Beyond Stretching… From Flexibility to Mobility

By admin
January 15, 2018

Fitness asian female group doing warm up yoga pose

By Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist

Achieving and maintaining a high level of physical fitness is essential for good health and an active lifestyle. Regular exercise can promote weight loss, enhance wellbeing, and improve endurance, strength, and flexibility. Of these three components of fitness, flexibility is the one that often gets the least attention. Unfortunately, this can lead to limitations in movement that can interfere with activity and may cause injury. Improving flexibility alone is not the answer – you should also focus on improving mobility, which is the ability to move without limitations. If flexibility allows your muscles and joints to move, mobility promotes proper movement and posture.

Stretch and Strengthen

Flexibility refers to the ability to move joints through their range of motion. Poor flexibility can limit movement in exercise and other activities of daily living, contribute to feelings of pain and stiffness, and may increase the chance of injury. You can improve your flexibility by stretching, the process of lengthening muscles and relaxing connective tissue that surrounds muscles and joints. Static stretching, where you hold a stretch for at least 10–30 seconds is most common, but there are many other methods, including yoga, to improve flexibility.

Mobility training goes a step further to enhance movement through a combination of strength, flexibility, and motor control. Good mobility goes beyond being flexible and is as much about knowing how to move as it is about being able to move. For athletes, this means building strength, endurance, and flexibility, as well as training to apply that power in a sport-specific way. For example, jumping and landing safely is something most athletes need to do well to optimize performance and prevent injury. For the rest of us, mobility matters because it allows us to complete our daily activities, including exercise and occupational requirements, without restrictions.

For example, imagine you need to move a heavy box from the floor to a high shelf. This Closeup of weightlifter clapping hands before  barbell workout ainvolves squatting down to grab the box, standing up, then lifting the box over your head. Poor mobility will limit your flexibility to squat down, strength to stand and lift, and control your movement to do it all in a smooth, stable motion. There is a weightlifting exercise called “the snatch” in which you lift a weight, typically a barbell, from the floor to over your head with your arms extended in one movement. Training to do a snatch involves developing good range of motion of your ankles, knees, hips, back, and shoulders, the strength to lift the weight, and the motor control to coordinate these complex movements.

Unsit and Mobilize

As important as mobility is, most people lack the strength and flexibility to properly and comfortably do many common activities. Much of this is attributed to poor mobility in the hips and spine, largely due to something that we all do – sitting! Prolonged sitting at work, home, or in the car requires that you assume an unnatural body position which, over time, causes muscles and joints to adapt in a way that limits other movements. You may notice this as a feeling of tightness or stiffness when you stand after sitting for a long time.

The first step in reducing this is to sit less whenever possible and to take activity breaks at least every hour. Even a short walk or a minute or two of standing and stretching will help limit the damage of sitting. Exercise to improve mobility can restore strength, flexibility, and proper movement. These exercises frequently target the hips, legs, core, and shoulders which are often weak from poor posture. Two exercises that are simple and effective are a simple squat and a plank, but more complex movements are included in mobility training. Tools like foam rollers, elastic bands, and therapy balls can be used to target and release tight tissues. Just like stretching, working on mobility should be a part of your regular routine.

To age gracefully and keep moving

A senior couple holding hands walking in the parkMobility is important for everyone, but especially so as we age. Movement limitations with aging are due to natural declines in strength and endurance. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Focusing on mobility can preserve the capacity to do basic activities of daily living. Sitting in a chair and rising from a seated position becomes challenging for many older adults. This movement is essentially a squat, a basic functional exercise. Climbing stairs, another challenge, involves strength, coordination, and balance, all of which are improved with exercise to promote better mobility.

You may already be familiar with mobility training since it is a component of many popular functional fitness classes and programs. If not, spending time on improving your mobility should be a regular part of your exercise routine. Many fitness centers have resources to help you get started and you can find examples of exercises you can do at home on the web. Either way, you should think about improving your mobility along with your strength, endurance, and flexibility when you exercise. The bottom line is that we should all sit less, move more, and mobilize!

Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., is an ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

Sitting is the new smoking. You’ve probably heard that sitting literally shortens your life. Your chair is your enemy. Studies show that too much sitting contributes to a host of diseases – from obesity and diabetes to cancer and depression.

WB.Deskbound.51TZpznzvRLIf you are not ready to take the health risks of sitting…sitting down, check out Deskbound a groundbreaking book from Dr. Kelly Starrett, renowned physical therapist and New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author.

Deskbound provides creative solutions for reducing the amount of time you spend perched on your backside, as well as strategies for transforming your desk into a dynamic, active workstation that can improve your life.

let the music move you.

