Mobility training can help you hit your fitness goals – here’s your crib sheet

Not incorporating mobility training might just be the reason you’ve hit your fitness goals glass ceiling. You may well be fuelling up on all the right foods, getting your recommended eight hours of kip (hats off to the extraordinary beings who manage this), and training ’til you put Courtney Black’s stamina levels to shame, but you probably won’t be reaching your full potential.

But, why? A solid mobility training routine is the key ingredient in the recipe for success, and overlooking ’em is like missing out the cinnamon in banana bread — it might seem all good on the surface, but there’s something spicy lacking.

Let us breakdown why, how and when you need to include mobility exercises in your workout routine (home workout gang, this includes you too).

What is mobility training?

Think of mobility in the same camp as flexibility, strength, power, and aerobic fitness – it’s an attribute and is defined as ‘the ability to actively achieve extended ranges of motion’.

How can I improve my mobility?

It’s quite simple: by including certain exercises in your workout week.

What are mobility exercises?

Mobility exercises help improve your joint flexibility and function so you can move better –if you can move better you can perform better. That deep squat? Suddenly more accessible. A faster 5K? You betcha.

Generally speaking, flexible muscles and tendons allow for greater range of motion during movement.

So, what’s a mobility workout then?

Similar to a yoga flow (minus the savasana, we’d like to caveat), a mobility workout focuses on exercises that engage the joints.

‘It gets you moving joints in flowing sequences, working the deep end range of tissue,’ says Vincent. ‘In fact, yoga is one of the optimal strategies to improve mobility as you have to be strong enough to hold a position and transition to the next pose keeping your muscles in a lengthened state.’

Why should I do mobility training and mobility exercises?

They prevent injury

    Championed by world-class athletes and top trainers (including WH cover star, Alice Liveing), a study by International Journal of Yoga linked regular yoga practice to enhanced performance in sport, and research by ScienceDirect found that stretching could even prevent injury.

    How so? Vincent explains: ‘Taking a joint through controlled ranges will give you greater use of soft tissue making you able to dissipate forces across more muscle, therefore reducing the stress on a muscle. Also, increased ranges of motion will decrease capillary pressure and improve circulation, thus improving all things involved in increased blood flow, from recovery time to mental health.’

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    Let us guess. You’re wondering why, if mobility training is the equivalent of the Elder wand when it comes to improving all things movement-related, why haven’t you heard of it sooner? And if you have, why didn’t you know the full extent of its benefits?

    It’s not a well-kept secret among those in the know. Rather, it just doesn’t get the airtime and Insta-posts that HIIT and CrossFit do.

    ‘When we’re short on time, and we’re trying to make the most of that time, we often prioritise the workout,’ says Norton, presumably because most are focused on increasing muscle and strength, as opposed to better and more effective movement.

    They give you energy and strength

    Along with lessening the likelihood of injury, mobility training has been credited with increased energy and strength, and an all-round better understanding of the body.

    ‘Strength and cardio training put your body under a lot of stress, and expose it to trauma, impact damage, lengthening and shortening of the muscles tissues, and often without the necessary mobility, joint stability and strength required to achieve the full range of motion,’ says Norton.

    They aid recovery

    ‘Prioritising a regular mobility practice can improve performance, reduce risk of injury and aid recovery. Alongside that, using the breath work that comes hand-in-hand with these flows can also provide mental clarity that can transform your whole day,’ Norton adds.

    What are the best mobility exercises for beginners?

    If it’s your first foray into mobility remember to start off small and grow steadily, as with most fitness goals. Going hell-for-leather could do more harm than good. Try starting with one set of each of the mobility exercises at the bottom of this page.

    When should you do mobility training?

    ‘Flow sequencing is best done daily, little and often (5-15 minutes per day),’ advises Vincent.

    Ideally five to ten minutes before you work out and five to ten minutes afterwards, and no less than two to three times a week.

    No time for the full flow? No problem.

    You don’t need to flow from plank to down-dog for hours on end. (Though the benefits of yoga are undeniable, so by all means do.)

    Instead, start by introducing a couple of the short, simple exercises into your AM or PM and you’ll soon see the effects. You could do this while the kettle is boiling or for 5 minutes before bed.

    ‘Have one exercise for feet, hips, spine and shoulders, and take your time – it’s about slowly improving. You’re not trying to conquer the moves straight away,’ Norton tells us. ‘You’ll find they’re fun to practice as you’ll feel your strength increasing as you do them.’

    Once you’ve mastered a few moves, you can then create a flow movement workout that allows for healthy mobility and relaxation.

    A mobility training workout to try

    Using the following instructions, do three sets of each exercise.

    Shoulder sweeps

          1. Lie on your right-hand side on your mat, knees stacked and with a 90-degree bend.
          2. Reach your arms out long in line with your chest.
          3. Sweep your top arm above and behind your head in a 180-degree arc, all the time, following your hand with your gaze.
          4. To return to your starting position, bring the arm over your body, fingers reaching long to the ceiling.
          5. Complete eight times then switch sides.

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            Crab walk

            1. Start in a reverse bridge position: hands beneath your shoulders, feet beneath your knees, chest facing upwards.
            2. Walk your hands and feet first in one direction, then back to your start point.
            3. Try to keep your core strong and hips lifted.
            4. Repeat eight times.

