If you think mobility and flexibility are the same, think again. One is a powerful way to enhance your joint health and functionality, and the other is a splendid way to waste your time. The reality is, stretching is far less effective than we once thought. You can grind all day to force yourself into the splits, but if you can’t get there actively, it is of no use to your daily life.
Your body requires strength and stability to improve and maintain a range of motion. A passive, static stretch will simply not cut it. It may make you feel great, but there are no permanent changes occurring at the tissue level.
“Countless scientific studies have failed to prove that stretching is able to be maintained long term.” — Southside Physiotherapy
Mobility training is far superior because it is based on movement and motor control. As opposed to ‘lengthening’ muscle fibers, you are transforming the very makeup of your joints. This is the type of work that leads to nervous system changes, fostering a lasting effect. Yes, your hard work can even slow the debilitating effects of aging, leading to a fuller, more functional life.
Motion is lotion.
Here’s the kicker, consistency is key. Like with many other aspects of fitness, it’s all about playing the long game. To maximize results and sustainability, I recommend a short daily routine of five to ten minutes. This can be a great way to start the day, or it can replace your current warm-up. Either way, prioritize joint mobility and see how it can transform your workouts and your life as a whole.
The Science Behind Mobility
Connective tissue is the primary structural component of all joints, providing a mechanical framework dictating the structural and functional characteristics of individual joints. One’s mobility is determined by a multitude of components including muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, bone, and more. As we age, there will be natural degeneration of these tissues, but we can slow down this trend with consistent physical activity.
One important element to our mobility is synovial fluid. This is the viscous solution found at the joint site, reducing friction between articulating bones. As we move, we’re actively nourishing this site, because exercise boosts the release of this fluid. Furthermore, mobility training decreases perceived stiffness and lowers injury risk. This is a testament to the combination of strength and control that is required to carefully take your joints through a maximal range of motion.
Beyond acute injuries, mobility training can prevent osteoarthritis by increasing muscle and bone strength. On a deeper level, it will enhance functionality, lowering the catastrophizing that can occur when you become immobile and sedentary in the later years.
“Exercise is considered the most effective, non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement in patients with osteoarthritis.” — Arthritis Foundation
Again, this can all be possible with a small commitment of five to ten minutes a day.
My Go-To Routine
If you have five minutes to spare, consider investing in your mobility. This is my favorite way to start the day, as I can be mindful of how my body is feeling. Additionally, it just feels so damn good to know you’re working to maintain a well-oiled machine that will last.
Now there are hundreds of mobility exercises out there, but I like to keep things simple. Especially as you’re getting started, there is no need to aim for ‘yogi status’ right off the bat. Just chip away a little each day and gradually expand your program as you feel comfortable.
Five minutes for five mobility exercises.
1 — Knee Wags
Cues: Bring knees together and slowly drop them side to side. Keep arms outstretched and neck neutral throughout.
2 — Cat Cows
Cues: On inhale, elevate mid-spine and lower neck. On exhale, depress mid-spine and raise neck. Strive for as much pelvic and shoulder blade movement as possible!
3 — Leg Window Wipers
Cues: Staying upright through the trunk, slowly fan the legs over and back. Ensure that the knees stay at approximately 90d of flexion. Use your hands for support as needed.
4 — Spiderman Lunges
Cues: Start in a push-up position. Step forward with one foot and plant the opposite hand just beside it. Now fan the other arm vertically for five reps before switching sides. Track your eyes with your thumb to encourage rotation through the neck.
5 — Dowel Passovers
Cues: Start with your arms wide and gradually move them in as tolerated. Ensure that the neck and pelvis stay neutral and the core and glutes are engaged. Don’t forget to breathe and pinch those shoulder blades at the back!
Focus on moving slowly and breathing deeply with each exercise. If you rush mobility training, you lose out on the stability benefits (and you may injure yourself). Be patient and strive to move in a fluid pattern.
Please keep in mind that this is not an end-all-be-all list. What may work for you might not work for others. This is where mindfulness comes in. Listen to your joints and tissues. If you’re feeling pain or discomfort, simply move on to the next exercise! This is an ongoing journey to exploring what your body needs, and there will undoubtedly be a few bumps in the road.
The truth is, mobility training goes far beyond improving your range of motion. It’s a powerful tool to reconnect with the body — a perfect mix of mindfulness and movement. Stick with it, and you’ll gain a full appreciation for just how dynamic and adaptable your framework is.
Here’s my challenge to you. If you’re just doing resistance training and cardio, you’re settling on your health. There’s a whole new level of stability, strength, and functionality waiting for you if you’d only commit five minutes per day.
Go get it!