Mobility training has been a bit of a buzz term in the health and fitness industry lately, and for a good reason! When the concept is applied effectively, the positive effects can be far-reaching.
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Appropriately done, mobility training exercises and techniques will help you to move better, with less restriction.
Not only can this simply allow you to feel better, but it could be just the area you need to work on to lift heavier and jump higher!
So what does mobility training involve? Is it the same as training for flexibility?
Although you may have heard the terms used interchangeably, mobility and flexibility are different.
In this post, I’ll address the differences and explain some of the ways you can reap the benefits of an excellent mobility training plan.
Best of all, mobility training can be done as part of your at-home workout training plan.
(Get ahold of our Full Body 30 Day Fitness Challenge for at-home workouts!)
Many mobility improvement techniques can be done using your bodyweight alone. Others use small equipment, some of which you may already have on hand.
(See here for advice on getting the best workout gear for small small spaces)
Essentially, mobility is all about how well you move.
A good level of mobility means that you can move freely, without restrictions. The main goal of mobility training is to help your joints move through their full range of motion.
Flexibility refers to your ability to increase the length of a muscle. Flexibility is often passive and focuses just on the length of the targeted muscle.
Mobility includes an element of flexibility, but it’s more than that.
Because good mobility requires a full range of motion around the joints, mobility training requires muscles, tendons, and joints to all move well together.
Unlike flexibility alone, mobility includes muscle control elements and movement, which means it is active.
Overall, excellent mobility is achieved by finding a superb balance between strength and flexibility.
Joint stability is crucial for controlling movement, and mobility is like finding the secret sauce where you have the range of motion you need and the strength to support and control that motion.
A personalized approach to mobility training
Improved mobility can be achieved in many ways, some of which I’ll share soon. First of all, it’s essential to realize that mobility training isn’t the only consideration, and more isn’t always better.
Your mobility training plan should consider your weaknesses and imbalances. These will determine how often you incorporate mobility training into your workout plan, how you go about doing it, and what areas of the body you will focus on.
A lack of mobility can lead to several problems, but too much flexibility can also cause issues. If you’re overly flexible, you might need to focus more on strength training —this will help ensure you have the muscle strength and joint stability to support that flexibility.
An effective mobility training plan will likely include a combination of:
- mobility drills
- self-massage techniques
I’ll cover off some options for these shortly.
Why is mobility training so popular (and vital)?
When mobility around a joint is compromised, it’s common to use other muscles in the body to compensate.
Movement patterns become less-than-optimal, and some muscles start to get overused, while others get underused.
As a result, you might experience pain, perhaps even in a seemingly unrelated area of your body! For example, the hips are a common area of tightness.
Tight hips will affect your range of motion and technique when you are squatting —this can place added strain on the lower back and hips’ flexibility and increase your potential for injury.
Finding the balance between flexibility and strength
At first, you might think that static stretching is the answer to increasing the flexibility in your hips and overcoming this problem.
While it does have some merit and can have its place in your workout plan, it can be time-consuming and may not be the most effective means of achieving the result you’re after.
If you try and stretch a muscle in an area where you have a joint restriction, the compromised joint will stop you from effectively stretching your muscle.
You may find that your muscles will lock up as a way to protect you, and you end up moving less efficiently.
Conversely, if you rely on strength alone, you could be setting yourself up for more significant injury potential. You simply can’t push through restricted movement without repercussions, most notably compensation in other areas of the body.
Overall, you must be able to train and move in a full range of motion. Appropriate, personalized mobility training is one part of the equation to achieve this.
It’s also worth noting that strength training won’t decrease your mobility if it’s done well.
Most people will benefit from some form of mobility training to ensure they have the full range of motion needed for an effective strength training program.
The key benefits of mobility training
I’ve explained some of the fundamental overarching reasons you would include mobility training as part of your workout plan. Some of the more specific, key benefits include:
- Helping to lubricate the joints more effectively than a general warm-up on its own
- Moving better in everyday life
- Better workout and sports performance. Improving mobility means you can achieve optimal technique and form by moving through a full range of motion. The result? Better muscle recruitment to push and pull harder and jump higher.
- Reduced muscle imbalances and, in turn, reduced potential for muscle and joint pain.
- Decreased risk of injury during workouts and other everyday activities
Mobility training might not be as “sexy” as some other training modalities. Still, by now, you should be gaining an understanding of the reasons why it’s a popular and vital training technique.
Joints and muscles can become stiff for many reasons, including old injuries and lifestyle patterns that get repeated over time.
Let’s now take a look at six ways you can incorporate mobility training into your at-home or “anywhere” workout training plan.
How to incorporate mobility training into your fitness regime
As I’ve alluded to, mobility training should be incorporated into your workout routine on a personalized basis and reflect the limitations you have in your own body.
Focus on the areas that you know you have limitations in.
Mobility techniques can be very effective when you use them as part of your pre-workout preparation.
