Mobility work? Yawn.
We all know we should do it, but when we're crunched for time, it's among the first things out the window, according to Nick Tumminello, CPT, a Florida-based personal trainer and author of Strength Zone Training.
"If they're not with a trainer [who is baking mobility into their warmup], it's easily skipped," he tells LIVESTRONG.com. "People want to get in, get out and get as much done as they can of the main part of their workout. And mobility's the first thing you probably cut out."
For Greg Pignataro, CSCS, it took a broken back for him to get serious about his mobility. During his days as a college soccer player, the now 32-year-old Phoenix-based trainer and owner of Never Past Your Prime had multiple fractures in his spine. As he recovered from his injury, flexibility work was all he was allowed to do — and it helped ease his pain.
Here, we share six mobility exercises you'll actually want to do, plus tips on how to fit mobility into your already-busy workouts.
The 6 Best Mobility Moves to Add to Your Routine
Here, Pignataro recommends his six favorite mobility moves you can do to improve your flexibility, range of motion and joint stiffness. He recommends doing each exercise in sets of 25 to 50 contractions (think: muscle squeezes) for 1 to 2 seconds, performed for 1 or 2 sets.
1. Couch Stretch
- Get into a half-kneeling position in front of a couch, chair or bench. Your right foot should be flat on the floor, with your right knee bent 90 degrees and directly above your left foot. Your left knee should be behind you, at least 6 inches in front of the couch or chair. Your torso should be upright.
- Place the top of your left foot up on the cushion of the chair or couch. In this position, you will feel a stretch in your left quadriceps.
- Try to extend your left hip and bring your torso upright. If you can’t extend your hip, or if this is too extreme, increase the angle of your left knee by shifting forward so you’re further in front of the couch.
- Contract your glutes for 1 to 2 seconds. Perform 25 to 50 contractions.
- If you need to lean forward slightly and brace your hands on the coffee table or another chair, that’s OK. But keep your torso as upright as possible so you’re extending your hip.
- Switch sides and repeat with your left leg in front and your right foot up on the chair or couch.
2. Calf Stretch
To stretch your calves, Pignataro suggests using a slant board (a wooden piece of fitness equipment that has a flat, angled surface), if possible. With your toes on the higher part of the slope and your heels down on the lowest part, you'll get a better stretch. If you don't have access to a slant board, you can use a small hill near your home or just put your toes on a stair step and drop your heels down.
- Stand tall with your feet on a slant board, slope or with your toes on a step with your heels hanging off.
- Try to lift your toes slightly. This will flex the muscles on the front of your shins.
- Hold the contraction for 2 seconds, then release and repeat.
To make this stretch harder, increase the angle of the slope or try the move with one foot at a time.
3. Standing Toe Touch
To deepen your stretch, use a slant board. If you don't have access to one, you can perform this stretch standing on flat ground.
- Stand tall with your left foot on a slant board and your right foot on the ground next to it.
- Reach down as far as you can. Aim to touch either the top of the slant board or the ground, but only go as far down as your mobility allows.
- When you start to feel a stretch in your hamstrings, contract and relax your quad muscle on your left leg. As you do, you'll deepen the stretch on that side.
- Perform 25 to 50 contractions on your left leg.
- Switch sides, putting your right foot on the slant board, and repeat the contractions of your right quad muscle.
4. Butterfly Stretch
- Sit tall on the floor and bring the soles of your feet together, knees bent and pointing out to the sides.
- Hold your feet around the laces of your shoes (or, if you’re barefoot, where the laces would be).
- Contact your glutes for 1 to 2 seconds as your arms gently move your knees towards the floor.
- Perform 25 to 50 contractions per set.
5. Seated V Reach
- Sit tall with your legs extended out in a “V” shape.
- Lean forward as far as your mobility allows, reaching your arms in between your legs.
- Contract your abdominal muscles for 1 to 2 seconds, then release them. Do this 25 to 50 times.
6. Pigeon Pose
- From a kneeling position, step your left leg forward as if you're getting into a lunge position, with both legs bent 90 degrees.