By admin
September 14, 2017

athlete listening to music

Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist

There are many ergogenic aids that athletes use to improve exercise performance. These include nutrients like carbohydrates, drugs including caffeine and steroids, and invasive techniques like blood doping. Many of these performance-enhancing substances are illegal, banned, or dangerous, so ergogenic aids often have a negative connotation. And, while many of these aids may work for highly trained athletes who have already maximized their training, they don’t really benefit the rest of us.

However, there is one ergogenic aid that has been shown to safely, effectively and legally enhance performance for almost everyone. In fact, it is so widely used there is a good chance you already benefit from it when you exercise. That ergogenic aid is music!

Music is a psychological ergogenic aid that is known to affect mood, emotion, and cognition. Music played at a fast tempo can make you exercise harder and at a slower tempo music can help you relax. Let’s explore some of the psychological and physiological effects of music that can improve exercise performance and make your workouts more effective and enjoyable.

Make time fly while you exercise

In most gyms, there is music playing in the background and many people listen to music using headphones while they exercise. A practical reason is that listening to music makes the exercise more enjoyable by providing a mental distraction from sensations of intensity and fatigue. This means that your exercise session may feel easier or shorter, even if you are working harder.

This is the same reason why talking with someone, watching a video, or listening to an audiobook can make an exercise session seem to go faster. As far as music goes, the benefits may vary based on the type of music. Music that you don’t enjoy is unlikely to elicit any positive impact on performance, so if you don’t like the tunes your gym is playing, grab your headphones and pick something you enjoy listening to, that fits your intensity goals for the workout.

EarphonesPump up the jams

Not only can listening to music make exercise more enjoyable, it can also help you get a better workout. Research suggests that when exercise is coupled with motivational music, people tend to exercise at a higher intensity. They also tend to fatigue at a slower rate leading to longer exercise sessions. This is because people report a lower rating of perceived exertion (RPE), a subjective measure of feelings of pain and fatigue. This means that the exercise may feel easier even at a higher intensity!

Tempo is an important aspect of music that contributes to performance. People tend to prefer a tempo that matches the exercise intensity. Fast tempo music fits well with higher intensity exercise, like running, and music with a slower tempo is better suited for lower intensity exercise, like yoga. Music tempo can also influence the intensity of exercise. Music with a faster tempo can promote more vigorous exercise, as measured by a higher heart rate, and a longer distance covered when walking, running, or cycling for a set time. If your exercise routine involves a series of periods of high intensity training followed by slower paced exercise, match your music to the intensity of the intervals to enhance your performance.

Another factor of music that can influence performance is whether it is synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous is when a person matches their movements with the music they are listening to. This is particularly effective for running, cycling, and rhythmic exercises like aerobics. Asynchronous is when the music and the movements of a person do not match, which may still provide benefits as background music.

Music to focus on exercise

Listening to music before exercise can also affect performance. Studies have shown that listening to music prior to exercise can improve motivation, arousal, and focus. This is why you often see athletes wearing headphones while they warm up before games or races. Research also suggests that listening to music during cool down can decrease recovery times by speeding clearance of blood lactate, a waste product produced during intense exercise. This is especially important if you are doing multiple bouts of exercise separated by short rest periods.

Choosing his favorite workout musicBuild your exercise playlist

If you already listen to music during exercise you probably have your own favorites to play. If not, most streaming music services have exercise playlists you can try, some of which are even tailored to the specific type of exercise you are doing. For safety reasons, be sure to pay attention to your surroundings when you use earphones, especially outdoors. What if you prefer to exercise without music or other distractions? Like all ergogenic aids, the additional effect of music is small compared to the great benefits of the exercise itself, so keep doing what you are doing, with or without your jam.

Saving for a Rainy Day in… YOUR FITNESS BANK

By admin
July 10, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 3.45.57 PM

by Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist

Saving money for emergencies is a wise habit and can be crucial to being prepared in case of a change in your financial situation due to a lost job or unexpected expense. While putting savings aside for a rainy day may seem like common sense, all too often people are caught without enough to tide them over if or when the unthinkable happens.

The principle of saving for a rainy day can also be applied to exercise and fitness. Regular exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Among the benefits in the long list of positive health effects of exercise are a lower risk of weight gain, diabetes and heart disease. Lesser known benefits include improved mental health, cognitive function, and greater feelings of wellbeing. Exercise also is essential for healthy childhood development, maintaining wellness in adults, and even reversing some of the effects of aging.