You can also use them in between workouts as part of your “easy-day” or recovery plan.
Dynamic stretching for specific warm-up preparation
Warming up before your workouts is essential on several levels, and dynamic stretches can offer a considerable amount of value as part of this.
A general cardiovascular warm-up is vital to get your heart rate up, blood flowing, and muscles warm.
Following this, a series of dynamic stretches are paramount for making sure your nervous system is adequately prepared for the workout ahead and optimizing your joint mobility.
Dynamic stretches should be specific to the type of workout you are about to do. The movements you choose should be relevant to the prominent joints you will use in your activity. They could cover your full body or focus on a specific area.
Examples of dynamic stretches can include:
- Arm swings forward and back, and arm circles to increase shoulder mobility.
- Torso twists from side to side to loosen up the midsection of the body
- Hip rotations, circles, and leg swings to create better movement through the hips
Static stretching can still form part of your mobility training plan. It’s better placed at the end of a workout since it can decrease strength and performance when done pre-workout.
Workout-specific mobility drills
After your general warm-up and dynamic stretches, you can get even more specific with some mobility drills.
These can be an extension of your warm-up. They often include unloaded movements that you are going to perform in your workout.
You can also include other unloaded, functional movements that require your muscles to move synergistically and further prepare your body for your workout ahead.
- Internal and external shoulder rotation and overhead mobility using a lightweight pole. Drills like these will help ensure your shoulders are prepared for safe and effective loading in your workout.
- Deep bodyweight squats to open up the hips for better squat technique later in your workout.
- Multi-directional lunges to help activate your core muscles for better balance and stability
- Crab walking and bear walking to get the large muscles of the body working together in preparation for better movement during the body of your workout
Myofascial release is a fancy term for self-massage, and there are different ways you can do it.
Trigger point tools such as foam rollers and trigger point balls can help release fascia.
Fascia is a network of connective tissue throughout your body. When it gets stressed and tightens up, it can result in muscle knots that may cause referred pain and restricted movement.
After you release the fascia, you’ll move more easily and find that stretching is more manageable and more effective —this is where trigger point therapy comes in.
Tools such as balls and foam rollers can help release these knotted up areas and help you move better.
Trigger point techniques can be used as part of your workout preparation or apply them in between workouts.
Foam roller exercises and trigger point ball exercises should target your problem areas. Therefore, you don’t necessarily need to use them over your whole body.
A couple of examples of how to work into trigger points using these tools include:
Voodoo floss for better mobility
Voodoo floss is a particular type of band that can be used as a mobility training tool.
It can be considered as a complementary technique to trigger point therapy or myofascial release.
While myofascial release focuses on the muscles alone, voodoo flossing can also be used to release into the joints. Releasing a trigger point in your muscle may be just what you need to move better.
However, you might find that you prefer the effect of muscle and joint flossing. Some people like to use a combination of both techniques.
Functional, balanced workouts
The first four mobility training principles I’ve covered off will get you set up for excellent workout preparation and support in between your workouts.
It’s also important to consider the exercises you include in the main body of your home workout plan.
If they’re too heavily weighted towards a specific area of the body, you might find that you’re somewhat undoing all your careful workout preparation!
A few essential mobility considerations for the main body of your workout include:
- Incorporating functional, full-range exercises that reflect everyday movements. Primal movement patterns such as squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, and twisting, are relevant considerations.
- Balancing muscle groups. Although this doesn’t necessarily need to be done within one workout, you should consider it part of your overall workout plan. For example, maintaining a balance between chest and back exercises in your program.
- Moving in different planes and directions so that your body is strong and mobile in a wide range of various movements and activities.
- Make sure you’ve considered elements of cross-training in your workout plan. Doing the same activity repeatedly can limit the types of movements you’re putting your body through and create muscle imbalances.
Lifestyle considerations for better mobility
Finally, it’s paramount to consider why mobility training may have become so crucial for you in the first place.
Take a more holistic view by looking outside of your workouts. You can do all the mobility training you like, and remember that your workouts are a small part of your week.
The postures you maintain in your everyday life will contribute to your overall picture of mobility. Here are a few aspects to consider, which can have a knock-on effect on your workout performance and beyond.
- The amount of time you’re spending in a fixed position. For example, if you’re sitting for most of the day in an office, or standing for long periods, devise a plan to minimize the length of time you spend in these fixed positions.
- Ergonomic considerations such as how your desk and chair are set up. Simple tweaks to your ergonomic set up can significantly reduce the strain on different parts of your body by improving your posture and mobility.
- Your choice of footwear. High heels and highly built-up footwear can adversely affect your posture and mobility. Ensure your footwear allows you to move freely and naturally, rather than add to your mobility issues.
What’s your favorite way to train for better mobility? What questions do you have about mobility training as part of your home workout plan? Please feel free to join the conversation and leave a comment below!