Mobility Training Is the Level-Up Every Workout Routine Needs

Fitness

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A well-rounded fitness routine is not just about strength training and cardio. A comprehensive plan must include mobility training. In fact, strength and cardio can’t happen without it. And yet, far too many people don’t do enough mobility training, or even do none at all.

It’s understandable. So many fitness resources emphasize results, and it can be tempting to lean into exercises that seem to draw a straight line to goals like increased strength or endurance or speed: want a stronger butt, do more squats (or, actually, glute bridges). Mobility exercises tend to involve more subtle movements, and so people can overlook the massive benefits they stand to gain from prioritizing them. But as Jana King, the lead coordinator and head trainer at Lifestyle Coordination, says, “Not all strength training is mobility training, but all mobility training is strength training.”

Simply put, skipping mobility training is a mistake, especially if you deal with joint pain, stiffness, muscle imbalances, or limited range of motion. Ahead, find more on what mobility training is, what the benefits of mobility training are, and what trainers say the best mobility exercises are.

What Is Mobility Training, Exactly?

King defines mobility training as “the practice of closing the gap between how a joint should be able to act based on its design and how it actually acts in a person, or at least preserving where it is currently at.”

Basically, mobility training is meant to help you move better — to help you get through your daily to-dos like walking up and down stairs, lifting bags of groceries, and exercising without pain or risk of injury. To do that, it looks at how your entire body moves together, rather than the function of a specific group of muscles. It targets not just muscles, but also tendons, ligaments, joints, and general range of motion.

Mobility exercises may include elements of stretching, self-massage, strength exercises, flexibility exercises, and more. “The best news about mobility training is that you can make a lot of improvements just by learning about the full range of motion that should be available at a joint, then thinking about how force transfers through it in different movements in daily life,” King says.

Benefits of Mobility Training

You’ll notice the benefits of mobility training in the gym and in your daily life. Adding mobility exercises to your regular routine can:

Reduce the risk of injury

“While you can’t fully prevent injury, you can reduce the risk of injury by exposing joints to ranges of motion that should be able to happen in a controlled setting,” King says.

She provides the example of whiplash. If your neck muscles are strong and the neck muscles and ligaments are flexible and have full range of motion, they may be more resilient and less likely to sustain injury from a sudden movement, like whiplash. Similarly, having ankle mobility can help you avoid rolling or spraining your ankle on a misstep.

Reduce joint pain

Mobility training helps bring blood flow to the joints, which can reduce aches and pains you may be living with. This type of training also helps you avoid muscle imbalances and increases your general range of motion, which allows you to move more naturally, reducing the likelihood of joint pain.

There’s a mind-body benefit as well, King adds. “If you had an injury to that joint area specifically, letting it be moved in an environment where it also feels safe can reestablish your relationship to it,” she says.

Calm your nervous system

Mobility training doesn’t just include bodily movement; it includes breathing as well. While breathing is intuitive, people can also get into the habit of breathing too shallowly. By allowing you to practice proper breathing, mobility exercises can help calm your nervous system, King says.

The Best Mobility Exercises

The moves below will help get you started on a mobility training program that will have you moving and breathing optimally.

A few words of warning: if you’re injured or experiencing regular pain, be sure to check with a medical provider before starting a new training plan. Also, when performing these movies, you shouldn’t feel any pinching or nerve pain. If you do, stop the move immediately.

Breathwork With Towel Feedback

“Diaphragmatic breathing improves shoulder and hip mobility by promoting optimal alignment and stability throughout the body,” King says. “This facilitates better movement patterns and helps manage tension in the torso and muscles attached there.”

  • Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat.
  • Tuck a folded towel under each side of your back about 4-6 inches away from your spine, either around your waistline or closer to your shoulder blades.
  • Take 3-5 breaths, focusing on drawing your breath toward your pelvis first, then into the place you have your towels, then into your rib cage.
  • Exhale fully, imagining squeezing every bit of air out of your lungs.
  • Take 3-5 more breaths.