- Instead of placing your left foot down as you would for the lunge, turn your left thigh out, lowering your left shin and thigh to the floor.
- Extend your right leg behind you, hips facing forward and chest lifted.
- Press down into the floor with your hips and place your hands on the floor next to you for balance.
- Squeeze your right glute for 1 to 2 seconds and release it. Repeat this 25 to 50 times.
- Switch legs and squeeze your left glute 25 to 50 times.
Why Mobility Matters
As we age, we become less flexible: In a December 2013 study of 6,000 people published in Age, scientists found that, on average, men lost 0.8 percent of their total flexibility every year as they age, starting at 30 years old, and women lost 0.6 percent of their total flexibility each year, starting at 40 years old.
That loss of joint mobility doesn't just mean it'll become more uncomfortable to get in and out of bed, or that your walking gait will be a little less graceful, or even that you'll be at a greater risk of being one of 3 million seniors who takes a fall that puts them in the hospital each year, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Compromised mobility could also put you at greater risk for an early death. As you may have heard before, the ability to get up from the floor without using your hands is associated with a longer life. In a July 2014 study in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, scientists found a link between having difficulty getting up from the floor and an early death.
And another study — published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation in March 2013 — found that those who scored poorly on a 20-exercise flexibility test were worse at getting up off the floor to come to a standing position.
Even if you're still young, your mobility matters. If you lose some range of motion in your ankle, for instance, it can make it harder to do an exercise like a squat, as seen in a November 2014 study in the Journal of Athletic Training.
If your hamstrings become inflexible or you have limited range of motion bending to your side, you're more likely to have back pain, as seen in this May 2017 review in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. And if you're "tight" in any of your joints, you can start to feel stiffer sooner.
How to Make Time for Mobility
With all these compelling reasons to add mobility work into our routines, why don't we?
"When people are left to their own devices in the gym, they're going to get right down to what they want to do," Tumminello says. For lifters, that means lifting. For runners, that means running.
One reason they prefer those activities, according to Pignataro, is because lifts and runs show real, tangible progress more often: You're adding weight to the bar or peeling time off your mile.
"When something is uncomfortable, not super dynamic and engaging and difficult to gauge week-to-week progress on — like with mobility — that's a pretty potent cocktail of demotivating," he says. "Compare that to traditional strength training: You're moving through the reps, you actively feel like you're doing something, and you see progress week to week."
But any stretching regimen can provide results in range of motion faster than you might think: An April 2018 review published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that to improve your range of motion on a target muscle or joint, you'll need to stretch it five times per week, but only for a total of five minutes per week.
To get that modest amount — and see results — try adding a session of the six moves above at the beginning of your workout, or as its own session at home. If you still think it might be hard to dedicate time to a mobility-only session, take some advice from Tumminello: Do your mobility work between sets of your regular workout.
"Instead of using them in the warmup, I'll use mobility moves as active recovery between strength lifts," he says. "Usually, if a client is doing a lower-body lift, we'll do an upper-body mobility move. And if it's an upper-body lift, we'll do a lower-body mobility move. I don't want to take away from the productivity of the working set [by further fatiguing muscles that should be resting between the set]."
- Age: "Age-related mobility loss is joint-specific: an analysis from 6,000 Flexitest results"
- CDC: "Older Adult Fall Prevention"
- European Journal of Preventative Cardiology: "Ability to sit and rise from the floor as a predictor of all-cause mortality"
- American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation: "Does flexibility influence the ability to sit and rise from the floor?"
- Journal of Athletic Training: "Altered Knee and Ankle Kinematics During Squatting in Those With Limited Weight-Bearing–Lunge Ankle-Dorsiflexion Range of Motion"
- BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders: "Restriction in lateral bending range of motion, lumbar lordosis, and hamstring flexibility predicts the development of low back pain: a systematic review of prospective cohort studies"
- International Journal of Sports Medicine: "The Relation Between Stretching Typology and Stretching Duration: The Effects on Range of Motion"
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