The other night I went out to dinner, and when I stood up after sitting for an hour or so, I wasn’t sure I was actually going to stand up.
My hip flexors felt locked up and my low back was stiff, which in turn made my shoulders hunch over.
I tried my best to hide it, but I am pretty sure I did the old-lady* shuffle for a few steps before things finally arranged themselves in some semblance of normal. #supersexy
And the cougholdercough I get, the more this happens. Which is a clear sign I need to work on a component of fitness you’re going to be hearing a whole lot more about over the next few years:
Basically, mobility is the ability to move in a natural, unrestricted manner through full range of joint motion, especially in your hips and shoulders, while also having functional strength and stability.
The word that comes to mind is “supple.”
Because I’m an animal person, I like to imagine it’s how a cat – maybe a sleek panther – moves. Or in human form – and in my wildest dreams – a Cirque de Soleil performer or dancer.
In real-world terms, it’s being able to get down on the floor and then easily get back up. It’s about squatting for a full range of motion and being able to press your arms overhead with proper posture and stability.
And it’s about being able to squat while your straight arms are pressed overhead. And let’s not forget being able to twist and turn.
And yes, it’s about flexibility.
This is where it gets confusing.
Flexibility is Part of Mobility
Flexibility basically means having range of motion through your joints and muscles.
But flexibility doesn’t necessarily include stability or strength. Which is why too much flexibility without stability and strength can go wrong pretty fast, in the form of hyperextended joints (ouch).
What is Mobility?
Basically, mobility is the next step up from flexibility. It’s almost the whole fitness package.
And trust me, mobility is something that’s worth
- hanging on to and
- fighting for.
It’s what lets you do cool human tricks no matter how old you are. I like to think having mobility is a key part of having a little “treachery” in you as you age.
So, basically, to have good mobility you need:
- A fair amount of strength (but not necessarily big muscles).
- A strong core.
- Stability: no significant muscle imbalances that throw off your movement patterns – how you sit, walk, lift – or your posture.
The only thing missing from being the total-package fitness threat in the list above is stamina and power, but you can’t safely have those without having a strong mobility foundation.
I’ve got a couple stories for you.
Mobility: You Can Do Cool Things
When I was a kid, a few years my grandfather passed away, my grandmother introduced her new boyfriend (and future new husband) to the family.
And wow, did he ever make an impression on us grandkids.
He could do every kind of push-up: fingertip, wide, narrow, handclap, and more. He even did them with my younger brother on his back. We got on the floor and had bear crawl races (I had no idea they were bear crawls, but whatevs). None of us kids could believe it – a grownup who could do all this stuff? Like, woah!
He could do the “kick the habit” jump, where you leap up and kick your feet to the side.
I remember one time (much to my mortification) I saw all the grownups in the family dancing in the kitchen, and he did the twist all the way down to the floor ON ONE LEG.
And even though it was embarrassing to see the grownups dancing like that, I thought:
I want to be like that when I’m older.
Poor Mobility: You Can’t Get Up
Meanwhile, here’s a tale from the opposite side of the spectrum.
I can’t even tell you how many of my training clients say the tipping point for them to get into shape came when they were sitting on the floor.
Because when they went to get up, they couldn’t … at least not without grabbing onto a chair, couch, table, or (worse yet) another person to help them.
And they were like: How did I get myself in this predicament?
Well, chances are, it was a slow progression, so slow they barely noticed it happening.
How Mobility Problems Happen
Here’s a likely scenario:
- You sit a lot, probably for your job. That makes the muscles in the front part of your body get short – or inflexible.
- From the ground up, your front-of-body muscles get tight: shins, quads, hip flexors, abs, chest, and the front of shoulders. The muscles of your neck and jaw can even get involved.
- Meanwhile, the muscles in the back part of your body get loose – or weak.
- This slackness or weakness starts all the way down in your calves, and goes up through the hamstrings, glutes, back, and your rotator cuff (shoulders), as well as some muscles in your neck.
- As a result, muscle imbalances are created: the “force-tension” ratios get out of whack.
- Plus, if you don’t regularly use your muscles, they get weaker, no matter how old you are.
- Not only that, even if you are active, you lose muscle mass as you age. Every decade after 30, you lose between 3 percent and 5 percent of your muscle. If you’re a math person, you can see that as you get older, the rate accelerates, right, because you have less muscle to begin with? (Hence the old-lady shuffle comment above)
- And we’re not even talking about the actual changes that can occur within your joints themselves.
- Suddenly, one day you’re on the ground and … there you stay.
Think of your body like an aging car. If you don’t keep using it, it’s going to rust out.
- You work out a lot.
- You think stretching and mobility work is for wusses.
- You think you are bulletproof.
- And then … ermergerd … pop!
- Why does your shoulder (or biceps or hip or foot) hurt so damn much?
Totally Not Cool
So yeah, I wasn’t feeling too cool when I was shuffling across the floor at the restaurant the other night. Granted, I had done a hard leg workout earlier in the day, which made my muscles tight.
But I’ve also been doing a lot of sitting (like I’m doing right now, writing this).
It was a good wakeup call that I need to work more mobility and “recovery” work into my routine.
Here’s the thing about mobility work though – most of us don’t like doing it. It’s because we want to charge forward in #beastmode for our #gainz (or our weight loss, as the case may be). If we don’t get sweaty or pick up something super heavy, we don’t feel like we’ve gotten in a “real” workout.
And by we, I am including “me.”
What are Mobility Exercises?
There’s no one “perfect” way to work mobility. In fact, if you spend some time scrolling around the web, you’ll find a bunch of different recommendations, and none of them really include all of the components.
Because mobility really is the quadruple threat of fitness: you’re strong from your core all the way out to your extremities. And not only are you strong, you have control over them. You’re flexible through your joints and muscles, and can work through a full range of motion.
Which means it’s helpful to do a lot of different things:
- soft tissue work like foam rolling
- dynamic (but controlled) movements like shoulder rolls and lunges
- exercises make your core strong
- and exercises that make your muscles strong (and not necessarily “big”)
But all that different stuff makes working out more fun, doesn’t it?
I often recommend my clients spend some quality time with a foam roller for a few minutes every day. One of the best times to do this is when you’re winding down at night. It’s a great way to take some “you” time and relax.
Getting a yoga workout once or twice a week is a good idea. Or, you could take a barre class (my current obsession).
Lifting weights a few times a week is also a must – you don’t need complicated body part splits, either. Basically, I think it’s a good idea to get in shape, and then when you’re strong enough, lift really heavy stuff for a few (5 to 8) reps. But only lift that heavy when you’re strong enough.
So get out that foam roll, plug in that yoga video, try a barre workout (check out The Lazy Dancer … she has been putting a hurting on me lately!), and pick up some weights. Not all at the same time. 🙂
And I’m gonna get cracking on some cool mobility workouts for you.
- Check out these Try These 13 New Moves for Healthy, Strong, Supple Shoulders
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