Improving Mobility and Flexibility
Having started an exercise program, most people focus on strength...or maybe speed. Often people overlook the importance of mobility and flexibility. They don’t have the same flashy reputation as strength and speed. However, even if you’re focused on strength or speed, you won’t be able to keep advancing your goals if you don’t also work to improve your mobility and flexibility. Why? Because you likely can’t lift to your full range of motion if your mobility is limited. You won’t be able to improve your stride if your flexibility is limited. So that’s all to say, focusing on flexibility and mobility is also important.
Now, mobility and flexibility might sound similar or even the same, but they are pretty different. Mobility is your joint’s range of motion. Flexibility is the ability of your muscles to lengthen or stretch as needed. Of course, one influences the other. If your joint’s range of motion is limited, flexibility won’t matter much. If your flexibility is limited, you won’t be able to utilize your joint’s full range of motion. As you can see, the two are pretty directly related and dependent on one another.
Factors such as tissue damage, inflammation, or other limitations can inhibit mobility and flexibility.
One of the biggest reasons to enhance your mobility and flexibility is to make sure your body is moving properly. Your body in terms of your stride and other everyday movements is designed to work with a certain range of motion and flexibility. A lack of mobility and flexibility means your body is not moving properly and as a result you’re likely accumulating unnecessary wear and tear on joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. As this wear and tear accumulates, a negative feedback loop gets created where that wear and tear just starts to happen faster as you are essentially “doubling down” on poor movement. Now, if you add exercise to that same scenario, you are simply doing those same poor movements with more load and stress…causing even more wear and tear. An example of this issue would be having poor foot mobility can often lead to more work on the knees which wears that joint out faster. Specifically, basketball players who wear high top shoes get great artificial ankle stability, but then knees take on a great deal of the stop and start stress. In this example, we’ve artificially constrained mobility.
Problem areas for flexibility and mobility for most people are hips, shoulders, knees, and the upper back. If these areas are troublesome for you, here are some steps you can take on your own to enhance your flexibility and mobility.
Foam Rolling – taking a foam roller found in many gyms and available for purchase online, you roll your problem areas over the device. Often, this process is somewhat painful because these joints and muscles are stiff and may even be inflamed. However, foam rolling can make a big difference in loosing up these spots.
Stretching – stretching before and after a workout is a good idea. Simple stretches such as reaching for the sky with both hands and holding, touching your toes by bending at the waist, and rolling your shoulders are a great way to loosen up the major joints. Typically try to hold these stretches for 30 seconds. Gentle squats with your knees flared are great low intensity stretches for your hips.
Mobility Drills – simple mobility drills are also a great way to prepare for a workout. These drills can be found on the Internet and often involved hip rotations, cross-legged knee stretches, butterfly stretches, frog stretches, knee lunges, forward or traveling butterfly stretches, and pigeon stretches. Running through these stretches can be a valuable way to prepare for any activity.
When starting out a new exercise program, we’ll be tempted to focus on strength or speed. But, don’t forget about mobility and flexibility. We should be investing in enhancing these capabilities as well. Without these, our pursuit of strength and speed may fall short!