              Crab reach

              1. Sit on your mat with your legs hip-distance apart and heels pressing into the ground. Place your hands behind you.
              2. Lift your bum to hover off the floor.
              3. Push your hips high through and above a reverse bridge, as you bring your right hand off the mat, stretching it long towards your left side and with a slight rotation.
              4. Carefully untwist, and lower your hand back to the mat and your hips to a close hover.
              5. Repeat on your opposite side. Do eight reps per side.

                Shin box

                1. Start with your legs in a z-sit position, knees pointing towards the right, arms stretched out in front of you at shoulder height.
                2. Without touching your hands to the mat, push yourself into a kneeling position using your glutes and pressing your hips forward as your hands extend back behind your body.
                3. Lower back down with control and switch your knees to face the other direction; ready to repeat on the opposite side.
                4. Do eight reps per side.

                  Three D kneeling lunge

                  1. Start in a kneeling position.
                  2. Lunge your right leg forward in line with your body.
                  3. Bring your right foot back towards your knee then lunge straight out to the right at a 45-degree angle and then at a 90-degree angle.
                  4. Lunge out in line with the body, then return to your starting point and switch sides.
                  5. Perform eight reps per side.

                    Three D lunge with rotation

                    1. Repeat the Three D Kneeling Lunge movement but this time, as you lunge, add a twist, first to the left and then to the right.
                    2. Carefully untwist, return to the starting position and switch sides.
                    3. Perform eight reps per side.

                      Cossack squat

                      1. Start in a wide-legged stance.
                      2. Squat your bum back and down, lowering your weight towards your right heel. Your left leg will straighten and your left toes will lift off the mat and point towards the ceiling.
                      3. Push through your heels and back to your starting position. Switch sides.
                      4. Do eight reps per side.

                        Frogger with extension

                        1. From standing, squat your bum low to the ground then reach your arms out long in front of you, fingers touching the mat.
                        2. Hop your heels forward to meet your hands.
                        3. Pause in your low, deep squat and raise your arms up, fingers reaching long towards the ceiling.
                        4. Lower and reach your hands forward on the mat, ready to perform another hop.
                        5. Perform four hops in one direction; then four hops back.

                          Lunge with rotation

                          1. Take a deep lunge forward with your right leg, placing both hands on the floor to the inside of the forward foot. You left leg will be extended straight behind you.
                          2. Lift your right hand off the mat and reach it up towards the ceiling, rotating through your upper body and following your hand with your gaze.
                          3. Carefully untwist, then return your hand to the mat.
                          4. Step your foot back into a strong plank then lunge forward with your left leg, and repeat.
                          5. Do eight reps on each leg.

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                            Lunge with overhead reach

                            1. Lunge forward with your right leg, bending your left leg to a 90-degree angle and hovering the knee close to the floor. Keep your arms long by your side, fingers pointing towards the floor.
                            2. Hold the lunge and, core engaged, raise both arms overhead, fingers now reaching long towards the ceiling.
                            3. Step back and swap sides.
                            4. Do eight reps on each leg.

                              Wall squat

                              1. Stand facing a wall, at around half a foot’s distance, slightly wider than hip-width apart
                              2. Raise your arms overhead in a V-shape
                              3. Squat back into a deep squat, tracing your fingers down the wall
                              4. Power through your heels to lift yourself back to the top and complete eight times in total.

                                    Is there anyone who shouldn’t do mobility training or mobility exercises?

                                    ‘Everyone should do mobility training but, if you’re hypermobile, be careful to take things more easily and not to over-stretch. For example, don’t go into a deep stretch straight away, ease in with extra caution,’ explains Anna Parker, PT and founder of AP FITNESS.

                                    ‘It’s similar during pregnancy or just after someone’s had a baby; the relaxin in the body loosens it up to allow for birth, so you have to be careful not to overstretch.’

                                    OK. But what’s the difference between flexibility and mobility?

                                    They’re often confused.

                                    ‘Both words are commonly used without really being understood,’ says Richie Norton, PT and mobility coach. ‘Flexibility describes the muscle’s ability to lengthen. Mobility, on the other hand, is the ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion.’

                                    Now is probably a good time to clear up another common confusion…

                                    How is mobility different to stretching?

                                    As we’ve chatted about, mobility is thought of as ‘the ability to actively achieve extended ranges of motion’. It’s a combination of flexibility and strength.

                                    Stretching on the other hand is a training method that can improve flexibility (one of the key components of mobility).

                                    And there are two key ways to stretch:

                                    • Dynamic stretches
                                    • Static stretches

                                      Static stretching has its uses but, as Elite PT at Third Space London Andy Vincent says, it could actually make joints less stable.

                                      ‘Static stretching simply takes a muscle and moves the origin and insertions away from each other, and holding the position for a period of time,’ he explains. ‘Although this feels “nice”, it’s not how we move or use tissue lengths. That requires more mobility.

                                      ‘It makes more sense to move in and out of ranges and use multiple planes of motion rather than just stretching a limb and holding it, which never happens in human biomechanics.’

                                      Dynamic stretches are often functional and are used to prep the body for the movement that’s about to come. E.g. walking lunges before running.

                                      To sum up

                                      By building adding mobility exercises into you weekly training plan you could benefit from:

                                      • Improved joint health
                                      • Greater fitness results
                                      • Increased range of movement
                                      • Lower risk of injury

                                        Meet us in a crab walk? Thought so.


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                                        About the Author: Tung Chi