What if I told you that the number one factor you should consider when it comes to your fitness goals is mobility? The word “mobility” doesn’t have the same ring or sexiness as other fitness related words. If I want to sell a fitness program, the best words and phrases I can use revolve around building muscle, burning body fat, faster metabolism or body sculpting. Mobility doesn’t sell fitness well, which is why most everyday people don’t know much about mobility or value it. This is too bad because mobility is one of the most important factors that will contribute to long-term fitness success, directly impacting both fat loss and muscle building.
Before I continue, I think it’s important to define what mobility actually means. Mobility in the context of physical fitness refers to your ability to move freely with control and stability. In other words, it’s “owning” your body’s movement. Improving your mobility means you have improved your ability to move with control with larger ranges of motion.
Experienced personal trainers and fitness coaches worth their salt completely understand the importance of mobility. When they first get a client, they immediately prioritize their clients’ mobility; and they continue this prioritizing throughout a client’s training. It doesn’t matter if the client wants to build muscle and strength or lose pounds of body fat. Good trainers and coaches make improving or maintaining mobility a major priority.
Most people think improving mobility is all about reducing injury risk. Although this is a major benefit of improvements in mobility (and NOTHING will prevent you from getting to your goals faster than an injury), focusing on mobility has much more to offer you than just injury prevention. Below are just a couple of the benefits that improved mobility can provide you.
Studies on exercise effectiveness show clear benefits to longer ranges of motion when compared to shorter ranges of motion for the same exercises. A full squat done properly with good mobility will get your legs and glutes to develop faster. This is true for every single exercise when done properly. The amount of strength you build and the muscle you can build both directly and indirectly is better with fuller ranges of motion. Working on mobility will make all the exercises you do MORE effective. Imagine that. Doing the same workouts but making them more effective simply because your mobility is better.
It’s widely understood that there is a hierarchy of exercises. They aren’t all the same in terms of general effectiveness like fat loss, muscle gain or performance. The variance in effectiveness can be MASSIVE. One of the most effective exercises will give you better results than the combination of several of the least effective exercises. Choosing and using the best exercises is a BIG DEAL. Here is the problem, many of the most effective exercises require good mobility. A barbell squat for example (widely regarded as one of the most effective lower body exercises) is very challenging and 90% of the average population would not be able to perform one properly without months of mobility training. When you have good mobility, you have access to the best exercises known to man and you will be able to reap their amazing benefits.
Having access to greater ranges of motion and being able to pick from the best exercises will make a HUGE impact on your progress. You will get faster and better results with good mobility, and this is the bottom line.
One way to work on mobility is to simply practice exercises with a lighter weight with all of your emphasis on form. Although practicing your normal exercises with more control and greater range of motion is an easy way to improve mobility, it isn’t the best or fastest way to do so. Mobility work is all about teaching your body to own new ranges of motion. It’s not about gaining lots of strength or sending a loud muscle building signal. In other words, you should not approach it like you would with traditional resistance training.
With traditional resistance training you train with a higher level of intensity to send a stress signal to the body. Appropriate muscle damage is caused and then you rest and allow your muscles to recover and build. This is not how you approach mobility work.
Mobility work is about teaching your central nervous system how to operate better in the context of exercise and movement. It’s like practicing any other skill. You need to practice often but you also need to practice PERFECT. Using too much resistance or pushing too hard will result in form and technique that is far from perfect and won’t benefit your mobility nearly as much or may actually result in worse mobility. Daily mobility practice with a lower to moderate intensity is key here. Do short 15-minute bouts of body weight mobility work every single day, or better yet, several times a day for the best results.
Mobility based movements are typically not the same as strength or muscle building movements. They usually don’t require weights. There are many to choose from, and the ones you need to pick are the ones that work best for YOU. Focusing on shoulder mobility every single day won’t do you much good if it’s your hip or ankle mobility that you need to work on. To figure out which mobility movements work best for your own individual body, you can enroll in a structured program like MAPS PRIME or you can do a self-test to see where you feel the most pain or lack the most controlled ranges of motion. Here are some of my favorite mobility movements for the most common target areas that people tend to need help with:
Once you determined your areas of issue, work on them for 10-15 minutes every single day. Within a very short period of time you should see significant improvements in your mobility and overall fitness progress.