Your body is the best instrument you’ll ever have. To enjoy it to the fullest, you’ll need good mobility, the foundation on which every other physical thing you do is built.
Mobility helps you move around effortlessly, with a sense of stability and control, so you can feel free and empowered in all that you do. That’s especially true when it’s coupled with added flexibility, strength, balance, and full range of motion with your joints. Before you set any other activity goals for yourself, make sure you’re starting with excellent mobility.
What Is Mobility and Why Is It Important?
Do you ever feel stiff or creaky? Perhaps, after sitting for long periods of time, you notice it takes a little warm-up time before you can move freely once again without all the snap, crackle, and pop. Well, imagine moving through your day, fully present in every inch of your body—from the top of your head to each individual toe—as you capably carry out unrestricted movements with ease. You can stretch, twist, and bend without any pain or stiffness. You can take long walks, stand for extended periods, and generally go about your daily life without feeling the need to sit down and rest. That’s mobility.
Mobility means being able to move naturally, with control but without noticeable effort, as your body seamlessly responds in time to your intentions. When you have good mobility, you should experience no strain or pain as you move through your day, such as during these common daily actions:
Bending to tie your shoes (which activates the hips and knees)
Reaching for a glass on the highest shelf (which utilizes the shoulder joint and muscles)
Walking up or down stairs (which requires healthy leg muscles and a full range of motion in the ankles)
Good mobility involves many components, including muscle strength, flexibility, joint health, motor control, body awareness (a type of sensation called proprioception), agility, and more. This makes sense; after all, mobility serves as the basis for everything you do.
“Having good mobility allows you to perform the movements and exercise that’s a part of your daily life—and it can make you less likely to suffer certain injuries,” Peloton instructor Andy Speer says. “Mobility basically gives your body room to move.”
The good news is that mobility is primarily a lifestyle choice. The key to increasing and maintaining good mobility is regular physical activity. (That’s why children tend to have excellent mobility.) You don’t have to do cartwheels to boost yours though—instead, try mobility training.
Mobility and Aging: Is There a Link?
Oh yes, there’s absolutely a link.
While the old adage, “if you don’t use it, you lose it,” most certainly applies to mobility, it’s not just sitting still for too long or skipping a workout or three that makes you less nimble and free.
Muscle mass decline, reduced bone density, slower nervous system responses—these are just a few of the natural, age-related changes that occur in the body and can affect how easily you move. On top of that, your mobility can be compromised by any of the oh-so-common chronic health conditions among Americans, such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. And your chances of being diagnosed with any one of these increases as you get older.
All told, it’s no wonder that pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion occur more frequently with age. But you don’t have to succumb to these difficulties. You can lessen their impact with mobility training.
What Is Mobility Training?
Mobility training involves exercises and movements that strengthen and lengthen your body, allowing you to move freely and efficiently. A mobility training class may include elements of a variety of fitness routines you may or may not already be familiar with, such as dynamic stretches, foam rolling, bodyweight exercises, yoga, and Pilates.
Mobility training exercises are about much more than just being flexible. Done right—and regularly—mobility training can increase your range of motion, relieve tight muscles, ensure good posture and proper athletic form, and even prevent injury.
“Mobility classes are versatile and effective,” Andy says. “You can use them to start your day, end your day, as an active recovery on non training days, or as a low-intensity exercise when you want to move a little but not engage in a full workout. It’s a fun way to explore how well your body’s moving.”
Mobility training is ideal for men and women of all ages and fitness levels. And it’s especially perfect for workout newbies or those who’ve tried but have been unsuccessful at sticking to a regular exercise plan. Once your mobility improves, your energy, drive, and ability to work out harder in other areas increases. For athletes and regularly active adults, mobility training can improve athletic performance and help ward off the dreaded but widespread overuse injuries.
Mobility Training vs. Stretching vs. Foam Rolling
Although mobility training might sound a lot like stretching or foam rolling, the focus and goal of each of these activities differs significantly.
Stretching mostly focuses on lengthening muscle and other soft tissue to increase flexibility, typically in a few common problem areas of the body: the calves, thighs, low back, hips, neck, and shoulders. Static stretching—extending a muscle and holding it there for about 10-30 seconds, like a toe touch—can help you recover after a workout or injury. On the other hand, dynamic stretching, or controlled movements that mimic your activity or sport (think lunges or arm circles), is best done as a warm-up, prior to a workout or intense activity.
Foam rolling is used to relieve muscle tension. Using a hard foam cylinder, you use your body weight to press on specific points in your body, by rolling the area back and forth over the cylinder.