Diaphragm Stretch and Spinal Stimulation

“This exercise works the ability to connect to and move each vertebrae individually,” King says. It improves your connection to each part of the spine and improves your spine’s overall range of motion, which has several downstream effects on posture, your ability to twist or bend, your overall stability, and more.

  • Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat.
  • On an inhale, reach your arms up overhead and push your hips into a bridge.
  • At the top of the bridge, exhale fully.
  • Holding your breath, roll back down to the starting position one vertebrae at a time.
  • Repeat 3-5 times.

Thoracic Rotation and Shoulder Circle With Towel Feedback

This mobility exercise is a two-for-one: it targets the middle of the spine and the shoulders. Lying on your side puts some pressure on your ribs, which encourages you to rotate from the point where the rib connects to the spine. That “can help improve range of motion in the connecting vertebrae, and can also help with the ability to breathe better by loosening the tissue around the ribs,” King explains. “The shoulder circle helps to move your shoulder through a bigger range of motion than you would have in daily life.”

  • Lie down on your side with your arm under your head. Place a folded towel under the side of your rib cage, a little lower than the bottom of the armpit.
  • Straighten your bottom leg and bring the top leg into a 90-degree bend.
  • Grab another towel with the hand of the top arm.
  • Keep your arm straight and circle it overhead with your thumb pointing behind you.
  • When your bicep reaches your ear, rotate your armpit toward the ceiling.
  • When you reach your maximum twisted position, rotate your shoulder in as you close your armpit.
  • Repeat 2 more times. Then repeat 3 times in the other the direction.

Supine 90/90 Hip Bridge

The hips are the foundation of your body, so working on mobility in the hips can help support proper alignment and movement through the rest of your body. This bridge in particular promotes internal and external rotation, King says; you’ll likely feel a tremendous release.

  • Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat.
  • Drive through your heels to bring your hips up.
  • Let your knees rotate and fall to one side while lowering your hips.
  • Rotate the knees and lift the hips back to the starting position.
  • Repeat 5 times on each side.

Shoulder Swimmer

“This is used to work your shoulder through a bigger range of motion than is normally demanded in daily life,” King says. That’s a good thing, since it allows you to help stretch the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints more than you typically would, helping provide relief from daily aches and pains and promoting better overall range of motion.

  • Lie on your stomach with your arms above your head and your palms up.
  • Open your arms and bring them around your body.
  • Circle your arms to your back.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 8 reps.

Tabletop Scapular Circles

“Because the shoulder and the scapula have to work in rhythm with each other in order to reach maximal range, this exercise helps isolate the scapula specifically,” King says. “That can help reduce tension around the neck.”

  • Start in a tabletop position with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  • Push your shoulder blades away from each other by lifting your rib cage.
  • Pull your shoulders toward your ears.
  • Pull your shoulders toward each other.
  • Move your shoulders away from your ears.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Move in these circles while trying to maximize the range you can get in each direction 2 more times, then reverse.

Hip Circles

Similar to the supine 90/90 exercise, this helps open up the hips, which both feels great and helps support greater balance throughout your body.

  • Get into a tabletop position with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
  • Bring one of your knees into your chest as far as you can.
  • Move your leg out to the side as far as you can.
  • Keeping it out as far as you can to the side, start to move the knee back, away from your arm and back toward your midline.
  • Pull the knee back in toward your chest as far as possible.
  • Reverse the move for 3 reps on each side.

Neck Circles

“We spend a lot of time bending forward to look at screens or drive,” King points out. The solution? The simple neck circle. “The exercise allows each vertebrae of your neck to feel its possibility of extension, flexion, lateral bend, and rotation, which can help reduce tension felt in areas of the neck from a forward head posture.”

  • Tuck your chin to your chest.
  • Trace your collarbone and bring your chin to one shoulder.
  • Roll your head back and continue the circle back around to the front.
  • Complete 8 circles in each direction.
  • Sit on your knees looking forward.

Brittany Hammond is a NASM-certified fitness instructor, a fitness writer, and an avid reader. In addition to POPSUGAR, she has contributed to Livestrong.com, Well+Good, Verywell Fit, and Health.com. She has worked as a group fitness coach for the past seven years.

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