This isn’t another “one stretch that will change your life today” article. These rules are the foundation of a mobility practice that will keep paying off for years to come!
While it might not be as flashy as big-weight compound movements or show sleeve-stretching pay-off like curls, mobility—or, to think of it another way, moving well—is critical for long-term, sustainable fitness. Without the necessary range of motion to express a perfect (or even “good enough”) squat or overhead press, the exercises you perform may be strengthening exactly what they shouldn’t, and setting you up for injury rather than success.
Despite what you see going on in that padded corner of your gym, improving your mobility and flexibility doesn’t have to be complicated or take up all of your training time. Below are my 10 most important rules for improving your mobility. Follow these, and you’ll be a great mover for life!
5 Don’ts For Improving Mobility
1. Don’t Take Your Mobility For Granted
Let’s face it—stretching and joint mobilization aren’t as glamorous as improving your squat or press numbers. The improvements you see in flexibility and mobility take longer than improvements in your physical strength and cardiovascular fitness, and their payoff is harder to quantify. But that doesn’t mean they’re not critical to performance, quality of life, and injury prevention. An injury can sideline you at any moment, but through regular mobility training, you can improve your movement patterns and greatly reduce that possibility.
2. Don’t Expect Big Changes Overnight
I’ll be honest with you; improving your mobility is a long process that takes consistency and dedication. Yes, a skilled trainer or therapist may be able to “mobilize” a joint in just a couple of minutes, but momentary triumph isn’t going to erase years of faulty movement. Sorry! Lasting gains in mobility never seem to come as quickly as you would like, but that doesn’t mean that your mobility work isn’t “working.” Unless you’re recovering from an injury, your mobility issues didn’t happen overnight, and neither will the solutions.
Look at any toddler squat, and you’ll realize that we all started out with amazing mobility, but through our day-to-day life, that changed. Look for the little wins during each training session. Look for the small changes in position as you deadlift, squat, or overhead press. Over the course of weeks or months, you should be able to feel a difference, even if it’s small. Be patient and remember that this will probably be a lifelong process.
3. Don’t Slack On Full-Range-Of-Motion Movements
Your joints were designed to move a certain way. Your shoulder joint, for example, is a ball-and-socket joint that can be used for pressing and pulling in many different directions due to the configuration of muscles and ligaments. When we stop taking advantage of that range of motion and stop halfway between movements—from stopping short on biceps curls to only doing quarter squats—we start to reduce that range of motion.
You know the old saying: “Use it or lose it.”
4. Don’t Make Mobility Sessions Too Long Or Overly Complicated
There are many mobility exercises and stretches to choose from, but go for quality over quantity. Instead of trying to incorporate every shoulder exercise or hamstring stretch at once, find a few that you like that are simple to execute, and do those regularly—meaning daily—for no more than 10-15 minutes. Any longer, and it will be easier to put off until the next day. Short and simple is your best bet for success.
5. Don’t Limit Yourself To One Method
Now, you might be thinking that this goes against my suggestion to keep it simple, but stick with me. Focusing on a few key things at a time that doesn’t mean you can’t try something new and mix it up after a few weeks. There are many ways to mobilize joints and stretch muscles.
For example, you can easily stretch the muscles in the chest and front deltoids by clasping your hands behind your back (or grab a band or strap), squeezing the shoulder blades together, and folding forward. When one exercise begins to feel too easy or you feel like your mobility has improved, try something new. Find different ways of moving your body so you’re never stuck in the same positions.
5 Do’s For Improving Mobility
1. Do Assess Your Mobility
Assessing your mobility is the first step toward improving your movements. Improving your mobility means starting with a clear understanding of where your movement patterns have become compromised. And it’s pretty unlikely that you’re the best person to perform this assessment.
It’s not enough to know that you have tightness in your shoulders or in your hips; you need to be able to specifically define the limitations and understand the effects on your movement patterns. Is it your rotator cuff, your hip flexors, or your lats that are causing the problem? Once you determine the cause, either through a one-on-one assessment with a trained professional, an informed self-assessment, or by defining your performance goals and focusing on improving mobility for those movement, you can make more specific mobility decisions.