Did you see Mirabai Chanu lift 87kg during the Tokyo Olympics on her way to winning a silver medal? While she snatched the weight, she went into a deep squat and remained in that pose while making sure she had balanced the weight overhead? Other than phenomenal strength, what a move like this requires is mobility.
You must have come across many posts on mobility on your social media feeds. And maybe at the gym, the trainer would have asked you to work on it as well. But all you ended up doing were some stretches after your workout. Is that enough? No it isn’t, and let’s explain why. Mobility is not the same as flexibility, though we often see the words being used interchangeably. Flexibility is basically the ability of any muscle to be lengthened; think of an elastic band being stretched. Mobility, on the other hand is the ability of your joints to move through a wide range of motions.
So while flexibility is about the how well a muscle stretches out over a joint, mobility is focused on how far the joint itself moves within the joint capsule. Can you do a split? That’s flexibility. Can you go into a deep squat? That calls for mobility. They are different but also dependent on each other—your flexibility will also get impacted by your mobility. After all, it doesn’t matter how stretchy your muscles are unless your joints allow you to make the movement safely by providing the necessary stability.
“Mobility work actually prepares our body for the stress of our training. So when you go to your gym and do a basic warm up, try to also incorporate mobility drills before you start lifting weights. These drills should be done keeping in mind which part of the body you are training today. Because we have separate mobility drills targeting each joint, such as ankle, hips, thoracic spine and shoulder,” explains Kavya Bhatia, head of department, Masina Hospital Reliva Physiotherapy Center, Mumbai.
Good mobility also helps to prevent injuries. Think of it as a lubricant that keeps your joints working smoothly. It also helps you maintain good posture and improves your range of movements by allowing you to have better control over how your body works. Whether you are a competitive athlete or a fitness enthusiast, this ultimately helps to improve your performance. Better personal records, less injuries and faster recoveries—those are the boons of good mobility.
“Mobility is also important during muscle strengthening exercises. Our muscles work in opposition. For example, if you perform a bicep curl, one set of muscles namely the biceps, contracts. But the antagonist muscle, or the one opposing it is the triceps. This muscle group elongates to allow the movement,” explains Bengaluru-based fitness expert and animal flow trainer, Devrath Vijay. If you do not have good mobility, Vijay says, even your regular gym movements will suffer. You should also know that good mobility helps you to work on general physical imbalances, which, if left unchecked, can lead to injuries.
According to Vijay, other than the short mobility exercises you can work into your warm-up, you should also incorporate 40-45 minutes of exclusively mobility work once or twice a week. This can be in the form of a follow-along mobility class or even animal flow. “Mobility training will not be as easy as static stretching, because unlike the latter which is more passive, in the former you will actively hold on to a position. Your neuro-muscular system is engaged throughout,” he adds.
Stretching after your workouts is great (and necessary, so don’t skip it). But working on your mobility is equally important, and it just cannot be ignored, especially if you want to keep leading an active lifestyle without succumbing to injuries.