Mobility work is important in any fitness routine — yet most new exercisers don't know how to add it to their program. But the truth is the best mobility exercises for beginners are actually quite simple to do if you've got a little guidance. And that's why we're here.
These beginner mobility exercises are great for anyone just starting to incorporate mobility into their routines. Doing them regularly will help build a foundation of mobility that will benefit all of your workouts. They're also beneficial for pretty much anyone with any level of fitness experience, Yuen says, because they hone in on movements that pop up in everyday life and common exercises.
"These can be done as a standalone routine or used periodically throughout the day depending on how stiff you tend to get," Cameron Yuen, DPT, CSCS, a senior physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "A good routine would be doing individual movements throughout the day here and there, and then doing the full routine at the end of the day before bed."
Do each exercise for 1 to 2 minutes, focusing on breathing slowly and relaxing your muscles as much as possible.
Move 1: Big Toe Mobilization
The big toe may seem like a small joint that doesn't matter that much in the grand scheme of things — but it actually plays a big role in the mobility of your lower body, making this move a great mobility exercise for beginners.
"Your big toe needs to extend upward in order to lunge, walk, run and kneel," Yuen says. "If your big toe is unable to bend, your ankle, knee and hip have to compensate." Everything from your torso down through your hips, knees and feet is connected in a chain, so when one part of the chain is off, it can mess with other parts.
While mobilizing this joint can be beneficial for everyone, Yuen says it can be especially helpful if you have issues with your plantar fascia and/or Achilles tendon.
- Start in a half-kneeling position. Place your hands on the floor on either side of your front foot.
- Slowly shift your weight forward so that it goes into the front foot, the big toe in particular.
- Slowly shift back towards your back foot making sure to keep the front foot fully planted on the floor.
- Do this movement for 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat on the other side.
Move 2: Soleus Mobilization
The two major muscles that make up the calves are the gastrocnemius and soleus. "[The soleus] is the one that tends to get restricted and limits the ability of your ankle to bend," Yuen says.
This is common — and can make it hard to squat, lunge and even run properly. If your heels come off the ground when you try to squat deeply or lunge, it's likely an ankle mobility issue, which might actually stem from tightness in the soleus.
"Mobilizing at the ankle can be helpful for both ankle and knee issues," Yuen says.
- Stand in a staggered stance with your back leg straight and front leg bent. You should feel a stretch in your back calf.
- Bend your back leg and sit back into your hips as your knee comes forward and your ankle stretches.
- Shift forward so your hips come back to center and straighten your back leg again.
- Repeat for 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat on the other leg.
Move 3: Hip Flexor With Side Bend
"This mobilization will help with extending the leg behind you, which is important when lunging, running and even standing," Yuen says. That motion is known as hip extension.
"Limited hip extension can be associated with low-back pain as the low back has to extend to compensate for decreased range of motion at the hip," Yuen adds.
Working on hip mobilization may also help improve some knee and low-back issues.
- Start in a half-kneeling position with your left leg forward and right leg behind. Tuck your pelvis under so that your lower back is flat and not arched.
- Place your right hand behind your head and your left hand on your leg quad.
- Bend your torso to the left, being careful to bend from your mid and upper back and keeping your low back and hips in place.
- Return your torso to the center.
- Continue this movement for 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat on the other side.
Move 4: Windshield Wiper
The windshield wipers exercise focuses on improving hip rotation. "Hip rotation is a component of most lower-body movements including squatting, kneeling, bending and running," Yuen says.
It also mobilizes your low back in a safe way. In general, when you twist your torso, that movement happens primarily in your mid and upper back, not your lower back. But in some movements, like a wood chop, your lower back does need to rotate a bit. Gentle exercises that keep it mobile and ready for these movements can help prevent strain.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your left foot on your right knee and place your arms on the floor out to the sides in a T.
- Slowly bring your left knee out to the side toward the ground, bringing your right knee with you. Rotate only as far as you can before your low back pops up off the floor. Keep your shoulders on the floor squarely facing the ceiling.
- Bring your legs back to the starting position so that your right foot is flat on the floor again.
- Continue this motion for 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat on the other side.
Move 5: Supine Spinal Twist
This movement mobilizes your thoracic spine — your mid-back that runs from the base of your neck down to your abdomen — and rib cage. "These areas need mobility for both upper- and lower-body movement, but these often get restricted the most with upper-body movements like reaching overhead," Yuen says. Think shoulder presses and lat pull-downs.
To do these exercises without getting hurt, "the ribs need to be able to expand and the thoracic spine needs to be able to rotate and extend," Yuen says.
Mobilizing your ribs and thoracic spine can also help with lower back, shoulder and neck issues.
- Lie on your right side, knees in front of your torso, stacked and bent at 90 degrees. Extend your arms on the floor with your left arm stacked on top of your right.
- Slowly open your chest and bring your left arm up and over to the left side as you rotate your mid-back. Keep your knees stacked, and stop rotating when you get to the point that your lower back wants to bend.
- Reverse the motion to bring your arms back together.
- Continue this movement for 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat on the other side.
Move 6: Wall Slide
Wall slides help mobilize your shoulders and mid-back so that you can comfortably reach overhead and rotate your arm, Yuen says. Again, working on mobility in these areas is essential if you plan to do any overhead arm movements — which you will at some point if you're starting a comprehensive full-body strength training regimen.
"This is a challenging movement but will help considerably with shoulder and neck issues," Yuen says. It's challenging in the sense that most people go into it with mobility restrictions and struggle to get the motion right — which is a sign you need to do it more often.
- Sit cross-legged in front of a wall with your back against it. Bend your elbows and place your arms against the wall so your elbows are at shoulder height. This is known as goal-post arms.
- Slowly slide your arms up overhead and straighten your elbows as much as you can.
- Reverse the movement to bring your arms back to the goal-post position. Keep your arms in contact with the wall the entire time.
- Continue this movement for 1 to 2 minutes.
Why Beginners Need Mobility Exercises
"Mobility generally refers to the available range of motion at a joint, while flexibility refers to the available range of motion with muscle and soft tissue," Yuen says. In the context of exercise, mobility refers to the active range of motion available to a specific joint.Working on your mobility is important because it keeps your joints working like a well-oiled machine so that you can do exercises and everyday activities with safe, proper technique.
"You need a certain amount of mobility at each body part in order to move through exercises," Yuen explains. "For example, to perform a squat, your ankles, knees and hips need to be able to bend to a certain range. If one or more of the joints are lacking mobility, you will either have to reduce your range of motion, or another joint will have to pick up the slack."
Overuse injuries often happen when some joints have to take on more work than necessary because other joints aren't going their job fully. Mobility also helps promote long-term joint health.
"Moving joints through their full range of motion changes the pressure within the joint. This pressure change moves a nourishing liquid called synovial fluid, which cushions joints and delivers them nutrients to stay healthy," Yuen says.