Mobility is the ability to move a limb through its full range of motion. This is not to be confused with flexibility which is simply the length of the muscle. Mobility is a controlled voluntary movement through its entire functional range of motion. Mobility training is the process in which you work to improve mobility in all or a single joint. In doing so you reduce the potential of imbalances, thus reducing the risk for injuries, allow for full benefits of exercise by moving limbs through their respective full range of motion, and help you move better whether that is for daily activities or for sport.
Through daily activities, injuries, exercise, or sport, joint range of motion can decrease resulting in what is known as a compromised joint. Meaning your joint is vulnerable. To protect against this vulnerability your body will make compensations around that joint and even other places in the body, which often increase the likelihood for injury to occur. A compromised joint can even cause pain in unrelated areas! Joint mobility training stimulates and circulates synovial fluid. Joints do not receive direct blood supply therefore they do not receive nourishment. When you stimulate and circulate synovial fluid you increase the turnover rate of the fluid in the joint, which provides nourishment as well as removes waste in the joint.
So now that we know what mobility training does and why it is important, how much should you be doing or do you need to be doing it at all? Some say it should be every day, some say once a week, and some say not at all. Honestly, joint mobility training should be something that is added into your day-to-day workout regimen as needed. If you are having joint mobility issues, meaning you cannot get each joint through its full range of motion, then you need to add some mobility training to your workout regimen. The degree of limitation of joint mobility will influence how much work you need to put into joint mobility training. If your joint mobility is severely limited, then an everyday pre-exercise regimen may be necessary. Once full range of motion is regained, mobility training can be reduced to a few times a week, then to once a week, and as needed from there. If you have no issues getting all joints through their respective range of motion, mobility training may not be necessary, but that does not mean that it is not a bad idea. If you do not think it is necessary to add mobility training to your workout, make sure you keep an eye on your body alignment and function to ensure that you do not develop any muscular imbalances or dysfunctions. As soon as you start to notice any loss of mobility, take a proactive approach and start working on it immediately to prevent an increased risk of injury in that joint or elsewhere in the kinetic chain.
So what does mobility training look like? Joint mobility training typically involves foam rolling, mobility drills, and some stretching. Foam rolling is also called self-myofascial release. Basically that is a fancy word for a self-massage. Foam rolling helps break up fascial adhesions around the muscles and help increase joint mobility and optimal muscle contraction. The tighter the muscles are that surround a joint, the less mobile they will be, so foam rolling is a quick and easy way to help increase joint mobility. Foam rolling can be incorporated in the beginning of your workout with your warm-up and is something you can do every day to help improve or maintain mobility. Mobility drills are exercises that take the muscles, tendons and the joint through their entire range of motion. When performing these types of exercises, it is important to perform them using high levels of control. There are many types of mobility training exercises, which will be specific to each and every joint. Some examples are wall slides for increasing shoulder joint mobility and leg swings to increase hip joint mobility. Mobility drills are great to incorporate in the beginning of your workout or even as a workout on their own. Incorporating a stretching routine after exercise can also help elongate the muscles that surround the joint thus helping the joint move through its full range of motion.
Joint mobility can be crucial for athletes, regular exercisers, or even people that develop mobility issues in the work place. Mobility training is a great warm-up before exercise, which not only helps manage imbalances and reduces the risk of injury, but also improves exercise by moving joints through their full range of motion. While mobility work may not be necessary for everyone, it is still a great tool to help maintain joint health. So next time you are about to exercise try throwing in some mobility drills beforehand and see the improvements in your workout!