Keeping our bodies moving is the key to maintaining easeful movement as we age. Mobility workouts are one way we can ensure that our range of motion stays at an optimal level for as long as possible. Let's explore the ways in which mobility workouts differ from yoga and stretching, and some of the ways you can incorporate mobility training into your daily routine.
Mobility workouts specifically target our joints, and the muscles around the joints which support everyday movements.
Mobility workouts are excellent for building strength, flexibility and maintaining an optimal range of movement in and around our joints.
Whilst there are similarities, mobility workouts are not the same as stretching, or yoga.
Adding mobility workouts to the beginning or end of a more dynamic exercise session can be a great way to warm up or cool down — all while improving your range of motion.
What is a mobility workout?
Mobility training is a set of different exercises that improve your ability to control and access the full range of motion within your joints. While all joints should have a good range of motion, there are some that need to remain especially mobile — enabling us to perform certain everyday movements with ease, such as squatting, or reaching our arms over our heads. These include:
- Thoracic spine
- Glenohumeral joints (which connect your arm and shoulder)
Having good mobility is a combination of flexibility and strength. Having one without the other leaves you open to injury. Being strong and stiff often results in pulled muscles, while being flexible and weak leads to overextension and joint damage.
Mobility workouts vs. stretching and yoga
Many people think that mobility, stretching and yoga are essentially the same thing. While this association is understandable, it’s not accurate. The different types of training have certain definable aspects outlined in the table below:
|Mobility||Mobility is a fitness attribute used to describe our ability to perform extended ranges of motion in an active state. We can think about it in terms of being able to achieve and control an optimal range of movement.|
|Stretching||Stretching a particular training method used to improve flexibility. Stretching can be dynamic or static.|
|Yoga||Yoga uses various poses and transitions to help the enhance our neurological control of our muscles. It also incorporates proper breathing techniques and improves body balance.|
Are mobility workouts good?
Mobility workouts specifically target the range of motion your joints are capable of. While yoga and stretching exercises will certainly help mobility, it’s still a good idea to build strength, flexibility and control within your joints. Having good stabilization, power, and mobility in your joints is key to preventing injury and maintaining an optimal range of movement.
Benefits of mobility exercise
In order to develop and maintain good mobility well into our older years, it’s a good idea to incorporate mobility workouts into our daily routines. The benefits are numerous.
Improves everyday functioning
Having good mobility makes everyday movements easier. Think about reaching up to a high shelf to grab your favorite sweater, or bending down to pick something off the floor. These are movements we often take for granted until we notice ourselves finding them more difficult. Having a mobility workout regimen will ensure you can perform these daily tasks with ease.
Boosts joint health
Because our joints don’t have a blood supply flowing through them, the way to flush them out and lubricate them better is through movement. Mobility training moves the synovial fluid — which nourishes our joints — through our bodies, enabling fresh nutrients to be delivered.
Reduces risk of injury
A lack of mobility is a major cause of injury. If we don’t have control over our range of motion we can easily over extend ourselves — pulling muscles or damaging our joints.
Also, impaired mobility in one area can lead to pain somewhere else. For example, limited mobility in our ankles can trigger knee and hip pain, and tight hips can lead to lower back issues.
When to do mobility exercises?
If you have a regular movement practice such as yoga or Pilates, or stretch and exercise most days, it’s likely that your mobility will be in fairly good shape. However, if you have a sedentary job and don’t move around very much, then mobility workouts are going to be essential to maintain a healthy range of motion in your body.
Mobility workouts are an easy add-on to your gym routine or at-home workout. They are a great way to warm up — preparing the body for a more dynamic movement session.
Mobility workouts for beginners
Even if you are a regular gym goer, these three mobility exercises will help with key areas of movement.
Ankle extension with toe curl
- Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Your ankles should be over your knees with your legs at a 90-degree angle.
- Lift your heels up until only the balls of your feet are on the ground. Hold for 5 seconds.
- Lower your feet and then lift your toes until only your heels are on the ground. Hold for 5 seconds.
- Lower your feet flat to the ground and curl your toes under as if you are trying to scrunch something between your toes. Hold for 5 seconds.
- Repeat all the steps 3 times. Do this once per day.
Hip flexor with side bend
- Get into a half kneeling position with your left leg bent forward and the right behind in the kneeling position. Tuck your pelvis to make sure you don’t have an arched spine.
- Lift your right hand and place it behind your head, with the left palm on your left thigh.
- Gently bend to the left, keeping your lower back and hips stable, ensuring the movement comes from the mid to upper back.
- Return to an upright position and repeat the movement for 2 minutes.
- Repeat on the other side.
Moving supine twist
- Lay on your left-hand side with your knees bent up at a 90-degree angle.
- Put both arms out in front of you, with the right palm on the left at shoulder height.
- Slowly open your chest by moving the right arm up and over the body to the right side, almost forming a ‘T’ shape with your arms.
- Stop when you feel your lower back wanting to bend.
- Repeat this movement for 2 minutes and then switch to the other side.
Can you do mobility workouts every day?
Yes, you can do mobility workouts every day. While most people who have fairly active lives don’t need to do specific mobility training, it’s a good idea to add a few movements into a daily routine — especially if you have a sedentary job or are getting older.
A great rule of thumb is that if you feel tightness or a lack of ease when performing tasks that are meaningful to you (think of playing with the grandkids, or doing a regular body weight squat), try some mobility specific exercises to increase your range of motion. Your joint health will improve, and you’ll be operating with a healthy range of motion in no time.
Will mobility training make you stronger?
Yes, mobility exercises train the muscles around your joints to build stability and resilience. With regular practice, you will feel stronger, with improved balance and a trust that your body can move in the way you want it to — without injuring yourself.
Are mobility exercises good for the elderly?
Yes, absolutely. Mobility decreases with age, so making sure we keep our bodies moving is incredibly important. Mobility exercises are very accessible and can be modified depending on ability. You can perform mobility workouts in a chair, or whilst laying down. Elderly people will especially benefit from regular, gentle mobility workouts.
- Sports Medicine. Exercise, mobility and aging.
- Translational Sports Medicine. Thoracic spine mobility, an essential link in upper limb kinetic chains in athletes: A systematic review.