Mobility 101: Your Complete Guide to Mobility Exercises from Head to Toe

Mobility is hot topic, and vital for anyone spending time in the weightroom.

The ability to have full range of motion in your muscles and joints is one of the most important aspects of training.

Improving your mobility can help you workout for longer, reduces joint pain, and can reduce the risk of injury.

In this guide you’ll learn more about mobility, who it impacts, why you should be focusing on it no matter what your age or training history, and how to tame common mobility hot spots from head to toe.

What is Mobility?

Mobility is a hot topic in the strength and conditioning / fitness world, but it’s nothing new. Physical therapists have been long familiar with the term. More often than not, they’re helping their patients with restoring mobility after an injury or corrective surgery. What may seem new is the increased focus on preventive mobility training being brought to the forefront of S&C by trainers in the know.

It seems that everywhere you look there is another program, device, or philosophy on mobility. And for good reason. It’s important to your training. A lot more important than you might think.

For those not yet in the know, you might be asking: Is mobility just another way of saying flexibility?

The answer is no. Not exactly.

Flexibility is the ability to lengthen a muscle.

Think about touching your toes. As you increase your flexibility, you can lengthen the hamstring muscles allowing you to reach further and further toward the ground.

Mobility is slightly more involved. While flexibility refers to lengthening a muscle, think about mobility as the ability to move a joint and accompanying muscles in the full range of motion it was designed for without mechanical assistance.

Someone with great mobility can move their entire body freely and without pain through a full range of motion. This involves much more than simply muscle flexibility. It requires: range of motion in your joints, joint and muscle stability, muscle strength, proper alignment and muscle symmetry, and muscle flexibility.


Why is Mobility Important?

This is a basic question with many potential answers. Since we’re a performance blog with an emphasis on strength and conditioning we’ll discuss through that lens: A lack of mobility can kill your gains, keep you from peak performance, and even cut your training career short.

1. Mobility issues decrease your strength and power output. A lack of mobility can lead to improper technique, which depletes your ability to most effectively produce maximum power and strength output. This also hinders muscle growth for you physique-minded Heroes.

2. Mobility issues increase your chances of joint and muscle damage (injury). Nothing kills your gains in the gym quite like being forced to take time off due to injury. Poor mobility combined with loaded movement is a recipe for disaster.

3. Increased pain and muscle fatigue. The key to performance gains is consistency. Pain and excessive soreness brought about by mobility issues can kill your consistency. If you perform a movement with a limited range of motion and don’t properly activate your major muscle groups, smaller muscles will take on extra unintended workload. Because these “assistance” muscles are smaller and weaker than your primary muscles you risk increased pain in the gym or will be left feeling extra sore after a workout. Potentially so much so that you put off training the next day.

It’s clear that mobility issues can keep you from achieving your fitness goals. However, if you step back and think about the definition of mobility, the importance of maintaining it becomes ever more clear.

Mobility is our ability to move through the spaces we occupy freely and without pain. Everything in our lives that requires movement is impacted by our mobility – from box jumps and explosive lifting to tying your own shoes as you age.

Why Should I Care? Who Is Impacted By Mobility Issues?

Everyone can benefit from a focus on mobility. Yes even you, the 20-something that can move like a ninja and train all day without being sore tomorrow. 

Whether you’re a weekend warrior, a desk sitter, a parent, a partner, or a competitive athlete, mobility issues will impact you at some point in your training career or life. 

Mobility isn’t just something to think about through a corrective lens. It’s something we should be proactive about. 

As we age, we all become less mobile. It’s a fact of life. Look no further than a child for proof. Kids can hold a squat position seemingly forever, especially toddlers. We’re hard pressed to find many adults, except for the most fit people we know, that can do this. 

Physical therapist Kelly Starrett, issued a challenge in this Men’s Health article that paints a picture. Stand up, warm up, sink into a full squat with your feet flat on the ground and hold it for 10 minutes. 

Mobility isn’t just about holding static positions. It translates into your daily life. Groms (children skiers and snowboarders for those of you not hip to the Colorado mountain lingo) can bounce up from a crash on a ski slope that turned them into a rolling ball of limbs, snow, and equipment which would easily end the day (or season) of an adult. Why? It certainly isn’t pain tolerance or even skill. No, it’s their ability to fall down like Gumby without causing major damage to their joints. It’s mobility. 

Combine this with the reality many of us face in our work life – long periods of time hunched over, seated in a chair, trapped, and we’re being hit with a 1-2 punch. 

If we want to stay active and pain free into our old age, we have to prioritize mobility now (whatever age you happen to be). 

This means that our time and focus in the gym should expand from becoming stronger, leaner, faster, more explosive, more swole, etc. and take into conscious account that we’re also restoring basic human physiological functionality that is being eroded daily. 

The good news is that you can easily incorporate mobility into your training. That’s why we compiled this guide covering some common mobility trouble spots and giving you some suggestions on how to tame them.

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mobility from head to toe

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