Photo by Alison Gamble
I spent many years involved in the fitness industry before I ever even heard the term “mobility,” but now it seems to be on everybody’s lips, from movement experts and trainers to dedicated exercisers looking to improve their performance.
Mobility refers to the body’s ability to actively move through a given range of motion. It involves not only muscles, but also additional structures of the body such as joint capsules and joints, along with sufficient strength and motor control. It is often confused with flexibility, which refers specifically to the muscles’ ability to passively stretch (think seated forward reach). When you see a gymnast lift her leg behind her, or a weightlifter in the bottom of a squat, they are utilizing both flexibility and mobility.
But does mobility really matter to the recreational athlete who’s training to look good, feel good, and generally improve her quality of life? You bet it does, and here are two big reasons why.
1. Joint Health
Our joints were created to move through full ranges of motion (that might mean reaching our arms straight overhead, or lowering into a deep squat). But modern life can seriously impact our mobility in negative ways. Being seated in a chair with your upper body hunched over a computer keyboard can lead to reduced mobility in the hips and shoulders, diminishing mobility over time and reducing capacity to perform the simple movements our bodies are meant to do.
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Whether you sit at a desk or not, factors such as aging, arthritis, or prior injuries can also lead to reduced mobility and in turn, decreased quality of life. Luckily, diminishing mobility is avoidable, as long as you are willing to work on it.
2. More Gains in the Gym
Let’s stick with the mobility examples of squatting to full depth and reaching the arms overhead. Without the ability to squat all the way down, you are only getting a portion of the benefit of the exercise. On the other hand, squatting with a complete range of motion allows you to fully engage your quads, hamstrings, hips, and glutes to get more bang for your buck out of each workout.
Another way insufficient mobility can impact your training and progress is the transferability of skill development. Proper movement is consistent across various exercises. Consider the top of a barbell overhead press, the position of the shoulders when receiving a push jerk, or holding a handstand: each of these movements requires an open shoulder angle with the wrist, shoulder, and hip stacked.
Therefore, by training any one of these movements, other related movements will also improve. You may be able to get away with improper alignment due to lacking shoulder mobility when performing more basic exercises, but once you attempt to build upon that, you are putting yourself at risk of injury and limiting your performance.
Whether you are exercising for improved fitness, or training for competitive athletics, making a commitment to improved mobility will reap benefits when it comes to the effectiveness of your workouts and your overall health.