When we think of keeping fit and healthy, we think of things like walking, weight training and increasing your heart rate to improve your cardio capacity. These are essential to leading a healthy long life and these aspects of fitness are generally the main focus in most exercise programs. To have a well-rounded health and wellness program we also need to think about our mobility and flexibility. It can mean the difference between pulling up to camp exhausted from your travels or looking forward to what new adventures await..
What is mobility? Is it the same as flexibility?
Mobility refers to the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion without restriction or discomfort, whereas flexibility refers to the ability of a muscle to lengthen. So mobility relates to joints, while flexibility relates to muscles. They are two completely different things, however, good mobility can assist your flexibility and vice versa.
Is mobility more important as we get older?
It’s important to be mobile at any age. The ageing process can take its toll on the body, so it is important that we stay mobile and supple to combat this. Think of mobility as putting more air in your tyres. If you have a flat tyre, the car will still move, but not very efficiently. Checking your tyres pressure regularly (or doing mobility training) and making sure they are correct will ensure for a smother and longer ride.
What are the main benefits of mobility training?
Our mobility is hampered by the nature of todays society, which sees us sitting a lot. This limits the range of positions that our bodies have reason to assume. Mobility training can improve the range of motion of our joints and muscles. It can assist in improving our posture. Mobility training can alleviate ‘everyday’ aches and pains as well as improve our body awareness.
Is it ever too late to start mobility training? How soon could you begin to see results?
It is never too late to start mobility training. Your mobility is always something you can improve. In terms of results, this will initially be something you feel rather than see. You might feel a little less stiff after one or two sessions – but the key is to be consistent with your mobility training. Over time you should see an increase in your range of motion and perhaps improvement in your performance in other activities.
What kind of ailments could be prevented or reversed with proper mobility work?
Conditions such as lower back or knee pain, plus some forms of arthritis, can benefit from mobility exercises. However, it’s important to remember that they should always be performed within a pain free range. If you experience any pain with exercises, cease and consult a doctor or allied health professional. To increase mobility, you’ll want to perform a series of bodyweight exercises that take you through a large range of motion in four key areas: ankles, hips, thoracic spine (the longest section of your spine that also connects to your ribcage) and shoulders. Mobility exercises are meant to flow. It can be included as part of your exercise session or treated as a separate session or even when you just have 5-10 mins to spare.
Here is a list of basic mobility drills you could perform once per week to get you started.
Groin/Hip Mobility Drill.
Stand with palms against a wall (or the van) at shoulder height. Keep feet pointing forward and swing right leg in a pendulum motion. Gradually increase the range of comfortable motion. Perform this drill for ten repetitions, three times on each leg.
The hamstring mobility drill is similar in fashion to the hip mobility drill above, the only difference will be that instead of swinging side to side in a pendulum motion you will be swinging your leg forwards and backwards. Again, gradually increase your range of motion and be sure to keep your body in line and contract your core throughout.
Good ankle mobility contributes to better balance, fewer falls and better performance during activities like hiking and squats
Stand up tall facing a wall or the van. Place hands on the wall for support. Slowly rock forward onto your toes, coming into a tip-toe position. Slowly rock back onto your heels, lifting your toes off the ground. Repeat 10 times, holding the wall for balance
Hip Mobility (Hip openers).
This hip drill is aimed at increasing the activity and function of your hip capsule. Your hips are the key to your balance and stability.
Stand up tall with feet hip-width apart. Lift your left knee towards your chest (use the van for support if needed). While standing on one leg, make a circle with your knee, bringing it across your body and then out to the side. Place left foot on the floor and repeat on the right side. Repeat 10 times, then repeat entire sequence moving your legs in the opposite direction by bringing your leg out to the side first and then in a circle across your body.
Good mobility in the thoracic spine allows you to move your arms freely over your head and turn side to side. Poor mobility can lead to shoulder pain and problems, poor posture, and upper back pain.
You will need a rolled up towel or pillow for this exercise. Lie on the floor/bed on your side. Bend your knees and hips to just past 90 degrees, resting your knees beside you. Straighten your bottom leg and rest your top leg on the towel/pillow without changing its position. Extend both your arms together along the floor, straight out in front of your body. They should be stacked, palms together, at shoulder height. Slowly lift your top arm and rotate it away from you, opening up your chest to the ceiling. Hold this position for 3 seconds and slowly bring it back to touch your other hand. Repeat 5 times on each side.