increase in joint range of motion and kinesthetic awareness. FRC is not yoga and is not directly associated with the whole ‘movement culture’ phenomenon, except for the people from that group trying to mimic those who practice FRC.

FRC is a way for people to increase not only the range of motion of their joints, but also the strength of the corresponding soft tissues throughout that range of motion.  This is one of the key pillars of FRC. Mobility is a huge buzzword in the fitness industry at the moment, and it seems like everyone wants to increase their mobility. But what exactly does this mean? Mobility is not simply about having access to a large range of motion throughout your joints, but having control AND strength throughout those ranges of motion.

This differs greatly from yoga, in which many people simply gain flexibility, but not mobility as we have defined here. Think back to that yogi putting a leg behind his head. This is already an impressive feat, but he likely lifted his leg up using his arms, and once he lifts it off his head, it will fly right back down to the ground faster than a fly swatter.  This person has a ton of flexibility, but little to no control over the range of motion he has access to in his hips.

This is where FRC comes in. Using the concepts of this system, our yogi would be strong enough to both actively bring that leg up behind his head and also gently bring it back down to the floor with control, if he so desires.

desk-posture2Unfortunately, we live in a predominantly inactive society which promotes postures that passively shorten our muscles. People are limited to a very narrow window of function, which severely restricts mobility. This is largely due to the good ole’ “use it or lose it” mantra.  As newborns way back when, we had this huge amount of movement potential, and as our motor control and coordination increased we developed the ability to move joints through incredible ranges of motion.  Just watch a 2-year old move around and play for 15 minutes.

As we get older though, we tend to lose the range of motion we were born with due to the demands of society. Most people spend the majority of their time during the day immobilized in a fairly passive seated position, supported by a chair and limiting their movement potential. Sadly, a couple of hours at the gym during the week is not going to undue the damage done from sitting 10-12 hours a day. Even those who are exercise aficionados still don’t have great mobility. They sit in these mid-ranges of motion throughout the day and hit the gym, yes, but probably train their muscles in these mid-ranges of motion, too.

This is not a surprise if we go into some muscle physiology. Based on the length-tension relationship, it is known that the strength curve of a muscle is shaped like a hill.  We are strongest in our mid-ranges of motion, and there is a steep drop-off at the end of each side of the graph indicating that when a muscle is fully shortened or fully lengthened, we are weakest.

muscle-length-tension-relationship
If you were to analyze a length-tension curve for muscle tissue, you would note that the graph spikes greatly in the mid range of motion and steeply drops off at either end.

As you can see above, the reasoning behind this generally circles back to the point that the actin and myosin contractile proteins in a sarcomere are unable to effectively form cross links in these extreme ranges, hindering their ability to slide past one another.  Well, this reasoning really only holds true in the case of individual sarcomere units in individual muscle cells, and does not take into account that at any particular muscle length (on the macro level), there are several million cells in various length states. Thus, the goal here is to get those muscle cells that are at optimal length involved in developing strength at these extreme positions.

An individual’s nervous system also plays into this pattern, because if they are unable to control the outer ranges you can be sure as hell that they won’t be strong in those ranges. However, this can change through practice and training, and although the graph would still look like a hill, the severe drop off from mid-range would be greatly reduced.

We just went through a lot of science jargon here, but it’s important to know. Just like everything else we do at Halevy Life, FRC is rooted in the most up to date scientific research.  We want our members to understand the WHY when we prescribe them FRC exercises to do outside of their sessions, and it makes us giddy when they are able to describe to their friends exactly why it is that their joints feel so much better after a few weeks of FRC-specific training.  That said, it’s finally time to get into the nitty gritty of how we use FRC, and it all starts with irradiation, CAR’s, and PAIL’s/RAIL’s.

The Nitty Gritty

The first step in teaching FRC is to learn how to develop tension and irradiate throughout your entire body.  It is important to note that irradiation exists on a continuum.  It is not an all or nothing principle; there are different times to use different levels of tension and it’s important to become aware of how one develops tension.  The way that I specifically coach the concept of tension with my clients is shown below:

  • 20%: Deep breath into the lower abdomen, bracing and tightening all the muscles in your trunk; grip the floor with your feet and start making fists with your hands
  • 40%: Squeeze your butt and start to spread the floor with your feet building up more tension into your chest, back, arms
  • 60%: Now squeeze everything tighter
  • 80%: Create even more whole body tension contracting every muscle in your body, at this point you should be shaking.
  • 100%: Create as much tension throughout your body as humanly possible.
  • Now slowly start releasing that tension, 80%, 60%, 40%, 20%, breath and shake everything out.  

