Before we talk about how to increase your mobility, the absolute first thing we need to do is define it. Most people seem to see mobility and flexibility as the same thing, and while they kind of are, they’re not.
Flexibility vs Mobility.
A person who has great mobility will be able to perform a variety of movement patterns with great control and flexibility. A person with flexibility may be able to perform those movement patterns but they would like that element of control. This could be through muscle tightness, weakness or imbalances, balance or coordination.
Many people associate flexibility (and, therefore, mobility) with stretching and outrageous examples of it, such as the splits, but there are other factors to it. There would be stretching, soft tissue work and strengthening. If you don’t strengthen your body through a new range of motion then you are just leaving yourself open entirely to injury. Which segues nicely into –
Why You Need Good Mobility.
Mobility, in itself, is great. However, the lack of mobility is more telling than anything. If you struggle to get into a squat position that is at least parallel, or you can’t get your upper back straight at the bottom of a deadlift then this is indicative of an injury waiting to happen.
The inability to squat down would signify muscle, joint or tendon tightness in any of the areas surrounding your lower back, hips, glutes and legs and this would then leave you open to injury in any of these areas.
The struggle to get your upper back into the correct position at the bottom of a deadlift would be indicative of some thoracic tightness and rounding. This is very common in office workers or people who sit at desks or drive for a living. Tightness and poor posture in this area could affect your ability to breathe, move your neck and even lead on to shoulder and back pains.
Basically, you need good mobility in order to live a pain free and empowering life. Without good mobility you might find yourself constantly injured or in pain, unable to bend down to pick up your kids or unable to turn your head properly when driving. All of these things sound as though they would suck. So its definitely a good idea to get these sorted.
I’m Sold. How Do I Get It?
I mentioned earlier that you would need to focus on stretching, soft tissue work and strengthening in order to achieve god tier level of mobility. If you think about it, Olympic Lifters, even some powerlifters, have fantastic ability. Watch someone do a low squat, or a snatch, and ask yourself if you think they have tightness in their hips or shoulders. (They probably don’t).
Firstly, you are best to assess where you currently are. You can do the assessment made by Function Movement Screening which you will be able to find online. It would be best to do this with someone who has experience of it. This will assess your mobility with 7 different exercises, with you scoring between 0-3 on all of them. Some exercises are incredibly hard to be getting 3 on, others are quite doable. A score of 14/21 is generally seen as acceptable for an athlete level.
Even if you get a high score but score a 0 or 1 on one of the movements you will know that your mobility in this area is lacking, so you will know exactly what to work on from this.
You will be able to find links and videos of how to do this on youtube. But to point you in the right direction, try their site.
I know where I’m immobile, now what?
You need a three pronged attack here. Depending on your experience, you can probably think of a few stretches for the area in question.
However, some things will react far better to some soft tissue work such as foam rolling using a roller or ball, or even a sports massage. A sports massage therapist who understands your sport and your life will go a long way in improving your mobility, whether it be for your sport specifically or just to improve your own life and sense of wellbeing.
The third side to this coin (yeah, I know) suggests that you strengthen any imbalances. Your shoulders might slouch as your chest is far stronger than your back or rear shoulders are. This is particularly common to those gym bros who train chest but don’t think their back needs to be aesthetic as they never see it themselves.
Let’s look at an example.
You’re a student, you drive and you spend a lot of time at a computer. You find that you can’t get your hands within fists’ distance of each other when you reach them together behind your back (this is an FMS test) and you want to know how to fix this. As well as this, you find that your chest muscles feel tight and you sometimes get pain in your upper back and rear shoulders.
The first thing for you to do, is go get a sports massage, do this either weekly or a few times a month and let the therapist know where you’re struggling. The therapist will help to break down any knots and relieve any tightness in the musculature of your thoracic back. They’ll also advise you on what to do but will likely give you some foam roller work to roll out your thoracic area.
You would also be expected to do some stretches for your chest muscles, which will likely be overly stretched from the position they’re in. As well as this, you will need to include more back exercises in, try and even out the pushing movements with pulling movements for healthy shoulders.
To Sum Up.
If you lack mobility somewhere, it is likely that one part of your body is taking over and has become tighter, with the opposing side being weaker. Stretch, strengthen and get some soft tissue work done.