Fitness pros these days are talking more and more about mobility. It’s the new big thing — even if it has always been a critical component of health and fitness. While resistance training and flexibility have traditionally gotten all the glory when it comes to working out, mobility has recently made a move from an overlooked part of a warm-up into a standalone fitness goal.
Whether we want to improve athletic performance, fight chronic pain, or lose weight, mobility is an important first step to getting there.
What is mobility?
Often confused with flexibility, which is about lengthening the muscles, mobility describes the range of motion in a joint. It’s about being able to move the body through its full range of motion smoothly and without pain. Excellent mobility incorporates various fitness aspects, including the joint range of motion, muscle and joint stability, strength, and, yes, flexibility.
Why is mobility important?
Mobility is all about moving and moving safely and efficiently. That should be enough right there. But improving mobility can also reduce joint pain and reduce the risk of injury. Without good mobility, our posture and exercise form can suffer, making it harder to reach our exercise and fitness goals.
It doesn’t matter whether we’re twenty years old or eighty, a competitive athlete or a desk jockey. Every day that we don’t focus on our mobility is a day that our mobility decreases.
How do we improve mobility?
Simple, functional exercises are all we need, and it doesn’t take hours in the gym. Resistance products such as resistance bands or resistance tubing can sometimes be helpful. Still, you can perform many mobility exercises without any equipment at all (check out this link for tips on setting up your resistance tubing). Consider these simple exercises:
- For ankle mobility, stand tall with a hand against a wall or desk for support. Slowly rock forward into a tiptoe position, then slowly lower your heels back to the floor and lift your toes. Repeat ten times.
- For hip mobility, stand with your feet hip-width apart. Raise one knee toward your chest, or as far as it will go, and make a circle with it across your body, out to the side, and down. Repeat with the opposite knee, alternating sides ten times. Then do it again in the opposite direction (starting your knee outside and then moving it across your body), alternating ten times on each leg.
- For the thoracic spine, lie on your side on the floor with your knees and hips bent approximately ninety degrees. Straighten the bottom leg and support the remaining bent leg with a foam roller or folded towel. While still lying on your side, straighten both arms out in front of yourself with the palms together. Lift the top arm and rotate it behind you so that your chest opens up to the ceiling, rotating your head and trunk with your chest as you move. Hold for three seconds, then bring your arms back together. Repeat five times on each side.
- For your shoulders, stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a broomstick or similar bar with your hands as far apart as possible using an overhand grip. With your arms straightened, slowly raise the bar overhead while maintaining balance, posture, and core strength. Move the bar up and back as far as you comfortably can, hold for a few seconds, then return to the start. Repeat five times.
- For your neck, simple side tilts, forward tilts, and half-circles can be performed just until you feel a stretch. Move slowly through your range of motion.
These are just a few simple mobility exercises that we can work into our day wherever we are, whatever we’re doing. The trick to getting them right isn’t putting in a lot of effort or intensity — it’s simply taking a few minutes out of every day to do them.
The next level of fitness
Mobility is a huge component of fitness, and there’s a lot more we can do to step it up, from inchworms to bear crawls to becoming a supple leopard.
But on top of that, we need to remember our strength training and, of course, our cardio. Mobility, flexibility, strength, and a strong heart and lungs all work together to make our days easier and open our lives to opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have when we’re worried about injury or incapacity.
At-home training products can make mobility and resistance training much easier when we don’t have access to a gym.