The reason that tension is the first thing that we coach when going through FRC is that it is instrumental for all the other practices of FRC. Tension is integral when performing FRC because it prevents any compensations from other areas of the body from occurring when isolating a specific joint, protects us from injury, and allows for increased awareness of how one’s body moves in space.

After we teach the concept of tension, we then move on to CAR’s, which stands for controlled articular rotations. CAR’s can be done for every joint in the body and have numerous benefits. The first is that by taking our joints through the range of motion they don’t normally go through on a day to day basis, we increase the amount of neurological signaling to that joint, which is fantastic from a joint health perspective.  It is important when performing CAR’s that they are done very slowly and controlled.  Think about moving your joints through mud; again, slowly and with intent. The more tension we create throughout the rest of the body, the easier it is to isolate the joint we are working on.  Some examples of CAR’s are shown below:

Important side note here, though. If at any point you feel pain when going through CAR’s, don’t try to push through it. Simply bypass the pain and continue on with the rest of the movement.

CAR’s are one of the pillars of FRC and have made a huge difference in the way my body has personally felt on a day to day basis, and the same goes for my clients.  As Dr. Spina says, we should be doing CAR’s #everydamnday and as many times during the day as possible.  The more often we go through CAR’s, the more neural input we are giving our nervous system on the capabilities of our joints and the more we are getting out of the largely sedentary lifestyles we lead.

The next step our clients learn after going through irradiation and CAR’s is PAIL’s and RAIL’s.  PAIL’s stands for Progressive Angular Isometric Loading, and RAIL’s stands for Regressive Angular Isometric Loading.  The purpose of PAIL’s/RAIL’s is to teach the nervous system how to control a progressively larger range of motion and prepare the body’s tissues to function in newly acquired ranges of motion.  PAIL’s and RAIL’s “combines stretching with isometric loading at progressive articular angles in order to simultaneously expand ROM, as well as strengthen & produce tissue adaptation in the newly acquired ranges.”

In simpler terms, when we get near or at the end range of motion we apply an isometric contraction at a very high intensity to override the stretch reflex and obtain control over the new found range of motion.  This is a very effective method for gaining strength and control over new ranges of motion because performing an isometric contraction while in a stretched or shortened position tricks the central nervous system into thinking it has control over that range of motion.  Secondly, in order to teach the nervous system to fully use new ranges of motion, we must activate our motor units as much as possible. Research has shown that during isometric contractions, motor unit activation is maximized since contraction is limited by load. Some examples of PAIL’s/RAIL’s are shown below:

Now that we have an understanding of the concepts of FRC and how to perform CAR’s and PAIL’s/RAIL’s, it’s important to realize that FRC is not just something that is meant to supplement your workouts and be used as a “warm-up.”  As you go through PAIL’s/RAIL’s, you’ll realize that these are very very taxing exercises to perform if done with intent and irradiation. If mobility is a priority for you, going through and consistently training using FRC principles is necessary. You should be doing your CAR’s #everydamnday and as many times possible during the day. You may not want or need a crazy amount of mobility, but you should certainly have enough to move and perform restriction-free both in the gym and real life. If you begin practicing the basic concepts of FRC, you will feel better on a day-to-day basis both in and out of the gym and gain an immense amount of knowledge about how your body moves.

Stay tuned for part 2, in which we will cover some of the more complex concepts that are part of the FRC system. In the mean time, try out some of these CAR’s and PAIL’s/RAIL’s for yourself, #everydamnday and as often as possible throughout the day, and let us know what you think!

featuring Dan Cerone

Dan Cerone

ceroneDan Cerone is the Director of Programming at Halevy Life.

Dan holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Clinical Exercise Science and a Master’s Degree in Human Performance, which were both completed at Ithaca College. In addition, Dan is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Functional Movement Screen Specialist (FMS).

Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Dan completed a coaching internship at one of the country’s premiere strength and conditioning facilities where he worked with a wide variety of athletes, but mainly professional and collegiate hockey players. More recently, Dan worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Ithaca College where he programmed and worked with numerous varsity teams.

Dan is a competitive powerlifter who has placed first in multiple competitions.