This Is What Mobility Training Is—And Why It’s More Important Now Than Ever

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Photo: Getty Images/jia yu
Mobility is a term that fitness trainers throw around a lot, whether you're doing stretches or some sort of low-impact workout. Not many people stop to think about what it really means, but mobility is a very important component of your health that affects not only your fitness game, but your body's longevity. To spell it all out, fitness experts are explaining just how to train mobility, plus all of the many benefits of mobility training that you should know about.

First of all, the basics: Mobility refers to the range of motion of the joints and structures in your body, according to Kathleen Davenport, MD, director of physiatry at HSS Florida. "Mobility is important because it allows you to function normally through your daily activities," adds Vinh Pham, physical therapist and founder of Myodetox Clinics. It's not the same as flexibility, which is used to describe the connective tissue’s ability to get longer, usually with the help of your hand. In essence, mobility allows your body to move more easily throughout your life; flexibility dictates how well you can stretch your muscles.

When you think about strength, you can either lack it or have really strong muscles. The same applies to mobility. "If you lose mobility, your body will experience more tightness since you're not trying to open it up," says Kika Wise, founder of Kika Stretch Method. "You have to keep pushing yourself to new limits in order to maximize your growth."

Without good mobility, your muscles will be tight, but you can also have imbalances in the body and be more prone to injury. "If one area of the body has less mobility, another area may try to compensate, and this could result in injury," says Dr. Davenport. Your body will also have a harder time with movements. "If you don't have good mobility, you will not be able to perform activities to your fullest potential," says Pham, who echoes the higher risk of injury from a lack of mobility.

Given that we're currently in the midst of a global pandemic, many people across the country are still quarantined, and unable to move—and mobilize—as much as they used to. So if you're not taking special care to do mobility training, you're going to lose it. "When you're not using your full range of motion that your body is capable of, you'll start to lose your mobility and create this tight, tight body," says Wise. "When you focus on mobility, you're working on maximizing your entire body so that when you need it, you've still got it." Pham points out that mobility drills should be done every single day for optimal health. Keep scrolling for the four key components of mobility training.

How to train mobility in 4 steps

1. Cross-train

One of the best things you can do for better mobility is to mix up your workouts. "If you only run, for example, you're only mobilizing your body in one specific way," says Wise. "Working out does improve your mobility, but you have to do different types of workouts that activate different aspects of it." Consider this an excuse to try a workout class that you've always wanted to. Even activities count—Wise points out that gardening can be a mobilizing activity. "Attach it to a hobby and [mobility training] becomes more fun and more effective," she says.

2. Incorporate yoga and Pilates

Wise says that both yoga and Pilates are particularly effective ways to increase mobility. "Pilates and yoga are great because they're forcing your body to hit different angles and planes than you would with walking or running," she says. "You're pulling your leg in directions it doesn't normally go in which is important for your mobility."

3. Stretch regularly

Stretching is key to your recovery regimen, but also your ability to move better throughout your day-to-day life. "Stretching helps with both flexibility and mobility, but the specific thing with stretching for mobility is that it opens up your body outside of how it moves in your workouts," says Wise. Dr. Davenport echoes this, noting that stretching via active flexibility exercises can improve and maintain your body's mobility.

4. Train in 3-D

Mobility is often confused with flexibility, but Wise explains it this way: "Flexibility is how far your muscles can move in a specific direction, while mobility is how far your bones, muscles, and tendons can move in all different angles and directions," she says. This is why training in multiple planes—or 3-D training—boosts your mobility. "Move outside of the ranges of motion that you're usually in, or try to move in the opposite direction that you hold your body in," says Pham. Turn your movements into a 360-degree practice for ultimate mobility.

You could also try this 10-minute full-body mobility workout:

This post was originally published on July 8, 2020; updated on September 25, 2020. 

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