As we ring in a new year, it’s a good time to reflect on the goals and habits we’d like to attain in the 12 months ahead.
While improving health and fitness will likely have made its way onto your resolution list, this year we think you should take it one step further, and not only vow to improve your fitness, but specifically, improve your mobility in the new year.
Why? Because in order to revolutionize your wellness practice you need to look past the glitz-and-glam of high-intensity workouts and marathon running, to heal, nourish, and protect your body through mobility exercises.
What Is the Difference Between Mobility and Flexibility?
Many people don’t realize that mobility and flexibility are not the same thing. Flexibility refers to how your muscles stretch, which is relevant only for the suppleness of your soft tissue. Mobility speaks to a person being able to move through functional exercises with a full range of motion (ROM)—this encapsulates the health of joints, muscles, motor control, and soft tissue flexibility.
Mobility requires core strength, balance, coordination, and the ability to control the functioning of your nervous system. A purely flexible person may not have these skills, therefore they may not be able to perform the same functional movement patterns that a more mobile person could.
As a Pilates trainer, a lot of clients come to me wanting to increase their flexibility. However, what we really need to work on is full body mobility, which takes more focus than simply stretching hamstrings after a run or spending 10 minutes in the evening on a foam roller.
The Benefits Of Mobility For A Healthy Body
Mobility is what allows us to perform functional movements with ease and without injury. Functional movements are not the exercises that you might perform in a Crossfit gym, rather they are the natural movement patterns that we should be doing every single day.
An example of a functional movement is the natural squat, which is a very healthy position for skeletal structure and for organs to comfortably rest. Sitting in a chair compresses the lower body, and forces the muscles that run along the hips and low back to tense and grip. Sitting with the hips at 90 degrees also greatly reduces the mobility of the hip, ankle, and lower back region, because when it comes to your body, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
Functional movements include carrying grocery bags, turning around to look through the rear window in your car, sliding side-to-side across a tennis court, bending down to pick up your children from the floor, and even walking and running. Sure, these are all things that you may be able to do now, but with proper mobility, you can do them with ease, without pain or discomfort, and continue to do them as you get older.
The Benefits Of Mobility For Fitness Enthusiasts
Whether you enjoy going to the gym, training in high-intensity workouts, swimming, or participating in sport, all physical activities require your body to move in ways that it doesn’t often do during the 9–5. Transitioning from an eight hour period spent sitting in a chair straight into an aerobics class is a recipe for disaster if you’re not already a mobile person.
Completing a 5-10 minute mobility sequence before you begin your workout will prepare your muscles and joints for the impact that will follow. Instead of spending time on the treadmill to “warm up” your muscles, prioritize mobility sequences that activate and lubricate the muscle fibers and joints that you will actually be relying on to train. Doing this will enable you to have greater stability and coordination during your workout, and to safely challenge your body as it moves through varied ranges of motion.
Similarly, ending your session with another short mobility sequence will ensure that you maintain optimal movement patterns, despite the necessary physical wear-and-tear that exercise puts upon the body.
The Link Between Mobility And Longevity
In case you’re still not convinced that a mobility practice needs to be high on your resolutions list, here’s a fact that might make you think otherwise. Life expectancy was once based upon age, gender, and sociodemographic descriptions. However, studies now suggest that a person’s functional state—their ability to perform activities associated with daily living without assistance—also impacts their longevity.
A 2010 research article found that life expectancy increases an average of five years for men and women over the age of 75 who are not limited in their mobility, and who can continue to perform routine life activities on their own. (1)
Another study shows the association between walking speed and survival rate among older adults. Data was gathered from 34,485 adults over the age of 65 for a 12-year period. Results found that gait speed was indeed associated with survival; the pre-requisite of a good walking pace is, of course, mobility. (2)
3 Steps To Add Mobility Into Your Workout Routine
There is no time like the present to incorporate mobility exercises into your fitness and healthy living routine. Here are three steps to get started.
1. Foam Rolling
Dedicate five minutes at the start of your mobility session for rolling out your major muscles:
Quadriceps (front of thigh, below hip crease to above knee cap)
Iliotibial band (outside of thigh, below side hip bone to above side of knee)
Hamstring (back of thigh, below gluteal crease to above back of knee)
Glute Medius (side of backside)
Upper back (top of shoulder blades to base of shoulder blades…very carefully; avoid the neck and low back)
2. Deep Breathing
Mobility masters have the ability to calm their nervous system through deep breathing. In doing so, their body releases tension and feels safe to be manipulated through different ranges of motion.
Continue these calm breaths as you move on the step three.
Stretching is essential for mobility. It is also a good idea to have one-on-one guidance when you first begin a mobility routine, to learn exactly what movements are right for your body, and how to modify those that aren’t. Many gyms and studios now offer mobility classes where you can learn the basics.
Stretching, mobility, and flexibility are essential fitness factors that not only play a role in how healthy we are now, but also in how we age. The best way to invest in our future health is to ensure that our bodies are limber and mobile, not brittle and inflexible.