Mobility is “the ability to move in one’s environment with ease and without restriction.” In terms of human movement, mobility is the ability to put one’s body into the correct position for various movements such as a squat, deadlift, overhead press etc.
Dr.Kelly Starrett of San Francisco Crossfit and mobilitywod have been the main sources behind this term becoming more popular. Kelly says that mobility is “a movement-based integrated full-body approach that addresses all the elements that limit movement and performance including short and tight muscles, soft tissue restriction, joint capsule restriction, motor control problems, joint range of motion dysfunction, and neural dynamic issues. In short, mobilization is a tool to globally address movement and performance problems.” In other words mobility is super important when we are talking about fitness, and even just general everyday life. Having mobility means having the ability to move the way our bodies were designed, that is the correctly and safely. Incidentally having this mobility will also allow for greater performance through higher force and therefore power production.
While you can break down mobility into many subcategories, as Dr. Kelly did above, I believe the three most pertinent categories are as follows:
- Soft tissue restrictions
- Tissue elasticity
- Joint Range of motion
The majority of improvements in mobility will more than likely come from these areas. Additionally they are all easy to work on individually which is very important for those of us who cannot afford a personal masseuse or chiropractor.
Soft tissue restrictions
Think scar tissue and matted down old tissue that hasn’t been required to move in a long time (ie you haven’t done a full squat in decades). All those adhesions serve to tack down and restrict the movement of different layers of tissue. The goal here is to break up those adhesions and restore the sliding surfaces of the various layers of tissue.
The main tools used here are self-myofascial release tools, such as foam rollers and lacrosse balls. If you’re unsure how to use either I’ll be making an article on the both of them and the importance of myofascial release soon.
Lacrosse ball smashing the quadriceps.
Think stretching. A shorter tissue will have a decreased range of motion when compared to a longer tissue. If you have yet to attain the maximum range of motion this is an excellent place to put some work in. Kelly is a big proponent of Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). PNF is essentially stretching a muscle, isometrically contracting it, then stretching it further. Commonly you will perform multiple cycles of it. Couple PNF with prolonged static stretching (I prefer up to two minutes) and you’ll see noticeable changes in your mobility.
Joint range of motion
Lastly the range of motion of your joints needs to be addressed. This is usually done through the use of banded distractions. Here’s an excellent video of Starrett demonstrating some banded distractions. The main idea is that the band applies pressure to put the joint back in the correct position, then you can move around a bit and stretch out the end ranges of motion.
Some things to note here are that mobilization is not the same as a warmup (although it should be incorporated into a warm up). Generally a warm up is designed to increase your heart rate a bit and get more blood flowing. Mobilizing during your warm up will serve to put you in better positions during your workouts, thus making you stronger and less likely to get injured.
Some of my favorite movements are the runners pose (first stretch she demonstrates), deep squat hold, and pigeon pose all of which address both tissue elasticity; and, when coupled with a band, joint range of motion.