Mobility: is it worth the time?
Updated: Jun 14
What is mobility?
Mobility is the ability to control the full range of motion of a joint solely using the strength of that limb freely, meaning you do not need manual assistance to move or stretch the limb.
Am I not mobile because I’m flexible?
The general term of flexibility and mobility tend to be intertwined. This is easily done, even by health professionals on a daily basis. Yes, I can hold my hand up and say I have done this. The difference is that flexibility is the ability to move that joint through a large range of motion manually assisted, whether that be with assistance of another person, your own body or with equipment such as a band.
So as an example:
Mobility - is moving your leg unassisted (active)
Flexibility - where you move your leg with assistance (passive)
So yes, there is a difference between the two. However, both aspects are correlated and can impact on each other. Maximising your ability to have good mobility and flexibility will impact on being a strong, efficient and healthy individual.
Why waste my time?
Yes, you can just train for strength and say, "Well, I can lift this much when I squat." However the balance is wrong if you’re not achieving appropriate range of motion, especially if you want healthy and mobile joints. For an example, if you’re only squatting to above parallel (normal seated position) with 100kg, but can only squat 40kg below, then this isn’t an even balance if you want healthy and functional hips. Being strong in small ranges of motion is not key for athletes and for the general population, you need to train for strength in the entire range of motion to build mobility.
Reduced control through range of motion at a joint can occur at any time even if you are still regularly doing various daily activities, exercise, sport, work among many other things. So sometimes mobility can be reduced even if following a relatively sound exercise programme. The point of making this statement is to highlight the importance of how if mobility training is not implemented. The joints in the body can slowly lose range which can impact on function, control and strength.
What this means is that when a joint’s range is reduced it can become vulnerable. When the joint becomes compromised through a lack of mobility and range, the body will compensate through another joint or muscle which can, and often, leads to injury.
A perfect example of this is a large percentage of desk jockeys out in modern day work will accumulate poor posture overtime as seen below.
What this typically does (if you have poor posture), is encourage the shoulders to slouch and round forward, which in turn causes your chest muscles to shorten (tighten) and your shoulder range to be reduced. Yes, you could get shoulder pain from this, it is also common to receive pain in the areas of you neck, back and glutes (bum). This is a result of your body learning to compensate and adapt, or becoming lazy, as seen in the picture on the right. What we should strive for along with some mobility is to fix the bad habit, in this case, by following simple cues like the picture on the left; Stand up when possible, adjust your desk, shoulders back, no slouching forward.
No, I cannot tell you indefinitely that you will end up injured if you don’t adopt mobility training, I also cannot tell you that if you follow mobility training that you will completely avoid injury. What research and anatomy are saying is that mobility can increase range in the joints and strengthen through that range, which is essential for being an efficient athlete or individual. Not only that but who wants to feel rigid, weak and stiff? Mobility along with training can improve your health, fitness and wellbeing, as well help you function better day to day.
How long should it be done for and how often?
There is a debate among how much mobility work should and can be done, let us be realistic as we don’t have a spare 5 hours a day to start doing this much mobility training. However, there is research to say as little as twice a week for 30 minutes over prolonged period (2-6 months) can have a positive outcome on mobility and the range of joints.
Coming soon will be how we implement this into our current situation and into our normal lives. The next blog will explain the foundations and stages that can be followed in home exercise, which will minimise injury and maximise what you can achieve from your workouts. For any further question please do not hesitate to contact me or the rehab team. A mobile body is happy body!
Page, P. (2012). CURRENT CONCEPTS IN MUSCLE STRETCHING FOR EXERCISE AND REHABILITATION. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 7(1), 109–119.
Eng, J. J. (2010). Fitness and Mobility Exercise (FAME) Program for stroke. Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation, 26(4), 310–323. http://doi.org/10.1097/TGR.0b013e3181fee736