Mobility is your body’s ability to move freely and easily. Adding mobility training to your routine will help you move better, decrease your risk of injury and increase your potential for greater strength. As an added bonus, mobility training can add fun and play to your fitness life, helping to keep you engaged and excited to move.
The good and bad news about the aging body
As we get older, natural changes to our bodies occur. Our muscles get stiffer and less elastic. The tendons and ligaments that support our joints also lose their elasticity and become less flexible. If these changes are not addressed with mobility training, we will gradually lose the ability to move in full ranges of motion and the quality of the movements we are still able to do will decrease. You have likely seen this progression with some older people who have difficulty doing things they once took for granted, such as walking quickly or standing up from a chair. The good news is that these changes aren’t inevitable and with some targeted training they can be avoided or even reversed. The human body responds to physical challenges at any age so it’s never too soon or too late to address mobility and quality of movement.
The pendulum is swinging back
There is a lot of buzz about mobility training in the fitness community right now, because it is pretty universally accepted that strength and cardio fitness have long been over emphasized at the expense of mobility. It is very common for people to spend most of their fitness time on strength and cardio training and then throw in 5 minutes of stretching at the end. The result of this imbalance has been people who are very strong, but not able to move effectively. A good example of this is bulked up weight lifters who can barely tie their own shoes. These imbalances are also apparent in people who love cardio exercise, but do little to improve their mobility. If the majority of your movement is running and cycling-without the corresponding mobility training to correct imbalances-the body will become stiff and injury prone.
Be like the Gate Bridge
Would you rather be like the Golden Gate Bridge-strong and flexible-or like the strong and stiff leaning Tower of Pisa? The Golden Gate Bridge was designed to withstand tremendous forces from both cars and fierce weather by being able to move and sway instead of break. This makes it a durable, useful and beautiful structure. The human body was similarly designed with tremendous potential for strength and flexibility. Strength and flexibility working in harmony is one definition of mobility. With targeted training you can develop a body that is able to tolerate tremendous challenges and accomplish amazing things. Mobility training is a key part of developing your body’s full potential.
The Myth of Flexibility Versus Strength
There is a common misconception that working to improve your flexibility will diminish your strength. This is based on the false dichotomy that you are either a super strong muscle man or a super flexible yoga pretzel. The reality is much more complex. Increasing your range of motion will allow you to be stronger through a greater range. For example, with strong and mobile shoulder joints you can do full push-ups-that include touching your chest to the ground-as opposed to partial ones that keep you in a small, limited range of motion. Increase your strength, mobility and body control even more and you can begin to work toward a handstand (if you’re feeling very ambitious). Also, mobility training exercises improve strength as well as flexibility, so doing them is likely to help you get stronger in ways a more traditional strength training plan may neglect. For example, doing a crawling based mobility move will help open your shoulders and hips, while also strengthening your chest, core and triceps.
How To Approach Mobility Training
Once you decide you want to incorporate mobility training into your routine, where to start? The internet is saturated with potential exercises and routines you could do and it can be difficult to decide how to most effectively use your time. Using the concept of balance as your guidepost is an effective way to begin designing your plan. If you love to run and cycle try adding lateral and twisting motions to your routine. If you love to do heavy barbell back squats,but can’t get into an unweighted deep squat because your range of motion is limited, try working on doing a full squat movement. If you spend a lot of your day sitting, what are some movements that can potentially balance out this contracted position? There are also mobility tests you can do to help you pinpoint areas of weakness so that you can address them. Mobility training exercises generally aim to increase your range of motion and body control and most don’t require weights or special equipment.
The pendulum of the fitness world is swinging from a nearly complete emphasis on strength, to recognizing that other components of fitness are equally important. If you are super strong but cannot move well, you will be prone to injury and limited in your range of motion and possibilities for movement. Focusing on this commonly ignored component of fitness is one of the keys to longevity as well as successful aging.