Stretching, flexibility, mobility, and muscle length are a few common terms used by fitness professionals to explain pre or post workout drills. All of this can be confusing, time consuming, and straight up boring. Whether we are squatting at the gym, bench pressing or running, our warm up and cool down often falls short. Most of us don’t allow extra time for these mobility drills and that is perfectly normal, however, mobility matters a lot for your success as an athlete.
Those who avoid stretching and mobility routines will likely have tight muscles which are inherently weak. I would argue that it is just as important to focus on mobility as is strength training to prevent injury. The research proves this and just as we should maintain a well balanced diet, a well balanced exercise routine is important for the health of our muscles. Practicing yoga throughout the week is an excellent way to incorporate mobility but remember it must be in addition to your usual strength training.
My Mobility Routine
On a typical day, I will lift weights for ~35 minutes and/or run ~35 minutes, 4-5 days a week. Prior to running, I try to complete a mobility routine. My mobility routine is different each time, however, it is centered around the muscles which are most tight and the joints which are most restricted. The other 2 days of the week I will practice yoga. One day of the week I fully rest because a recovery day is also crucial for injury prevention. I believe this is a well balanced routine although, I admit, it can be time consuming. I understand not everyone has this much time to devote to exercise and mobility right now but you can start small and create a well balanced routine that works for you.
What is Mobility
You may be wondering why does everyone emphasize stretching and what is mobility exactly. As a physical therapist and exercise instructor, I would still agree that stretching is important however, mobility drills are the answer. Mobility is the act of moving your limbs through an entire range of motion. It is better because mobility will encompass stretching but also includes foam rolling and other drills which allow for opening of the joints and lengthening muscles. Mobility is not to be confused with flexibility which is simply the length of a muscle. By working on mobility rather than only flexibility, your joints have improved lubrication and improved functional movement. In doing more mobility exercises, you reduce the potential for muscle imbalance, tightness, and overall helps you move better. For example, mobility drills can improve your stride while running, your squat depth, and even improve the amount of available spinal rotation. Overall, mobility training is the answer.
I often think of my yoga practice as mobility because it is mindful movement. Yoga includes a lot of opening poses, stretching, and joint play. The only thing that is missing from the yoga practice is foam rolling and massage. If you want to purchase a foam roller, my favorite one can be found here. Yoga and mobility should be a flow as you go from one pose to the next and intertwine foam rolling throughout this routine. Think about in your own body what areas feel tight, what feels restricted. Those are the areas that need to be more MOBILE aka need mobility training. For example, as I’ve increased running, I realized my thoracic spine (mid back) is restricted which limits my trunk rotation. I also learned my hip flexors are tight which limits my stride length. Listening to your body in this way allows you to create a routine that works for you.
Here is the list of my exercises:
- Foam or massage roll hips and ITB
- Low lunge flowing to hamstring stretch
- Low lunge flowing to side bending
- Childs post with thoracic openers
- Foam or massage roll calves
- Forward fold to crouch pose
- Yoga squat for a great hip opener with added rotations
- High crescent lunge as I actively draw my heel down for both a hip flexor and calf stretch
- Wide legged forward fold
- Track star pose side to side
- More foam rolling
- Self massage to my plantar fascia (underneath the arch of the foot)