Two years ago, Takesh Singh, a Mumbai-based filmmaker and actor, started having neck issues. The 43-year-old had severe stiffness around his neck and had trouble turning his head sideways for even fleetingly. This was strange and concerning for Singh because he had been playing sports and exercising for most of his life.
“My body always functioned well. I walk or jog every day, go to the gym and watch what I eat. But the stiffness around my neck got progressively worse and I couldn’t dismiss it as something caused by an awkward sleep position or a change of pillow. This was worrisome and I consulted a sports physiotherapist,” recalls Singh.
He found out that condition was a result of a lack of mobility, and hours sepnt sitting in front of screens for long hours. The good news was the condition could be reversed easily by some simple, daily mobility exercises. Since the diagnosis, Singh has been doing mobility movements, independent of his regular workouts, at least four times a week. “No matter how busy I might be, I do my mobility drills for 15 minutes three to four times a week because I don’t want to suffer like I did two years ago,” he says.
Much like Singh, you may have also heard of the phrase ‘mobility exercises’ at the gym, without really knowing what it meant. So many people don’t quite understand what exactly “mobility” refers to. Abraar Khan Waryah, co-founder and head coach of Gridiron Fitness Studio in Kolkata, defines mobility as the active control of a joint that requires a combination of strength, flexibility and control. He also adds that flexibility is different from mobility.
“Flexibility is defined as the passive control of a joint and flexibility training or stretching creates temporary changes to the tissues. Flexibility is the muscles’ ability to passively lengthen. Therefore, while flexibility is a component of mobility, mobility and flexibility are not interchangeable,” he adds.
In layman’s terms, mobility is stretching with an element of movement, says Preetesh Manas, a Mumbai-based personal trainer. Mobility exercises make the joints flexible by allowing them to reach their full range of movement, he adds. No matter who you are, or what you do, everyone from a beginner to a fitness enthusiast to a professional athlete, needs to do mobility exercises. Mobility work helps people lead a pain-free, active life, and allows sporty people and athletes to move freely and effectively.
“Ideally, warm-up and mobility work should go hand-in-hand in any training regimen. Mobility work leads to long-term changes and requires greater investment of time as compared to a warm-up, which is specific to a workout and its sole purpose is to increase the core temperature and blood flow to reduce the risk of injury,” says Waryah. Any good mobility routine requires a bottom-up approach that should aim to mobilise the body’s prime moving parts: ankles, hips, ribs/thoracic area and shoulders.
Mobility is an important part of life, says Vaibhav Daga, head of sports science and rehabilitation and sports medicine consultant at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Mumbai. “Mobility helps improve performance and prevent injuries in fitness enthusiasts. As for people who lead sedentary lifestyles, mobility work is important for them to carry out daily tasks. For example, picking up a box, squatting, reaching out to remove something from the top shelf or jumping over a puddle of water while walking… all of these require your muscles and joints to move freely. If your muscles and joints are not ready to undergo these simple stresses during your daily life, the possibility of ending up with some injury is significantly higher,” he adds.
Mobility work also improves joint health, which, in turn, is an indication of ease of movement and flexibility of muscle fibres. It also helps in maintaining joint health and muscular and postural balance, improves performance and balance, says Manas.
While ideally one should do some mobility prior to every workout—be it lifting, running, HIIT and any kind of training—at least three times a week, most coaches agree that mobility work is often ignored by many, including fitness coaches as well.
“All athletes who focus on their figure and body builders have compromised mobility usually,” says Manas from his experience in the industry. “Also, the general public ignores mobility work despite a high incidence of niggles like back, shoulder, neck issues because it has very little aesthetic value and people see it as time consuming without any visible gains. Unless it’s a performance sport, mobility is largely ignored,” says Manas.
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-Quadruped to Downward dog
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.