Mobility training utilizes techniques that address muscles, tendons, ligaments, your joints, and their range of motion. It also involves a high degree of control, coordination, and awareness, effectively looping in your nervous system, which is the main line of communication between your body and brain. With mobility training, the focus is on how you function and move as an entire body, rather than individual muscle groups. It also targets movement patterns that are fundamental to daily life as well as specific types of athletic performance.
You might consider mobility training, then, the best of all possible worlds: It takes a more comprehensive and wholistic approach than either simply stretching or foam rolling.
Equipment for Mobility Training
Most often, mobility training requires little, if any, equipment. At Peloton, our instructors might use yoga blocks, foam rollers, and resistance bands, among other items.
Mat: Provides a comfortable surface for exercises performed while sitting or lying down.
Yoga Blocks: Used to support your body in various poses.
Foam Rollers: Used to help relax and stretch muscles.
Resistance Bands: To assist with reaching parts of the body that may be difficult to reach without assistance.
Massage Ball: Used to target and relieve strain in hard-to-get-to muscle groups.
“The cool thing about mobility training is that you can usually do them anywhere—with minimal or no equipment,” Andy says.
Benefits of Mobility Exercises
Mobility training is not just about touching your toes. It’s about enhancing your overall movement ability, reducing your risk of injury, improving your athletic performance, and promoting lifelong physical well-being.
Adding mobility exercises to your usual workout routine can provide killer benefits, Andy notes. “It can improve your performance and help reduce stiffness and soreness afterward. It promotes good posture and reduces joint deterioration. Really, it’s an excellent way to add variety, physically and mentally, to your routine.”
Whether you’re a fitness novice or seasoned pro, there is a wide range of ways mobility training can contribute to—and revolutionize—your health and fitness journey. Benefits of mobility training include:
Greater range of motion
Joint health/movement without pain or stiffness
Balance and stability (i.e., feeling grounded, centered, and steady on your feet)
Better control, with every movement executed as intended
Improved athletic performance
Reduced likelihood of overuse injuries
Reduced muscle tightness
Added confidence and well-being
Flexibility and Mobility
While flexibility and mobility are often used interchangeably, they are actually different and distinct physical abilities.
Flexibility is the ability of a muscle or tendon to lengthen or shorten when appropriate. It describes your range of motion around a joint that can be achieved without actively engaging your muscles. The greater your flexibility, the more balanced the load on various muscle groups. Without flexibility, for example, some muscles may take on more of a load, leading to a muscular imbalance, and making the weaker muscles more susceptible to injury.
Mobility, however, goes a step further. It’s about how well you can control and move a joint through its entire range of motion. In our daily lives, we need both flexibility and mobility to move capably and effectively from task to task.
“Flexibility is the ‘lengthening’ of muscle between joints,” Andy explains. “Mobility is the active range of motion around a joint: how far you can move your leg around your hip, using your own muscles. Many mobility exercises mobilize the joint (including the capsule and connective tissue), while stretching your muscles in the process.”
Mobile vs. Stable Joints
We’ve been talking about mobility, but its opposite (stability) is also important. Here’s how:
Mobility indicates the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion. This, in turn, is impacted by the health of the bones, cartilage, and soft tissue surrounding the joint. Mobility is what allows you to move the joint (and your body).
Stability, on the other hand, is the ability of a joint to remain secure while other parts of the body are moving. This relies on the strength and coordination of the muscles surrounding a joint. Stability is what allows you to control your movement.
You need both mobility and stability to accomplish almost any type of physical activity. For example, in running, you need good hip mobility to achieve proper stride length. At the same time, you need good foot and ankle stability to absorb the impact of each footfall, and to drive your forward motion.
One without the other is problematic. Mobility without stability means the joint is unstable and more likely to be injured. Stability without mobility results in stiffness and a limited range of motion.
Improving Your Range of Motion
“Mobility and range of motion are one and the same. Improving your range of motion is the very definition of improving your mobility,” Andy says.
By increasing the range of motion in your joints, you will be better equipped to handle the added stress that intense workouts or sports activities, for example, can place on your joints.
The additional load and force of strenuous activity is better distributed and absorbed by your body as a whole when your joints are healthy, muscles strong and flexible, and there are no restrictions on your range of motion. Because of this, better joint mobility can significantly reduce your risk of repetitive-use injuries.
With a greater range of motion in your joints, you’ll be able to access more power during strength training, more efficiency and a lengthened stride while running, and better technique and form for any activity you’re interested in. Indeed, mobility training offers the best, most natural, and safest performance enhancer on the market today.
Best Exercises to Increase Mobility
“Simple exercises, like hip circles and shoulder circles, are great for beginners,” Andy says. “T-spine rotations and extensions can have a big, immediate benefit. And isometric holds are simple and very effective at strengthening muscles at the end ranges, which can help improve joint mobility.”
