Mobility training is easily confused with flexibility, but there’s a difference, and I would say mobility should be more focused. So, let’s define what mobility is and how it is different from flexibility. Mobility can be best described as the active range of motion and flexibility is the passive range of motion. Mobility of a joint requires flexibility of the muscle surrounding that joint and strength or active control during movement through its range of motion. With that said, mobility is a combination of muscle flexibility, muscle strength, and motor control. So why does mobility matter? Having good mobility will allow you to move pain free and move better. When you are pain free and moving better, then you will be able to see results faster no matter what the goal is.
Let’s go deeper into how better mobility can help you reach any goal. One of the many reasons people stop going to the gym or exercising in general is joint pain. Besides acute injuries, joint pain could potentially be a mobility and/or strength issue. Now, I am not a medical professional so if you do have pain, go to a medical professional that specializes in movement. With that said, mobility training around the joints can also help reduce your risk of pain in the joints. Common areas that tend to cause the most issues would be the ankle, hip, and shoulder joints. When these joints lose mobility, the joints above and below compensate, looking for mobility to perform the movement. Great example is the squat, when ankle mobility is lacking the knee, which is meant for stability, looks for mobility. The most commonly looks like knees caving while squatting, the problem with time is knee pain, potential tight hips, and low back pain. When one joint is not performing its job, the joints and muscles above/below have to compensate, and get overworked causing movement dysfunction. If you incorporate mobility training into your routine, focusing on these 3 areas, your risk of pain and injury decreases, allowing you to work more compared to missing the gym due to the pain. Since you are able to work more, your ability to reach your goals can be more efficient.
If your goals involve fat loss, then you can see how improving your mobility to move better and more can benefit your goals. Besides nutrition, just moving more because you feel better will be a big help towards losing some fat. So how can better mobility help me gain muscle? Multiple studies show us that a muscle under load going a full range of motion has greater gains compared to partial reps. If you lack proper mobility during a lift, then you will be limited to just a partial range of motion. This is keeping you from optimizing muscle growth, working on improving your mobility, stability of the joints you can get into a full range of motion. Full range of motion will incorporate more muscle fibers which will not just help grow muscle but improve strength as well.
How do you add mobility into your training? The easiest way is incorporating it into your warmup. At minimum take the 3 drills, one for each major joint and perform 10 reps for each. That is a quick and easy strategy to start. The best way to reinforce mobility for the long term is to strengthen the new range of motion. While strength training, you can slowly increase mobility by working in a new range of motion. You will want to be careful and take it slow. Another way you can add mobility into your routine is during your rest time in between sets. You can pick an area that you want to improve the most, do a few reps while you rest, this would be active rest and an easy way to keep moving. One final way that you can do to incorporate mobility is on your off days of training for recovery. Mobility training is low impact and not demanding on the body, and will actually help you recover faster due to the increased blood flow and muscle activation. On these recovery days you can either do a full 30 minute session of mobility drills, or you can pick 1 mobility exercise every hour and do 10 reps. Both options are great to add some movement on your off days at the gym.
Mobility is not the sexiest thing to do, but it plays a big role in not just the gym and your goals, but your health as well. We want to have healthy joints that are capable of moving in a full range of motion with strength. This will keep you moving, and let’s be honest, it is not fun having tight and achy joints on the body. Below I will add a video to show some mobility exercises for the ankle, hip, thoracic spine, and shoulder. There are many more you can do with many variations. Make sure with any mobility exercise that you are not just going through the motion. You need muscle activation around the joint, the intent is to use your strength to move the joint in its full range of motion, this will require a lot of concentration, and yes muscle cramps will be normal. Improvement can take time so do not feel discouraged, just keep going and trust the process.