Never before has mobility been such a hot topic in the fitness industry.
Since there is much more exposure to squats and deadlifts hip mobility has become a big one.
Training for sports has also seen an increase in the need for mobile joints. Lately, golf has been on the forefront of a shift into fitness for better results. Sprinting also has specific needs for ankle, hip, and T spine mobility.
Mobility is often confused with flexibility and the two could not be more different. Flexibility refers to the range of motion in individual muscles from a static or passive assessment. This can be a self-stretch or with partner assistance. Flexibility is starting to become less and less important.
Mobility refers to the range of motion at a joint during movement. We are more concerned with the ability of the joints to move than the individual muscles. More often than not, many joints are working together to provide mobility.
The squat is always a prime example of hip mobility. Hip mobility is not the only factor present. The squat requires adequate ankle and T spine mobility, as well as knee and core stability. Static stretching the hips may feel good but it is not an effective way to improve hip mobility in a squat.
The proper way to improve mobility is as follows.
- Soft Tissue Work
Starting on a foam roller or lacrosse ball is very helpful for reducing tension in the muscles and fascia. This myofascial unit will also become more hydrated as a result.
All we are really doing with soft tissue work is putting pressure on the muscles to shut off the stretch reflexes. After about 30-120s, the tension will release and the muscles will not feel as tight.
This is the first set of brakes that can occur with mobility. If there is built up tension in the muscles, they will not have their peak range of motion.
The glutes, quads, calves, groin, and back are typical spots of built up tension. Give these areas some attention and you will feel great after.
- Increase Range of Motion
This is where most people will confuse static stretching with mobility work.
Instead of stretching individual muscles, we need to increase range of motion (ROM) at the appropriate joints. The ankles, hips, T spine, and shoulder are all joints that are mobile. Maximizing ROM at these joints will create better overall movement.
To accomplish this we need to take the joints and put them into depths of mobility that they have not reached before, within reason.
A couple examples follow.
- Use that ROM
Once we have worked to increase mobility in a certain joint, we must use it or lose it.
40 Year Old Virgin jokes aside, mobility work must be integrated into movement to be effective. Improving hip mobility should be followed by squats, deadlifts, or lunges. A golfer that is working on T spine rotation should take some swings after improving the movement.
Forgetting this step wastes the efforts of the first two. It can be as simple as some light bodyweight exercises but we cannot just ignore integrating the pattern.
The steps are simple: release the muscles, increase ROM in that joint, and move in that new ROM.
Some patience will be required because we are trying to undo years of bad habits with mobility work. When possible, performing these steps 1-3 times a day will be extremely beneficial.
Just to wrap up with an example of hip mobility from the beginning. Start by rolling the glutes, calves, and back. Perform 10 rockbacks and T spine rotations. Stand up and perform 10 bodyweight squats. The results will be instant or they make take some time.
Commit to the process and time will yield great improvements.