When we talk about getting fit or maintaining fitness, there’s a lot of emphasis on building strength and improving your cardiovascular system. You’ll also hear about how you should stretch.
While these are great areas of focus, there’s a facet of physical wellness that can get overlooked: mobility work.
You may be thinking, Oh, great! One more thing I need to do.
No need to fret. Effective mobility work doesn’t take much time and it’s not hard. It feels good, and it helps you continue to feel good through your other activities and in life. Let’s see how.
What Is Mobility Work?
In its most simple form, mobility work is any movements that help increase or maintain your range of motion. The intention is to keep all your body’s parts moving as smoothly, easily, and completely as possible.
Practices like Pilates and yoga are excellent forms of mobility work. But your practice doesn’t have to be formal or take a lot of time to be effective. Having a variety of movements you can perform throughout the day is really helpful.
So, for instance, circling your wrists and ankles is mobility work. Putting your arms overhead and reaching one hand and then the other up toward the sky is mobility work. Gently rotation your spine by looking left and right fits into this realm, too. You get the picture.
In essence, we’re talking about full, gentle, slow movement. A key element here is to move in ways that are different from your everyday patterns of movement. This helps unlock some of the areas where we hold tension or simply get tight over time from lack of use.
It Feels Good
A huge upside to mobility work and one reason it’s one of the easier wellness practices to incorporate into your life is that it simply feels good. The whole point of this practice is that it helps us free ourselves from stiff, knotted up areas of our body. The more you learn how effective mobility work is, the more you’ll want to do it.
To make this very clear, there’s no goal in mobility work other than to work out stiff, less mobile areas of your body and maintain free movement where it already exists. If in doing a particular movement, you feel discomfort, back off. Ease into the movement, and breathe deeply when you get to a sore or stiff point.
There’s no perfect way to do any motability work. It’s an opportunity for you to get more in touch with how your body moves, and where you’re holding tension or have built up stiffness. As you practice more, you’ll start to figure out what movements are most rewarding and where you might want to focus more.
Throughout, it’s always important to keep in mind, This is all supposed to feel good, to feel liberating.
Consistent Mobility Work Has Lasting Benefits
Mobility work has benefits in the moment and into the future. So many of life's aches and pains are the result of stiff, tight, knotted up muscles and joints.
By keeping things moving to your greatest range of ability, you're helping your body become free of these uncomfortable circumstances. "Motion is lotion," is a common phrase in the health and wellness world. And it's true.
The more and more often we move in a variety of ways, the better we'll keep moving, into the future.
Also, as we age, our connective tissue becomes less elastic, making it easier to become stiff and tight. This can make us more susceptible to injury. For instance, if we do need to move quickly or in a way we're not accustomed to, we're much more likely to strain a muscle or tendon.
If, however, mobility work is something our bodies are used to, those muscles and connective tissues will be able to handle unexpected motions much better without ill effects.
A Few Tips to Get You Started
Mobility work doesn't necessarily require any equipment or even much space. A minute or two of mobility work is worthwhile, as are longer sessions. Working some big, thoughtful complete range of motion efforts throughout the day, especially if you work at a desk or drive a lot, can be very helpful. You can start right this moment if you like, wherever you are.
You don't need to follow a particular program or routine. Just find a few movements that feel good. Focus on movements that counteract common postural habits or that differ from how you normally move.
Change the movements that you do every few weeks: remember that the whole point is to move in ways that you’re not already accustomed to, to get out of habitual movement patterns. Think through your whole body, head to toe, joint to joint. Consider the full range of motion each part of your body is capable of and explore those motions in your own body. Where is your movement free? Where is it stuck or stiff?
You likely don't have complete range of motion throughout your entire body, and truly everyone’s range of motion is different: it’s dependent on genetics (how tight or loose your ligaments and tendons are naturally), your muscle makeup, lifestyle, injury history, and so on.
Visualization is useful here: in your mind's eye, imagine the complete movement your joints are capable of. Also imagine which muscles you need to call on for that movement and which ones you don’t. Start with small, simple movements. Be deliberate and thoughtful.
Let go of any excess tension, gripping, clenching, or grasping that is impeding your movement. Many of us hold unnecessary tension or call on muscles that are unnecessary in many common movements. Getting in touch with how to move efficiently opens up your range of motion and helps relieve tension in your body.
It’s also important to remember that this is motion work, not strictly stretching, albeit you'll certainly feel some stretching along the way. You’re also asking some muscles to do a little work: while some muscles are being stretched, others are firing. Reminding your body of how and when to activate muscles is an important part of moving well.
One final note is to breathe, full, deep, complete breaths. Breathing while doing mobility work, especially when you discover areas that feel constricted, helps release tension and improve ease of motion.
It Should Feel That Nice and Easy
While there’s a lot of instruction here, the primary focus is to keep this practice easy and feeling good. As you continue to do mobility work, you’ll begin to feel more in your body. This is a learning process, and your body is always changing. So, let this be an exploration, without specific aims, judgment, or expectation.
This is a practice for you to keep your body moving well and feeling good.