Many mobility training exercises are based on the foundational ways in which our bodies move. Squats, for example, are used every day as we sit down into a chair or bend to pick something up off the floor. Push and pull-type movements are commonly used to, say, push a door open or to reach for something up high, while engaging the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Rotational movements, such as turning your head to look behind you, require good mobility in the spine.
Mobility training exercises that can benefit virtually anyone include:
Stand next to a wall, hold onto it for balance, and swing one leg forward and back like a pendulum. This can help improve hip mobility.
Extend your arms out to your sides and make circles in the air with them. Start with small circles and gradually make them larger to warm up your shoulder joints.
This is a common yoga pose that improves mobility in the spine. You get on all fours, arch your back like a cat, and then drop your belly down while looking up to stretch like a cow.
While seated, extend one leg and draw circles with your toes. This exercise can increase the mobility in your ankle joint.
Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, then lower your body as far as you can by pushing your hips back and bending your knees. Keep your chest upright. This targets your hips, knees, and ankles.
Hold a resistance band in front of you. Lift it overhead, then back down behind you, keeping your arms straight the entire time. This can help improve mobility of the shoulder joint.
This is an excellent method for opening up the chest and improving shoulder mobility. Stand in a doorway, placing your arms against the door frame, then lean forward to stretch the chest muscles.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Kneel on one knee, with the other foot flat on the floor in front of you, knee bent. Push forward gently while keeping your back straight to stretch your hip.
To improve mobility in the hips, sit on the floor with the soles of your feet together in front of you. Holding onto your feet, gently press your knees down, toward the floor.
Thoracic Spine Rotation
While on all fours, place your right hand behind your head, and then rotate your upper body to the right as you draw your right elbow towards the sky. This can help improve mobility in the upper back.
It’s important to maintain good form when performing these exercises—and to do so in a slow, controlled manner. Also, be sure to warm up your body before starting these exercises. Get guidance from a professional instructor, especially if you’re new to mobility training.
How Much Mobility Work Do You Need?
“It’s more beneficial to practice mobility five times a week, for 5 to 10 minutes each time, than it is to do an hour-long session once a week,” Andy says. “For example, you might do 5 to 10 minutes of mobility training daily, and make two or three of those days a longer practice, like 15 to 30 minutes. It will have you feeling great and moving well.”
That said, the frequency and duration of your mobility training will depend on you: your current fitness level, your fitness goals, and whether you’re dealing with an injury or any problem areas. You might start with a few times a week and build up. Ideally, you’ll want to include some mobility training every day, if possible.
When it comes to mobility training, the general rule is to do it as often as you need to, but to begin slowly, working on just one or two areas of the body to start with. Maybe that’s your shoulders and spine or your knees and ankles. But it’s important to focus on quality over quantity when it comes to mobility exercises. Start by doing fewer exercises and concentrating on using proper form. Don’t rush through the exercise set list. As always, you should listen to your body and modify or skip anything that causes pain.
“Consistency is key,” Andy explains. “Do it however it best fits into your life. If stacking mobility training with your other workouts is best for your schedule, then do that. Doing the longer mobility classes on days between more intense trainings will help your recovery between workouts.”
Tracking Your Mobility Progress
Now that you’ve started on the path to greater mobility and better overall fitness, there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind as you take mobility training classes on the Peloton App. Here are a few takeaways to consider:
Patience is key. Like any type of effort, mobility training takes time and consistency. The more regularly you do it, the better the results.
Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t be in a hurry to get to the advanced-level classes. Make sure you master the basics before moving on. Your body will thank you.
Prioritize proper form and control. It’s far better to engage in a small range of motion, but to perform the exercise correctly, than to do it incorrectly while engaging a larger range of motion.
Integrate it into everything else you do. The best way to be sure you get the most out of your mobility training is to continue with your usual workout regimen and add mobility exercises wherever it works best for you: as stretches first thing in the morning, part of a cool-down routine at night, or wherever and whenever possible. Just 10 minutes at a time can build up and make a big difference.
Listen to your body. It’s normal to feel mild discomfort during a stretch, but sharp or intense pain is not. Stop if you feel pain.
Mobility Training with Peloton
Mobility training may be the key you’ve been looking for to unlock your body’s full potential. Whether you’re a beginner wanting to offset a mostly sedentary lifestyle with hip and spinal mobility classes, or a seasoned athlete looking to edge out the competition with full-body workouts, mobility training is your ticket to a pain-free, movement-rich life. Find out what you’re capable of when you start from a position of strength by getting into mobility training at Peloton.