Do I need to start this post with a flexibility vs mobility lesson? Maybe just a quick one:
Flexibility is the ability of a muscle or muscle groups to lengthen passively through a range of motion. It’s just the length of a muscle. It’s passive.
Mobility is the ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion. It’s not just the muscles stretching over the joint, it’s how far that joint moves with stability. It’s active.
And that is why I believe working on mobility is way more important than working on flexibility. Because it’s about being strong in a movement. Come at me.
Getting mobile before exercise
I have a desk job so I’m not particularly mobile - nor am I particularly flexible, but as we’ve established, it’s the latter that concerns me - and although I don’t have an elaborate mobility regimen (I don’t care what you say, if you have to fit training around work, you need to be clever with your time) I do try to focus on my ‘problem areas’; namely my shoulders, my hips, and my ankles. Not being an expert in any way, I use stuff I’ve pinched, tried and loved in the gym, or tips and tricks I’ve picked up online.
Mobility work is most effective before exercise. Moving about lubes up those joints and allows for greater range of motion. There’s no direct blood flow to a joint, but circulating synovial fluid nourishes cartilage and removes waste from the area. Good way to stimulate synovia flow? Joint mobility training. Motion is lotion.
Not only will mobilising mean achieving a greater range of motion more easily, it will work on the necessary strength and stability for maintaining said range of motion. Plus it teaches the muscles what they need to do during actual training and exhibits how joints should move in a particular exercise, so your body knows where to go.
My favourite shoulder mobility exercises
You will need: a resistance band and something to dangle it from. Like a rig.
I loop the band around a pull up bar on the rig, put my wrist through it, palm up, then I walk back, lean into a sort of good morning with my butt out until the band’s tight, and let its resistance pull on my lat. I push into the band and contract for two seconds, then relax and breathe out for two seconds for something like 10-20 reps. Then I turn away from the rig, put my upper arm by my ear, bend my lower arm down my back, lean forward, and activate the tricep/lat area with the same push and pull contractions. I also like a lat pull down with a skinny band, and banded pull aparts.
How I mobilise my hips
You will need: Perfect balance or something to hold on to. Like a rig.
Super simple - I stand on one leg and swing the other one back and forth. I focus on the back swing as that’s where I get most trouble, but to avoid arching my back, I focus on keeping a tight core. I also swing my leg from side to side, out and then across the front of my body, keeping my toes flexed up, thinking about the heel leading the swing. I do like a good old air squat too, and thoracic rotation in a deep lung. For that one, I bend forward, walk my hands out until I’m in a press up position, then bring one leg up and place the foot outside my hands. On the same side, I reach my arm up, twisting my chest and spine, and then bring it back down for something like 10 reps. Then I switch sides.
Mobility drills for my iron ankles
You will need: A kettlebell and something to push your foot up against. Like a rig.
My right ankle is terrible. Like, really bad. So although I work on both when I warm up, righty gets more attention. My absolute favourite bit of mobility training for my ankle is using a heavy-ish kettlebell. I step forward with my pesky right side, crouch down, and position the bent knee over my foot, keeping the heel on the floor. I then take the kettlebell and place it on my knee, using its force to encourage my knee to track further over my foot. I do 20secs on the right, 20 on the left, then another 20 on the right. You can perform something similar with a resistance band looped round the rig, pulling back on the ankle. I also like to use the classic wall (or rig) lean, but I actually flex my foot up against said wall and move my knee back and forth to get a little deeper. 10ish reps.
Mobility is a buzzword but also important
Everyone’s talking about mobility. And that’s because it’s now better understood that having poor mobility can weaken performance. A shoulder mobility limitation that prevents you from achieving the full range of motion needed to lock out the arms when receiving a snatch, for example, will either result in a failed lift, or injury due to having to recruit other muscles to make the lift, and stressing the muscle tissue.
Mobility is about being strong in a movement. Long term gains. But for mobility to last long term, you have to work on it long term. Resistance bands on the daily.
Follow Libby Bearman on Instagram: @LiftLikeLibby