Updated: Jun 16
CARs or Controlled articular rotations are slowly controlled multi-directional and rotational movements performed at the outer limits of your joint. On first look, they may seem to be just mere arm, hip or ankle circles that your phys-ed teacher had you do in high school to warm up; but, they're a result of hours of research into anatomy and physiology by the creator of the system Dr. Andreo Spina and often when looked through the lens of social media - the message about them gets muddled.
They're pretty hot right now on Instagram - I'm seeing a lot of influencers doing educational posts with mostly bullshit form, performed far too quick and sloppily to be utilized correctly. You can tell who has studied the system and knows the true intent of performing them. One of the biggest misconceptions peddled by these posers is that they will help improve mobility, which, isn't entirely true. So I wanted to do a little deeper dive into this section of the system.
CARs have been referred to as the Swiss Army knife of the Functional Range System, by creator Dr. Andreo Spina. CARs are used for many things within the system: assessment of mobility and capacity within the joint, maintenance of joint mobility and utilized post training to explore new ranges of motion after doing PAILS and RAILS.
PAILS/RAILS are where the true mobility adaptations happen within the system to improve mobility and strength at different joint angles, making the joint stronger as you acquire more ranges of motion. PAILS/RAILS refer to the 15 second isometric contractions that are produced at the end position of the stretch, after holding for approximately 2:00; a time that studies show can produce a longer lasting result, compared to shorter times of 30 seconds or 1 minute. But, that's a whole other topic that I will cover in the coming weeks.
Active flexibility > Passive flexibility
CARs are considered a form of active flexibility, because you're actively using your muscles to control the movement. Conversely, passive flexibility is when you utilize an external force to pull yourself into a stretch; using a band, strap or even a doorway are all ways to help pull into a greater stretch. Passive mobility can really only show your body's potential, because you need something to help you reach that full range of motion. Control, is the missing link.
This is an example of passive flexibility
So, training your body to actively control its range of motion is pretty important, I mean you don't want to be bringing a band with you every time you need to reach above your head, right?
By using active motion this way, you can teach your body its outer limits and train your nervous system to control the entire range of motion, plus when paired with PAIL/RAILs you'll be inducing a progressive adaptation to the ligaments and capsular tissue, which will in turn protect the joint and create one that is stronger and mobile. Progressive overload is something I think is missing from most stretching protocols.
The rotation aspect of CARs is also really important because the body is under constant battle between the accumulation and degradation of scar tissues. This is mostly due to our shitty resting postures and movements we do after being stuck in those postures all day, as well as scar tissue that builds up after injuries. We end up developing fibrosis - which is a thickening - that grows between the layers. With regular movement training, you can break up that scar tissue fibrosis and hopefully separate the soft tissue layers to gain proper sliding of motion between the layers - simply holding a stretch won't remedy this at all.
That's why maintenance was italicized above, CARs should be included in a simple daily mobility routine to help ensure that you're breaking up those fibrotic layers and so you can work on improving your joints health. I have simple routines loaded on my app that I encourage all of my clients to do on a daily basis, especially on days where they're sitting for prolonged periods.
There are level's to this
There are 3 levels of CARs within the FRC system, because you want to challenge the joint in different ways as well as progressively overload the joint to improve capacity:
Level 1 - Movement focused: This is the basic level of CARs and one that you'll commonly see on social media. The object here is to focus on the movement you own within the joint.
Level 2 - Articular focused: The second level is where you really focus on isolating the movement by utilizing yoga blocks, walls, posts or even the floor to reduce any compensation from other joints.
Level 3 - Capacity focused: This is the most advanced level, and should only be progressed when you have achieved full range of motion within the joint. Essentially, you will do the CARs with external weights like ankle weights or small dumbbells. By doing this, you can improve strength and stability to those outer regions of the joint, improving resilience.
CARs in Action
Now that you have a better understanding of the why, let's focus on the how.
I've included two versions of the Glenohumeral - Shoulder joint CARs, a level 1 and level 2, so you can see the difference. I haven't included a level 3, because to be honest, my capacity isn't there yet as you can see in the hitch I have when I reach above my head and I couldn't find a really goo
Level 1 Glenohumeral - Shoulder CAR:
You can perform shoulder CARs standing, kneeling or even lying on your side, but this is a video I took from my APP database, where I am just half kneeling. I am trying my best to limit compensation by keeping my core and body stable throughout, but without external help, teaching my body to control while the joint is working.
Level 2 Glenohumeral-shoulder CAR:
In this variation, I am using the power rack to stabilize my body and block out any compensation from the upper back or other shoulder.
Breaking down the movement:
In order to perform the movement correctly, you need to have an understanding of how the humerus (upper arm bone) moves within the Glenohumeral joint. Here is a list of the movements performed during the sequence:
Start by flexing your arm upward and across your body, until you reach your end range - which you will know immediately, because you will feel a block in movement. Then you will slowly rotate your arm inward as you reach behind you, with your hand facing behind you at your side. Then you reverse the movement by reaching back until you feel another block in movement, then reverse by rotate the opposite direction, moving back to the starting position. That would be considered one rep.
How to incorporate it into your routine
If you want to incorporate CARs into your life, I highly reccomend it! But, just realize, as I mentioned above, it may not necessarily improve your mobility over time, but you will definitely feel a difference in how your body feels after doing them regularly.
I would recommend doing them on a daily basis. Since I'm not on Youtube yet, here is a great video going over a simple routine you can slot into your day for about 10-15 minutes:
You should also try adding them into your workouts, both in the warm up as well as in between sets.
I highly recommend seeking out a qualified FRC provider to at least assess you and teach you proper technique and most importantly help you build a plan to improve. If you're interested in learning more you can always shoot me an email - I'd be happy to help!
Comment below if you have any questions, concerns or, if you think I'm full of shit.
All information was taken from the Functional Range Conditioning lectures from Dr. Andreo Spina on www.fucntionalanatomyseminars.com when I took the course, but are not publicly available.