Getting stronger is fun. So is learning new gymnastics skills. They’re exciting and ego-boosting, because there are PRs, and measurable milestones like a first pull-up, involved.
Becoming more mobile and flexible, on the other hand, is often less exciting. It’s more subtle, harder to measure, and just not as sexy somehow.
But when you realize that improving your range of motion will go a long way in your physical development—it will help you improve your strength and your gymnastics skills because you will be able to get into more optimal positions—you might be more likely to put in the necessary hours upon hours to gain some more range.
Most importantly, though, having access to more range of motion in your joints, and having healthier joints in general, is the best way to keep you injury-free.
Think of it this way: If you can’t raise your arm overhead without compensatory movement from the spine, or any other part of your body, without load, then why are you surprised when you injure yourself with load? Does it even make sense for you to do that movement loaded?
Similarly, how much wrist extension to you have access to under your own control? In other words, how much can you bend your wrist backward (without help from your other hand) the way you need to when you do a handstand? If you can only move your wrist 45 degrees, then why are you surprised that your wrists hurt when you throw your 150-lb. onto your wrists in a handstand?
So how can you improve your range of motion for the sake of your movement efficiency and safety?
Introducing the concept of FRC—Functional Range Conditioning
In short, functional range conditioning (FRC), developed by world-renowned musculoskeletal expert Dr. Andreo Spina, is a comprehensive joint training system that essentially helps you move better.
Emile Connaughton of MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver is a functional range mobility specialist who was trained by Spina. He swears by FRC as a means to improving the way he moves and to keep himself injury-free.
One of the big misconceptions he thinks people have is that they see mobility or flexibility in a vacuum.
“But mobility is actually flexibility plus strength. Someone who is mobile has strength in various ranges of motions,” Connaughton explained. One of the ideas behind FRC is then to gain more usable range of motion—i.e. strength in those ranges of motion.
Much of this comes down to joint health. The best way to improve joint health is to move them, especially to your end range of motion. Some tools Connaughton recommends to improve your shoulder, hip and wrist joint health include:
- CARS (Controlled articular rotations)
Dr. Andrea Spina explains this the best, so here’s a video of a shoulder CAR.
- 90-90 Hip prep with Spina.
Another big FRC concept is the idea of getting stronger and more comfortable in “weak” positions.
One of the most common times people get injured is when they end up in a position their body isn’t used to.
“Injuries don’t happen when you’re in good positions. They happen, for example, if you fall backward and throw your hand behind you to stop yourself and you break your arm or tear something in your shoulder,” Connaughton said, adding, “It’s because you have never taken that joint or tissues into that range of motion before so it doesn’t have any experience there.”
No matter what you do, though—be it sports or just living life—you’re going to end up in a less desirable position from time to time, so you might as well prep your body as much as you can to avoid acute injuries.
“When you practice taking your joints into all positions, you will learn to have access to more positions safely,” Connaughton said.