When you are healthy, you can exercise to maintain a high level of fitness. This makes your day-to-day activities easier and serves as a reserve or “bank” to draw on when the need arises. Maintaining good fitness can help get you through a health crisis the same way saving money helps get you through a financial crisis. You never know when an injury or illness might strike that could limit your activity for days or result in a hospitalization that could keep you in bed for a week, a month, or longer.

Get Out of Bed

The problem with periods of inactivity, like bed rest or hospitalization, is that severe physiological effects can occur within days and will only get worse over time. You may have noticed weakness and fatigue after spending a few days in bed with a cold or flu. Muscle strength declines with each day of bed rest, and can decrease by 50% after as little as three Woman stretching in bed after wake upweeks of inactivity. A person who is fit and strong when they enter the hospital is likely to be better off when released than one who is less active before their illness or injury. And, older adults tend to fare worse than younger individuals. According to one study, the decline in strength seen in older men after just 10 days of bed rest was equivalent to the change in men 30 years younger after 28 days of inactivity. This loss in strength can result in a person having difficulty completing the most basic activities of daily living.

It’s not just the muscles that are affected, either. The bones can also become weaker during periods of inactivity. In fact, even a few weeks of bed rest can reduce bone density enough to expose patients to a greater risk of fracture. A well-rounded fitness routine can build bone density by putting stress on bones through weight-bearing exercise and strengthen muscles through the action of pulling on the bones during resistance training. When bed rest eliminates these stresses, bone density and muscle strength decline rapidly.

The good news is that most hospital patients are encouraged to get up and move around as much as possible. They may be prescribed inpatient physical therapy or rehabilitation after major surgery to help lessen the effects of prolonged bed rest. This post operative activity is important to their ability to bounce back and regain strength they will need to function after they return home.

Fix a Broken Heart

Senior Man Working With Weights In GymWe know that regular exercise can help lower the risk of heart attack and improve survival rates among heart attack victims. While immediate treatment of a heart attack using medications and surgery is critical, a patient’s positive outcome is also dependent on what happens next. In the not so distant past, heart patients were told to go home and rest and not stress their hearts. Today, there is strong evidence that exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation programs are key to improving long-term heart health and preventing future complications.

Comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation programs include monitored exercise, education about nutrition, weight control, stress management, proper medication use, and psychosocial support. Although the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation are well established through research and practice, unfortunately less than a third of heart patients who are eligible for cardiac rehabilitation actually take advantage of such a program.

The Strength to Survive

WB.FunctonalFitness12048070_FullExercise is also known to reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, including breast, colon, bladder, lung, kidney, and endometrial cancers. This is because exercise causes changes at the cellular and hormonal level that result in reduced inflammation and improved immune system function. Regular physical activity can improve a cancer patient’s chance of survival and reduce the risk of recurrence of cancer.

Regular exercise also can help a person better handle cancer treatment. To be sure, cancer treatment can result in extreme physical effects including the loss of weight, muscle mass, strength, and endurance. The fitter you are when you begin treatment, the fitter you will be afterward thanks to the “reserve” you have in your fitness bank. You simply have more strength and endurance to draw on before you reach a point where you have difficulty tackling your normal activities. After cancer treatment, exercise programs can be crucial to helping you rebuild strength, endurance, and feelings of wellbeing.

group of five people exercising in gym running on treadmillsAnother benefit of cardiac rehabilitation and post cancer exercise programs is the encouragement of other survivors. Combined with support from medical professionals, family, and friends, these groups become an essential resource for information, comfort, and encouragement.

Start Saving Today

There are many immediate reasons to exercise and get fit, but when you make regular exercise a part of your life you are inadvertently putting away something for a rainy day. The investments you make in your fitness bank today – are investments you can count on if you are sick or injured in the future.

Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., is an ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

Belhaven University to Open Madison Campus

By admin
July 10, 2017

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MADISON, Miss. – Starting this fall Belhaven University will open a new campus in Madison. According to Belhaven President Dr. Roger Parrott, the Madison site will offer a number of on-site degrees that will include undergraduate and graduate studies.

“I am thrilled we are opening a campus in Madison because so many working professionals need access to graduate degrees in a convenient location,” said Dr. Parrott. “We’ve been providing accelerated format degrees in Jackson for over 25 years, and I expect our new Madison campus will become a significant center of learning for those who want quality academic programs from a Christ-centered university.”

Most of the programs offered at Belhaven’s Madison campus are designed for working adults and function in tandem with students who need flexibility while earning a degree.

The brand new campus is located at 401 Baptist Drive in Madison. To enroll at Belhaven’s Madison Campus or for additional information, visit, email to or call 601-968-8905.


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