Conditioning athletes: how to train mobility with Qigong

Maximising your strength, power, endurance, or speed is a process often involving a personalised plan of resistance training, plyometrics, and conditioning.

But unless your plan includes mobility training, an essential ingredient for progressing in conditioning is missing. Without mobility, your movements will become restricted or unstable, and you won’t fully engage the muscle you’re trying to target. The last thing you would want is to engage muscles and joints that aren’t up to the task. In addition to limiting your overall gains, ignoring mobility sets you up for pain, injury, and training setbacks.       

Mobility refers to your ability to actively move a joint through its full range of motion (ROM) and control the muscles that surround and stabilise the joint. Developing and maintaining mobility frees up your body so that you can fully access and activate the muscles you’re targeting and perform at your best.

When approached intelligently, mobility training enables you to move skilfully, avoid injury, and make real gains in strength, power, endurance, and speed.

Why is Qigong so effective at maintaining and improving mobility?

Qigong is a comprehensive self-mastery system that improves physiological and psychological functioning through postural awareness, controlled movements, proper breathing mechanics, and mindfulness techniques.    

Though the importance of mobility training for conditioning athletes is gaining traction in modern fitness settings, Qigong has been teaching mobility to improve power, precision, and performance for hundreds of years.

Qigong improves mobility by building core stability, improving neuromuscular control and patterning, moving major joints through their ROM, and increasing flexibility through eccentric muscle contractions.

Low stances.

Develop your foot, ankle, and knee stability and mobility, with the low stances found in many Qigong exercises, such as Leopard Qigong (above), while maintaining your hip mobility too. To try this yourself, keep your weight equally balanced on both legs, and press each of your big toes into the earth. Push your right hand back, behind the neck and over to your left side; in time with this movement, allow the left palm to face up as if it’s covering your right armpit. This is the full extent of the motion. Try to hold it comfortably with a full breath for at least three to nine seconds. 

Supported by multiple muscles, your hips are designed for movement, stability, strength, and power. Through movements very similar to deep squats and lunges, Qigong develops hip mobility by challenging your ROM. It also engages your core, to properly position and stabilise your spine and pelvis.

By activating all of the muscles that move and stabilise the hips, knees, ankles, and feet, you’ll experience freer movements that allow you to explore your potential for precision and power. Find out more about this exercise and more on our 5 Element Qigong online course.

Balancing.

Balance is a foundational movement skill that influences mobility, stability, endurance, strength, and power.

Through complex and dynamic single-leg movements like Tiger Descends Mountain Qigong (above), Qigong develops your ability to maintain postural integrity and core stability while simultaneously developing functional ankle, hip, shoulder, and spinal mobility.  

This is a challenging one, even for conditioning athletes, but it’s so effective for enhancing mobility in the whole body. With the left palm face down, bring your right palm up over your head as seen in the image above. At the same time, raise the left knee up to waist level and turn your torso slightly to the left. Place your left foot on the ground, crossing in front of you and twist it in and towards you as far as you can comfortably.

Finally, crouch down low without resting on your legs or the ground. At the same time, bring your hands towards the ground but keep them just above it, twisting your upper body to the left. Now, twist the entire upper body to the right until you can feel you have reached your limit, then gently twist a little more and let out all your breath. You should feel the squeeze in your right side. If you enjoyed trying these dynamic exercises out, be sure to check out our 5 Animal Qigong online course, too. 

Thoracic spine mobility.

Restrictions in thoracic mobility can reduce your power, leading you to compensate with your neck, shoulder, and lower back: easily leading to pain and injury. Keeping a stable and “neutral spine,” in addition to normal thoracic ROM, is essential for conditioning athletes to perform athletic and sports movements safely, correctly, and at full power.

Monkey Turns To Look At The Moon

To promote thoracic mobility and postural integrity, Qigong exercises such as Monkey Turns to Look at the Moon Qigong (above) couples movements with deliberate breathing to optimise your spinal mobility. Try this exercise by letting your left hand rest above your left ear, with the back of your right hand on your lower back where your kidney is. At the same time, rotate your torso in a deep twist, so you look up to the sky. With the fingers of your left hand, tap the acupuncture points above your ear on your head. Untwist and step out to the opposite side. Repeat on the other side.

Can Qigong improve my breathing?

Getting breathing right is vital for serious conditioning athletes. It directly influences your posture, performance, physiology, and psychology. To breathe properly, your diaphragm should be your primary muscle for breathing. However, many unknowingly rely on secondary muscles instead of the diaphragm. This dysfunctional breathing pattern contributes to upper crossed syndrome (rounded shoulders and forward head posture), shoulder instability, and shoulder impingement syndromes, suppressing your performance potential and making your vulnerable to injury. By combining mobility exercises with proper breathing mechanics, Qigong enables you to counteract the effects of dysfunctional breathing and improve your health, posture, and athletic performance at the most fundamental level.      

How Qigong builds mindfulness

Your potential conditioning performance is more than just physical, and sometimes our biggest obstacles are actually in our own minds. That’s why building your athletic ability involves cognitive flexibility, resilience, focus, discipline, stress management, and self-awareness. These encourage improvements to your form, helps you learn from losses, gives balance to the demands of your life in general. Using mindfulness, Qigong helps mentally train how you manage the stress of training and competing, and how to overcome obstacles and anxiety, to develop your abilities from the inside out.  

Fulfil your potential

Your potential as a conditioning athlete for strength, speed, power, and endurance requires a fully functional system that can freely breathe and access athletic positions without pain or compensation. Limited mobility produces limited movements. Take control of your performance potential by intentionally adding mobility work into your weekly training plan. To learn more, visit our blog or explore our online courses and e-books.   

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