When we enter the gym for a training session, the last thing we give any serious attention to, if at all, is mobility. More often than not, we storm into the gym, get a pump on or get sweaty, do a little bit of light stretching afterwards if we can be arsed, then bail.
I get it, you’re probably not a PT who might be able to find the time to include some mobility work into the short time frame you get a week to work out. You want to move some iron and work up a sweat. Don’t get me wrong, I do get it. Having said that, if you want to get the most out of your training, then include some mobility work.
If you have the time to go to the gym in the first place, you have the time to do some mobility work. Include it as part of the overall time you can spare. Everyone wants to split what they do in the gym into 2 parts; strength and cardio. You need to imagine splitting it into 3; strength, cardio and mobility. Listen, there’s no point training your squat to go heavier if you’re ankles and hips won’t allow you to make use of a full range of motion. As well, it's not worth trying to snatch lift a heavier weight if your pectorals are too tight to allow for a stable overhead position when down in the hole. Better mobility leads to better form. If we can execute our exercises with better form, our bodies benefit from it in a much better way. You learn to iron out bad habits, fix any imbalances in the body and actually allow your body to move in a way that let’s you reach your full potential.
So, what exactly is mobility?
Firstly, let’s talk about flexibility. Flexibility is the ability of a muscle or a group of muscles to lengthen passively through a range of motion. For example, if you were to keep your legs straight and try and touch your toes, this would give you a good idea of how flexible (stretchy) your hamstrings are. Most people can just about touch their shins, when really we want to be in a place where we can touch our toes. Tight muscles results in inflexibility. Imagine now, what would happen for example if we had a number of tight muscles within the legs. This is where we can now talk about mobility. Mobility is the ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion (in the legs, we have our ankle, knee and hips joints). If our calves were tight, this would result in the mobility of the ankle (the ankles ability to perform dorsiflexion – the upwards movement of the foot) to be limited. Also, as we need to push our hips outwards as we squat. Tight hip muscles would result in achieving limited range of motion in the exercise. Ultimately, we would have a squat that isn’t very mobile at all. By committing to improving the flexibility in our calves and hips (making the muscles ability to lengthen on a more permanent basis), we would see a huge improvement in the mobility of the squat.
Ask yourself this simple question next time you do an exercise, especially if it is a large barbell or compound exercise. Am I achieving the full range of motion required to properly perform this exercise? If the answer is no, then you should be giving priority to the mobility needed in that exercise rather than the weight. Honestly, good for you if you can lift a decent amount of weight in any given exercise, but if you’re lifting it in a way that may result in injury due to bad form, technique and mobility, then don’t say I didn’t warm you. In the long run, you are going to get way more out of your training if you fix any tight areas in the body. This is something that took me a while to get on board with, but I’m glad I did.
So how do you do mobility exercises?
Ideally, to improve flexibility on a long term basis, we need to be holding the muscles in specific stretches fix the issue, for at east 1 minute. Mobility training shouldn’t be seen in the same light as your post workout static stretching. It needs to be ‘training’ in of itself. Identify the areas of your body that need it. Choose 4-5 stretching exercises that will aid in the lengthening of the muscles. Hold these for at least 1 minute. If this was your hamstrings for example, I would do each leg individually for a minute, not together. For the areas of you body that really need the care (for me this was my ankles), hold the stretch for up to 3 minutes.
It's not often that I recommend products or apps, but the GOWOD app is an amazing place to start with some mobility training. It will identify the areas of your body that need it the most and write a daily protocol for you to make improvements to those specific areas whilst still keeping the rest of the body in check. Your session can be a simple 8 minutes long or a full 22 if you can afford the time. I refuse to believe that you can’t fit 8 minutes of stretching into your day, especially if your lifting for an hour or more.
Get on it. Get Flexy. Move better.