One component of health and fitness that’s neglected by nearly everyone in their younger years – but is then sorely missed at it diminishes in later life – is mobility. Mobility matters if you want better health and fitness now, but it's also important if you want to live an active and fulfilled life in your later years. The good news is there’s plenty you can do to improve yours today
What is mobility?
Mobility refers to the way your joints, tendons, ligaments, appendages and body moves.
We can all recognise those with good mobility – they seem fluid, smooth, bouncy and unrestricted by the stiffness and limited range of movement most of us suffer from.
And it’s easy to spot those really suffering from limited mobility. In younger populations, it’s identified by poor form when exercising and limited range of dynamic movement across the three planes - sagittal, frontal and transverse. In the old, it’s poor posture, limited appendage movement and difficultly performing daily movements – sitting, standing and so on.
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Contrary to popular believe, mobility isn’t just about flexibility. It’s about being able to move freely and painlessly through a wide range of motions.
Why does mobility matter?
Mobility matters. Trust me. It’s the one thing we neglect but really shouldn’t.
For those wanting to life a fully immersive and active life as long as possible, mobility is the key. Even if you spend your adult life exercising and are strong, powerful and have good cardiovascular fitness heading into your 60s and 70s, you’ll be totally unable to use those aspects of fitness if your mobility is non-existent.
For those in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s seeking optimal health and fitness, mobility is crucial if you want to reach your potential. For the same reasons, you simply cannot utilise your huge lungs, voluminous heart and strong muscles to their full if your range of movement is limited because your mobility sucks.
Better mobility will help you run with better form, economy and reduce injury occurrence
Why does your mobility suck?
Hey, I’m in the same camp as you. My mobility is rubbish. I pay little to no attention to it until something starts hurting, at which point I stretch (which actually doesn’t help mobility) and foam roll until the pain goes away. I then neglect any kind of mobility again.
While limited mobility is linked to a sedentary lifestyle for obvious reasons, it’s also poor in single-sport athletes. Particularly endurance athletes.
Why? Well, think about it. If you’re a runner, swimmer, cyclist or triathlete then 99% of your training will:
- Be executed on a single plane of movement – in all likelihood a front-to-back plane with little lateral or transverse motion
- Have a limited range of motion – all those activities are limited and even stepping over a tree root or dodging a stray dog can challenge our balance and ….
- Apply forces in limited directions – like the range of motion, forces applied in a single direction for thousands upon thousands of small repetitions ultimately leads to tightness and weakness in any other plane of movement
For those reasons, mobility issues therefore present in a number of ways:
- Muscle tightness
- Range of motion restriction
- Muscular restriction
- Overuse of specific muscles
- Soft tissue limitations
- Loss of movement, efficiency and economy
All of which clearly severely impact athletes, not to mention those simply looking for a full and active life.
Three ways to improve your mobility
Now you know the importance of mobility, here’s the best ways to improve yours.
There are three primary methods of enhancing mobility:
- Dynamic stretching
- Deep-tissue work
- Circuit training
Let’s dive into each:
1 Dynamic Stretching
Conversely to static stretching – which has, through many studies, been shown to decrease performance – dynamic stretching serves to prime your whole body for exercise.
Walking lunges are a great dynamic stretch
Rather than solely stretching muscles, dynamic stretching also challenges stability, balance and postural control. Dynamic stretching doesn’t need to be complicated either – rather than holding a static stretch, execute a handful of moves which require you operate over a range of motion. For example:
- Leg swings – holding something for balance, swing your leg from one side to the other
- Walking lunges – take big steps and lower your knee to within a couple of inches of the ground to give a quad stretch and muscle prime. Add a twist of the torso to get that transverse plane working
- Squats – using just your bodyweight and with feet shoulder-width apart, squatting provides a quad and glute stretch while activating a range of muscles
- Spinal rotations – arms out, twist at the hips from side to side
- Lateral lunges – to work the lateral plane, step out sideways and absorb the step in a controlled manner before returning to centre
There’s a myriad of movements you can do to here, but you can clearly see the difference to these when compared to a static stretch. Go dynamic!
2 Deep-tissue massage
Rather than general massage which focuses on relaxation, deep-tissue massage is on another level…as anyone will attest.
If you’re not grimacing, it’s not working! A proper deep tissue or sports massage is not particularly relaxing, but it’ll do wonders for your mobility
Deep-tissue massage is designed to relieve severe tension in muscle and connective tissue, focussing specifically on deep muscles. Pressure is applied to the superficial level of muscles, of course, but this massage technique targets deeper layers of muscle, fascia and connective tissues like tendons.
They’re intense, but it’s a mighty effective means of improving mobility.
While you don’t have to invest in an expect sports massage – much of the benefits can be reaped through self-treatment. Equipment you’ll need for the self-inflicting pain include:
- Foam roller
- Golf ball
- Tennis ball
- Hand-held roller
Basically, anything hard you can roll parts of your body over!
It’s worth noting that due to the brutality of deep-tissue massage, an experienced masseur or masseuse can leave you with DOMS just like after hard training. This isn’t anything to worry about – it’s essentially inflammation accumulating around your tissues.
3 Circuit training or yoga
While the wider benefits of strength and conditioning (S&C) for health and athletic performance are well-known, it’s circuits classes that really do wonders for mobility.
While S&C is great for building strength and developing power, the movements are often as limited as our sport-specific ones. In one session, you may complete four or five moves – such as a deadlift, bench press, squat or overhead press – all of which are rather limited in their range of motion.
Compare that to a circuit training session where you might perform 20 dynamic movements – from press ups and squats to box jumps and skips - all challenging a different plane of movement…now you’re really getting bang for your buck. Not only will you be reaping the gains of a high intensity session, often with other people (at least virtually), but you can rest assured you’ll be covering a lot of bases to improve your mobility – an investment that’s worthwhile in both long and short term.
Yoga is equally beneficial. With less intensity but more focussed on the dynamic stretching element of mobility, it’s another great way of improving your mobility.
While adding 10-minutes of mobility exercises each day is well worthwhile, so is another daily habit: consuming a spoonful of our Ultimate Daily Greens to aid optimal immune function to keep you and your family healthy