Why you need to make mobility a priority

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Author: Elisabeth Akinwale

The term ‘mobility’ seems to be on every fitness professional’s lips – from movement experts and trainers, to dedicated exercisers looking to improve their performance. But what does it actually mean?

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 muscle’s ability to passively stretch – think a seated forward reach. When you see a gymnast lift her leg behind her, or a weightlifter in the bottom of a squat, they are utilising both flexibility and mobility.

Does mobility 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 your hips and shoulders, diminishing mobility over time and reducing capacity to perform the simple movements our bodies are meant to do.

Factors such as aging, arthritis or prior injuries can also lead to reduced mobility and, 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. 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 training session. 

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.

By improving mobility of the shoulder, you will see each of these movements improve. You may be able to get away with 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.