What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you think of mobility work? ‘Boring’? ‘What a chore’? Or, perhaps, ‘So unnecessary’? 😬
Guilty as charged?
Well, you're not alone. The truth is that you'll never feel as much of a badass doing hip openers as you would have deadlifting 150 kg in the gym. But hey, it's time for a complete mindset change about mobility work.
What if we told you that you could supercharge your progress in the gym – both in terms of hypertrophy and strength gains – by consistently incorporating a mobility routine into your training program?
Bet you’re interested now! That’s why this article exists: to help get you acquainted with the basics of mobility work so you can get started right away. Let’s go.
What is mobility?
First things first, let’s get the definition of mobility out of the way.
Mobility is defined as your ability to effectively (and safely!) move the joints, muscles, and various structures in your body through their intended range of motion.
And while many people confuse mobility with flexibility, the two terms don't refer to the same thing. The easiest way to think about the mobility vs flexibility concept is that flexibility refers to your muscle's (or muscle groups') ability to lengthen passively through a range of motion.
Mobility allows you to move more easily during daily life (e.g. squatting), while flexibility dictates how well you can stretch your muscles.
You could be super flexible, but your body will not allow the movement to occur if you're not mobile.
Why is mobility so important?
Here comes the million-dollar question. Why is mobility so important? There are 3 primary reasons.
As mentioned earlier, good mobility allows you to move in a desired and bio-mechanically efficient way. In other words: it will enable you to keep proper form while performing an exercise.
Imaginably, the opposite holds when you have mobility issues (i.e. poor mobility).
Let’s take performing the barbell back squats, for example. A common problem many lifters have when performing the squat is poor ankle mobility.
And when the ankles can’t hinge enough at the bottom of the squat, what happens is a natural tendency to lift the heels off the ground – a recipe for disaster.
Doing so also increases the lower back tension, which can significantly increase the risk of spinal disc herniation (ouch).
This applies to other exercises you do in the gym as well. As a result of your poor mobility, you’re going to shift the load onto other muscle groups (or worse, supporting bodily structures) that are ill-intended for that very purpose. Thus, injuries.
Boosts muscle growth
The very essence of mobility is the ability to take your joints – and various bodily structures – through a full range of motion.
And you should care very much about that because research consistently shows that lifting through a full range of motion produces superior muscle-building results than partial reps.
According to a 12-week study published in 2014, for example, researchers found that participants who’d performed deep squats (0 through 120 degrees of knee flexion) experienced significantly more lean body mass increase in the legs than those who’d performed shallow squats (0 through 60 degrees of knee flexion).
This ties back to our ankle mobility issue mentioned in the previous section.
When faced with limited ankle mobility, many lifters employ a common workaround, which is to cut down on their squat's range of motion. Instead of going ass to grass, for example, they'd just hit parallel – and back up again.
Doing so might be safer (less risk for injuries), but this compromises muscle growth results.
If only they'd work on their mobility; they'd experience faster muscle growth with the same amount of work. What do you say? Are you going to learn from their mistakes? Of course, you are.
Allows maximum force production
A little background. Your body is linked via multiple segments. This is a concept commonly referred to as the kinetic/movement chain, which describes the interrelated groups of body segments connecting your joints and muscles working together to perform movements – and the portion of the spine to which they connect.
The specifics are not important, but what you do have to know is that this kinetic chain allows you to transfer forces from your feet (when it's in contact with the ground) up to your heads.
And it’s only when this movement chain is smooth and functioning well, where all body segments are stacked on top of each other, that you’re able to produce the maximum force.
Can’t visualize this? No problem. Let’s go back to the squat example.
Let’s imagine that you have a new problem: limited hip flexor mobility. More often than not, this means you’re unable to keep your knees in line with your feet as you perform the concentric and/or eccentric portions of the squat (i.e. your knees cave in).
Bio-mechanically speaking, this creates an ‘energy leak’ from your squats.
You’re always strongest – and have the most potential for force transfer – when your knees are directly stacked over your ankles. That means you’ll be able to push more weight on your lifts. And who doesn’t want that, right?
Mobility routine exercises
By now, it should be clear to you that your mobility could very well be an impairment to your progress in the gym. What can you do about it? What are the best mobility exercises to try? Here’s a list of the best 5:
• Split squats with a forward knee emphasis – Targets ankle mobility
• Goblet squats – Targets ankle and hip flexor mobility
• Narrow grip pushups – Targets serratus anterior mobility (retraction of shoulder blades)
• Skater squats – Targets hip flexor mobility
• Sun salutation – Helps align your body
And if you’re not too sure on how to execute these, no worries. That’s where the GymStreak app comes in. With an extensive (and when we say extensive, we mean it!) library of exercises, you’ll never need to fumble around in the dark when it comes to proper exercise form and execution.Get GymStreak
Joint Mobility and Stability. (n.d.). Retrieved January 8, 2021, from /fitness-certifications/ace-answers/exam-preparation-blog/1189/joint-mobility-and-stability/
Karandikar, N., & Vargas, O. O. O. (2011). Kinetic chains: A review of the concept and its clinical applications. PM & R: The Journal of Injury, Function, and Rehabilitation, 3(8), 739–745. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmrj.2011.02.021
Leite, T., de Souza Teixeira, A., Saavedra, F., Leite, R. D., Rhea, M. R., & Simão, R. (2015). Influence of Strength and Flexibility Training, Combined or Isolated, on Strength and Flexibility Gains. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(4), 1083–1088. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000000719
McMahon, G. E., Morse, C. I., Burden, A., Winwood, K., & Onambélé, G. L. (2014). Impact of range of motion during ecologically valid resistance training protocols on muscle size, subcutaneous fat, and strength. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(1), 245–255. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e318297143a