Mobility and flexibility take on various meanings with different people. For the sake of this text, I will focus on our definition of both.
Mobility is the ability of the joints to move in their full range of motion and for the joints of the body to move in unison to enable activities such as running, weightlifting, and doing yard work. When a person can extend their arm overhead to full extension without issue, that is mobility. When a person can rotate his or her wrist, that is mobility.
Flexibility is the ability of a tissue to stretch in its full range of motion. This is the given range of motion that a person is currently capable of moving. For example, if you can touch your toes with your fingertips, that is your current flexibility and you should always be able to do this. If you stretch over time and can eventually touch the floor with your fingertips, you have increased flexibility.
Mobility and flexibility are important for resistance exercise, cardiovascular exercise, sports, mowing the lawn, playing with the kids, and virtually all other physical activities. Without mobility, a golfer cannot perform a full range swing on the long drive, a wide receiver cannot jump and extend to catch the high football, and the basketball player cannot perform the layup or the dunk. Conversely, the everyday person cannot put groceries into an overhead cabinet, swing their kids into the air during playtime, or lift that box onto the shoulder when moving to a new home. Though involved in every aspect of life, mobility and flexibility are often underrated.
Mobility work for the average person or gym goer does not need to be complex. An athlete on the other hand might have special needs for their sport and require extra mobility work as a result. The same can be said for someone who has physical limitations. Those situations generally need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Here I simply provide basic mobility work that you can perform, assuming you are generally healthy.
Neck rotations – Rotate your head to the left for a 1 count, then to the right for a 2 count, then back to the left for a 3 count, and so on until you reach 20.
Arm rotations – Extend your arms out to your sides, holding them parallel to the ground. Rotate your arms 10 times to the front, and then 10 times to the back.
Straight-bar shoulder rotation – hold a PVC pipe, light bar, broomstick, pool stick, or similar item in front of your body. Your hands should be spread wide enough so that the bar rests at about hip level. Rotate your arms upward, bring your arms parallel to the ground, while still holding on to the bar. Next bring your arms and the bar to an overhead extended position. Finally try to rotate the bar behind your back. Return to the start position. Repeat for ten reps total. Do not force the bar behind your back; only go as far as comfortably possible and try to increase the range of motion over time.
Waist rotations – While holding your arms out to side and parallel to the ground, turn your body at the waist, to the left for a 1 count, then to the right for a 2 count, then back to the left for a 3 count and so on until you reach 20.
Toe touch – bend over at the waist, reaching toward the ground, attempting to touch your toes. Go down as far as you comfortably can and then stand back up. Repeat for 20 reps. Do not force the stretch if you cannot touch your toes—only go down as far as you can now, and work to increase the range of motion over time.
Air Squats/bodyweight squats – Assume a squat position, hold your hands out in front of you, and squat until your hip crease is below parallel with your knee. Return to a standing position. Repeat for 20 reps total.
Foam roll – Use a foam roller to roll out tense body parts. This is especially useful for the back, glutes, and quads.
Repeat the movements as needed. This entire process should take no more than 15 minutes. Other movements that you can include:
Reach-across deltoid stretch
Alternating toe touch
Or any other movement that effectively focuses on increasing your mobility.
One last thing, understand that though this writing is short, mobility work is no less important than the nutrition, cardiovascular exercise, or resistance training. This section is short because most people can do these movements with very little assistance or training. For a truly fit and healthy body and mind, some form of mobility work must be included. Do not short-change your results.
Mobility and Warm-up Videos
These videos provide ideas for how to warm-up for your workout for the day. The provided videos are just suggestions and your individual needs may dictate a different approach. However, in many situations these suggestions should serve you well.
Mobility workout 1: youtube.com/watch?v=A5rN70-xwQA
Mobility workout 2: youtube.com/watch?v=5vQyizABWpg
Mobility workout 3: youtube.com/watch?v=VOol5pjxXC4
Mobility workout 4: youtube.com/watch?v=xPKjhT3gfY8
Nathan DeMetz holds degrees in Exercise Science, Business Administration, and Information Technology as well as certifications in strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, run coaching, and other areas. His credentials come from organizations such as Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech College, Utah State University, and the ISSA College of Exercise Science.
Nathan has 20 years of personal and professional experience in the health and fitness world. He works with people from across the globe, including locations such as Kuwait, Australia, and the USA.