This is entry 3 in a series about self care, covering foam rolling, stretching, and now mobility. I’ve already covered some of what I define as the differences between flexibility and mobility. In short, flexibility is the ability to stretch and passively move the muscles and other soft tissues of a joint to a certain end range of motion. Mobility, as a whole, is the ability to utilize this flexibility and range of motion in a meaningful way.
You could think of it in terms of a foreign language. Sometimes people can read a foreign language, but their ability to write or speak lags behind their reading comprehension. That would be somewhat analogous to flexibility…it’s necessary to become completely fluent. The folks who can read, write and converse in that language are fluent. That fluency is a more practical, useable grasp of the language, just as mobility is built upon flexibility. There are degrees of fluency, just as there are degrees of mobility.There are different ways to build mobility, just as there are different ways to reach fluency in a language (some people start speaking, and their written skills come later).
Ultimately, in my opinion, mobility drills entail expressing your range of motion in some degree of movement context, with an intention and an effort to improve that range. The best of these drills will include techniques that manipulate or improve more than one of the following: soft tissue, joint capsule mobility, range of motion or neuromuscular involvement.
For instance, if my calves limit my ankle dorsiflexion, and that’s hampering my ability to get a bit deeper in my squats, then I might do an assisted squat, holding on to a door frame, or squat rack to help me get as deep as I can in my squat without falling backwards, and stretch my calves some more.
By encouraging/enhancing the stretch of the calves while in the bottom of a squatting position, I am not only helping to stretch the muscle, but I’m creating that stretch and loading the joint capsule in the context of the bottom of a squat. This will help to train the proprioceptors and nervous system that this is, indeed, how far I should be able to move in a squat, without assistance. So, I’ve improved my flexibility and given it some context in which to be useful.
There are tons of mobility drills out there, and a lot of them look like corrective exercise or physical therapy, many look like yoga, and some look like dynamic stretching. That’s because a lot of the time, these things all overlap. I’m not going to even try to spend much time or space suggesting any specifics. I will encourage you to go to your search engine, and search for “mobility drills for _____” and fill in whatever movement, joint or muscle you are looking to improve. I am particularly keen on searching for movements, because you may wind up with results that lead you towards your real limiting factor, when you think it’s another muscle.
I will suggest checking out YouTube and searching for videos from Mobility WOD or Yoga Tune Up. They have plenty of information out there, between the two of them, and should help you find some drills that will speak to you.
Which brings me to the “when” question. When should you incorporate this stuff into your workout regimen? I think that we should all be doing some type of mobility work every day. In the flow of a full workout, I think you should foam roll, warm up, do mobility drills relevant to either your particular needs or the needs of the workout (sometimes they can be a part of your warm up, as is the case with sun salutations or the hip mobility sequence in the following video. Then do your static stretching after your workout.
So there you have it. Hopefully after this 3-part series, you are feeling informed and empowered enough to know what you are doing when you foam roll, stretch or do mobility drills. Perhaps with this awareness, you can identify opportunities to turn some of your warm up movements into mobility movements. If nothing else, I hope that you will at least be able to identify and appreciate your stretching, foam rolling and mobility when your trainer recommends these for self care.