Listen, let’s be clear on one super important fact—we want you to be lean, strong, aesthetically impressive humans. And, if you stick with us, that will be your outcome. But it’s tough to train to achieve such an Alpha, picturesque frame if you feel, and move, like shit. Enter the CARs. CARs are a mobility training Godsend. And performing them everyday will improve your joint health and movement exponentially.
CARs are joint rotations with tension. The definition straight from the horse’s mouth, Dr. Andreo Spina and his Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) course, is this:
Active, rotational movements at the outer limits of articular motion. – Dr. Andreo Spina
So, in essence, CARs explore the outer range of joint motion by rotating joints. We’ve just said the same thing in three different ways—but it helps to have multiple inputs. CARs are a great joint range of motion maintenance and expansion tool. Exploring the biggest range of motion possible sends the message to the brain, and its peripheral nervous brethren, that a big range of motion is safe and within bodily control. The tension, however, is key. Whipping joints in a circle does nothing to tell the body that it owns a range. Tension is the teaching tool. While it teaches, tension also strengthens tissues. Think of CARs, and any FRC based mobility work prescribed for you, as specialized strength training. The exercises teach the joints to be strong throughout an expanded range.
Let’s continue with our tension theme. Building tension by contracting muscles causes adjacent muscles to contract. This, my dear gentlemen, is called irradiation. Irradiation sends the message to the brain to “release the Kraken!” Increased tension makes the body feel “safer.” Now it’s a party. Since it feels safer, the brain lets muscles generate more force and gives joints expanded ranges of motion—especially when muscles close to the spine contract with vigor. Rigid, safe spine = lots of force and range of motion to joints. In CARs terms—this means that the joint you’re training creates a bigger range of motion. Full-body tension has another beautiful outcome—it limits range of motion at the joints that shouldn’t move. As we perform CARs at a selected joint, we want to limit range of motion at adjacent joints—otherwise we aren’t truly training to improve range in our chosen joint. We’re “stealing” range from other joints and limiting CARs effectiveness, another reason why irradiation is pivotal for performing effective CARs. So, what’s the big takeaway?
Get tight everywhere before starting your CARs
Two things denote a successful CARs rep: the joint moves through its greatest possible range of motion and it’s forcefully pulled through that range. During each rep move the joint you’re training through the biggest range possible that doesn’t cause other joints to move. For example, if you’re doing hip CARs and you have to move your lower back to get more range of motion from your hips, stay in the range that doesn’t require your lower back to move. You should, however, try to increase your theft-free range during each subsequent rep. Here’s the crux—the range just discussed is achieved by pulling. Think of fighting yourself to move, that’s the sensation. If that doesn’t make sense, think of trying to move your body through think mud, or imagine that the air is thick and hard to move through. The first CARs rep is done with a 50% pull—you fight yourself about 50% as hard as you can. Next rep, bump that shit to 70%. Third rep—hit that sucker for 90%. If you’re prescribed more than 3 CARs reps in a set, hit 90% on the third rep and back it down to 70% for the subsequent reps.
Truth is CARs are an anytime drill. First thing in the morning, throughout the day, during your warm-up, during your strength workout—they are all appropriate. But, that’s not to say there aren’t optimal times. Performing CARs first thing in the morning is great for joint health because this is when the body is laying down new connective tissues. The force and direction of the CARs actually directs the way that the body develops the tissues that make up the joint. CARs between lifting sets improves mobility and communicates to joints to maintain their movement in spite of the stiffening influence of heavy barbell lifts. Beyond these two times, throw CARs in before you start your warm-up. If you have downtime at work, or at home, hit a few reps.
If a portion of your CARs ROM hurts, skip past it. Don’t force through a painful range. Just rotate toward the painful range, relax, move around it and then continue your CARs rep once you’re beyond it.