The Importance of Mobility

Mobility. Mobility. Mobility. Your coaches and trainers are talking about it and probably leading you through some movements before and after your workouts or sessions. Maybe you attend yoga class once a week and you know you feel better after it, but otherwise, is mobility that important?

Stability and mobility are the cornerstones of functional movement.  For our bodies to move freely and without risk of injury, the parts that should be stable are stable, and the parts that move should move properly without impediment.  Much easier said than done.

According to the American Council on Exercise, joint stability can be defined as the ability to maintain and control joint movement or position.  Joint mobility is the range of uninhibited movement around a joint.  “Uninhibited” is the operative word.

Mobility is more than stretching.  Mobility addresses full body movement and performance problems. It involves “tight” muscles or muscular tension, joint capsule and soft tissue restrictions,  as well as neural dynamic and motor control problems. The goal of mobility work is to eliminate these movement restrictions and obtain proper positioning throughout lifts and workouts.  Proper positioning means working smarter, not harder which translates into less injury and more effective exercise sessions.

Often times, injuries occur because we’re using the wrong muscles or joints or perhaps overusing the right ones to compensate for a weakness or lack of mobility elsewhere.  I always tell my clients and classes that you can only “muscle up” so much weight before it breaks you. By learning proper movements and techniques and allowing your joints and muscles to move in the way they were intended, you’re only working against the weight itself.  Once you learn proper engagement and activation, your performance will increase and it will do so without injury.

Why can’t I just stretch?  Think of stretching as a isolation exercise, like a seated lateral raise.  You’re only increasing the flexibility of a single muscle in a certain direction or in the case of the lateral raise, focusing the increase in strength in the medial deltoid.  Think about mobility as a compound exercise and as a means to increase your functional fitness, like a push press.  A push press is more useful in your daily life than a lateral raise, especially with getting something heavy overhead. It strengthens more than just your shoulders, but also the multitude of muscles in your back, arms, and core.  Again, mobility addresses full body movement and increasing flexibility is a part of that, but has many more benefits too.

Most people don’t think about mobility until something goes wrong and that typically involves pain.  Be proactive and do preventive maintenance. Mobilization involves soft tissue work with self-myofascial release (think foam rollers and lacrosse balls), static stretching and proprioceptive facilitation (PNF) stretching, and joint mobilization techniques, which often involve bands. If you have particular issues, check with your coach or trainer and they can give you some direction.