“Nothing Happens Until Something Moves” – Albert Einstein
Have you ever wondered what you need to be doing each and every day to improve your mobility and flexibility?
Do you think working on your mobility is something you should do more of?
Would you like to have a simple set of exercises that can go with you absolutely anywhere & teach you more about the overall health of your body than any other exercise in existence?
Fortunately, if you answered yes to any of these questions then you are absolutely in the right place!
Enter CARs [Controlled Articular Rotations]
CARs represent the backbone of what is required to maintain healthy joints over the course of our lives.
They stand for Controlled Articular Rotations. This simply means that we are moving each of our articulations (i.e. the joints of the body) through the maximum amount of controlled rotation possible. They come from a system of mobility training known as Functional Range Conditioning (FRC).
The reason why the rotational component is so important is because, in order to fully explore the range of motion within each of our joints, there must be some form of rotation being explored (this is a bit of a paradigm shift for some textbook anatomists).
Thus CARS are simply a systematic way for us to explore our full range of motion, each and every day. The beauty of these exercises is that in the process of exploring our range of motion through these movements we will see continual progress toward improving that range over time.
It’s the ultimate daily routine that leaves us healthier, more mobile and feeling better each and every time we do it.
To see the full list of benefits these drills can provide check out this comprehensive video.
CARs serve two main functions
For the purposes of how we use them in our clinic, CARs serve two main purposes.
- Check-in with our joints to see how they are functioning
- Provide a ‘maintenance stimulus’ to help our joints repair & function optimally
As a joint health check-in CARs are fantastic as they expose us to potentially vulnerable ranges of motion (i.e. our end ranges where our body lacks control). The large majority of injuries occur at our end ranges of motion, so CARs are a great way to see where we might be at risk of injury. If our movement is altered or we experience discomfort in a certain range, this is a good indication that there is something that needs to be looked into further. Because CARs are ideally performed every single day, they represent a great baseline that tells us how our body is feeling at any given point in time.
As a Maintenance (& Improvement) Stimulus CARs serve as the ultimate form of Kinetic Hygiene. In the same way that we brush our teeth to maintain the health of our mouth, CARs form the basis of hygienic practices that maintain the function of our musculoskeletal system. This works in a number of ways, that ultimately preserves the health of our movement. By moving each Joint individually, we ensure that the synovial fluid and other fluid delivery systems of the body are able to reach the joint in order to maintain it’s structural integrity and clear away any waste products. To move each of these joints our muscles have to work. Because this movement is occurring at our end ranges, this will require considerable effort from the muscles, which creates an adaptive stimulus, allowing the muscle to be stronger over time. To create movement in the muscle our nerves that innervate each muscle must receive a signal from the motor cortex of the brain. By sending this signal regularly we ensure that our body recognises the need for this kind of movement & thus continues to adapt over time. This ultimately allows for optimal functioning of the whole body (not just the joints), as if we chose not to move, we would begin to lose our capability through each of these individual systems to move well (i.e. Use it or lose it).
The ‘use it or lose it’ principle is a very accurate representation of the way mobility works, showing how our body adapts. One of the best examples of seeing this idea applying to mobility is with kids. Every child will have the ability to get into all sorts of positions that an adult typically isn’t able to. From getting into a full split to sitting comfortably in a deep squat. Children possess the capabilities to move freely as their bodies haven’t had to adapt to their environment (In the case of many people this means stiffening up and tightening muscles to conserve resources & protect weak areas that aren’t used).
How to perform optimally
- Irradiate & tense the whole body as much as is appropriate to the intensity required. Irradiation simply means tensing our muscles as much as possible to optimise force production. This allows us to push our joint through their end range of motion (therefore eliciting maximal mobility benefits), as well as to prevent movement occurring in the joints of the body that aren’t the focus of the CAR (i.e. movement compensation). Identifying the joints outside of the joint we’re focusing on that have a tendency to move when we are performing CARs is a great way to identify potential areas that could cause injury down the line.
- Move the joints through their fullest range of motion possible. This will feel like straining & applying a lot of effort to the movement. This is absolutely natural to do, as this type of drill is designed to push our body in its end ranges of motion. In this way, it is very similar to strength training in terms of the effort applied (in fact it is strength training, just at our end ranges).
- Scale intensity to the effect that is desired. If this is simply a body scan go at about 40-60% effort. If it’s a workout where you want to optimise mobility go at 100% (a great time to use this is in between sets of training). There is no right or wrong to the intensity you choose. Just pick what is appropriate for how you’re feeling at the time.
- Move outside of painful ranges. If any form of pain is experienced when doing CARs, the best bet is to adjust movements so that only pain-free ranges are being explored. The pain response of the body is helping to indicate that something might not be quite right with that particular joint. If the pain has come on out of nowhere, then it might just be a minor tweak. If it persists, however, then it could be indicative of something a little more sinister. This is why CARs are such an amazing tool. They allow us to screen our body for any potential issues, before they get exposed in a less controlled environment (i.e. leading to injury). The best way to adjust your movements is to minimise the size of the joint rotation & moving more gently through the range until the pain subsides. If the pain sticks around (typically longer than 2 weeks), then proper treatment should be sought out.
The Bottom Line
While CARs provide a systematic way to go about achieving optimal joint mobility, it is important to remember that they are simply movement at the end of the day. Any movement that causes us to reach our end ranges of motion & challenge our joints in these ranges will provide a similar stimulus to what CARs can do (Rock Climbing & Dancing are perfect examples of activities that regularly provide this kind of challenge). The reason why CARs are so beneficial is because they allow us to break down every single part of our movement individually, to isolate each component in order to see what is functioning as it is supposed to. For this reason, they are a great tool to ensure you leave no stone unturned when it comes to your joint mobility.
The Exercises [Flexibility & Mobility In One]
Spinal CAR #1 – Cat & Camel