While it may lack the flashy movements or have the visual improvements that strength training has, mobility is critical to your overall fitness. Often lumped in together with flexibility, mobility is its own skill set that requires your attention. Without the necessary range of motion and control mobility provides, those squats or overhead press reps may actually be counterproductive to your fitness goals and be setting you up for potential injury.
Today, we’re talking about how to improve mobility and why it’s so important. While it doesn’t have to take up large quantities of your training time, spending time focusing on ways to improve mobility will serve you well in the long term and may even help keep you from getting hurt.
What is Mobility?
Before we hop into how to improve mobility, it helps to understand what it is. Simply put, mobility is our active range of motion. If you consider flexibility to be what allows you to get into a position, your mobility is what allows you to hold it. Mobility is the crossroads where flexibility meets strength and control.
Finding ways to improve mobility focuses on being able to move freely and purposefully while maintaining stability and strength in your joints and muscles. Knowing how to improve flexibility is only one part of the equation. Mobility is what puts that capability into action and supports your performance.
Learning How to Improve Mobility
As you now know, flexibility is your ability to make a movement while mobility is the ability to sustain and control it. Unfortunately, many people misunderstand how to improve mobility for ways that focus on flexibility. For this reason, oftentimes athletes and other active individuals will find their mobility levels are actually behind their flexibility capabilities.
In a simplified example, think of increasing flexibility as doing more reps of a particular exercise while mobility involves holding that rep and the ability to do it properly. Mobility increases form, and is essential for improving athletic performance. Some methods for how to improve mobility are:
- Set a baseline metric for your current mobility
- Do controlled articular rotations (CAR)
- Take care of joint health
- Get a mobility massage
Establish a Baseline to Improve Mobility
While you might notice gains in strength training or even increases in range of motion with flexibility exercises, seeing yourself improve mobility may be a little less obvious during a workout or athletic performance. This is why the first step for how to improve mobility for better movement is to establish a baseline metric for where you are now.
For this you’ll want to check out two categories of mobility: a static assessment and dynamic assessment.
Static Mobility Assessment
First up in a static mobility assessment is your basic posture. Do you have good posture? If you’re tilted to one side or hunched over in your regular standing position, you can immediately see where some corrections need to be made.
You can also make a static assessment for how to improve mobility by comparing your current ability to get into a particular position to the “gold standard” for it. For example, if you have a goal to be able to do a backbend, how well can you get into that position and maintain it now as compared to how it should be done? Baseline readings like this can show you the path from where you are now to where you need to get.
Dynamic Mobility Assessment
Dynamic assessments to improve mobility are about seeing yourself perform an action to see how your form is. For example, you might record yourself doing a series of squats. Did you begin in the proper position? How was your control while in motion? Did you end in the correct position? Noting all of these things will help you determine where you need to make adjustments and provide a roadmap for how to improve mobility.
Improve Mobility With Controlled Articular Rotations (CAR)
One of the best sets of exercises for how to improve mobility for better movement are controlled articular rotations (CAR). These mobility exercises use active rotation movements to go through the full range of motion for individual joints in isolation. Not only can it help with how to improve mobility, but it can also be indicative of neurological control over joint movement.
CARs involve actively moving through their usable range of motion using muscular and neurological control instead of a simple static stretch. They are essentially slow circular movements that grow larger as you progress through them. To add to the utility of CARs to improve mobility, resistance is added to help teach your body and muscles to maintain control. Without the tension, your body is gaining the flexibility of going through the range of motion, but not the mobility of maintaining it purposefully.
Improve Mobility By Taking Care of Joint Health
Did you know there are 360 joints in the human body? They allow you to do movements like bending your knees, elbows, and back making joint health for athletes crucial to performance and training. Learning how to improve mobility means finding ways to take care of joint health. Healthy joints not only allow for the range of motion to be completed, but for it to be sustained.
In order to maintain joint health, athletes and people with active lifestyles should:
- Don’t overtrain
- Ensure you’re practicing good posture at all times
- Stay hydrated throughout the day
- Be active during recovery (while respecting your limitations)
- Keep joints warm during performance and cooldown
Joint health isn’t just for athletes, though. People of any age and lifestyle should look to joint health to improve mobility.
Get a Mobility Massage
While you might think of massage as simply a way to improve flexibility, it may help with how to improve mobility, as well. When you get a massage, your body relaxes the muscle tension that is built up within different muscle groups. This means that immediately following a massage, you’re likely as mobile as ever as your joints are able to explore their full range of motion with as little resistance as possible.
Getting a massage regularly is a great method for how to improve mobility in the long term. The repetition of muscle tension relaxation and increased flexibility massage can yield longer lasting results. For those unable to get a massage regularly from a therapist, you might consider the benefits of owning a massage chair at home. The luxury massage chairs of today offer a variety of different types of massage to fit your needs, giving you the benefits of massage therapy at home to help improve mobility.
Foot and leg massage features may help improve mobility for the lower extremities. Massage chairs with calf and knee heat add another element to consider as part of a leg massage for runners and other athletes. Other massage chair features like chromotherapy and zero gravity reclining capabilities might also help relax your muscle groups more effectively, contributing to improved mobility, too.
In addition to the physical release of muscle tension, massages reduce stress. When we are stressed, we subconsciously clench muscles within our bodies. This subconscious muscle tension limits our mobility and can even lead to a heightened risk of injury. Getting a massage helps lower cortisol levels naturally, which reduces stress levels and increases serotonin production within our bodies. This goes to show that learning how to improve mobility is not just about physical health, but mental wellbeing, too.
As you have now learned, knowing how to improve mobility for better movement is essential to your overall fitness. While often combined with flexibility, mobility is a skill set all on its own that allows you to control the movement of joints purposefully. Practicing ways to improve mobility such as taking initial assessments, doing controlled articular rotations, and choosing a massage chair for regular sessions at home may all contribute to increasing your performance and keeping you from injury.
For more information on the potential health benefits of massage chairs and how they can enhance your active lifestyle, check out these additional resources: