Back in 2010, we launched MobilityWOD (workout of the day) on YouTube. This idea consists of a daily video about some such aspects of mobility.
Since then, the word mobility has exploded in popularity. It quickly overtook the concept of “flexibility” and finding its ways into the conversation about sports performance and broader health conversations.
This has since evolved into The Ready State, we couldn’t be happier with the result. But while most health-conscious individuals intuitively understand the importance of mobility, achieving it remains elusive.
It’s a lot simpler than you’d think. Improving mobility comes down to a small number of principles. Not a complex soup of concepts and techniques. And the most prominent among these principles, like many things in life, is consistency.
When you take on strength training to improve your physical performance, you need to mobilize on a daily basis if you want to see mobility improvements.
Mobility requires effort, but not an impossible effort. You can easily weave together an effective routine without having to give up anything else in your life.
Its benefits cannot be overstated. Mobility isn’t just about being able to move better now. It’s also about living longer and maintaining a high quality of life over the big picture.
This is the fundamental point of our recent book: Built To Move. In this article I’ll give you a brief overview of some key concepts so you can enjoy those benefits yourself.
The Importance Of Having a Full Body Mobility Routine
If you’re here reading this, it’s probably because you want to be more mobile. Basically, you already believe mobility is important enough to read how to make it happen. But even so, you may not realize just how integral mobility is to your health and well being.
Did you know that the ability to get up off the ground without using your hands is highly predictive of how long you’re going to live? In a study of over 2000 individuals, those who were able to get up off the ground without assistance (even without using their own hands) the longer they were likely to live.
Similarly, it’s been found that cultures that spend more time on the ground exhibit lower rates of hip arthritis. Those with Chinese heritage for example, who sleep on the floor and rarely use chairs, have 80 to 90% less reported cases. And that’s not to mention general pain. According to the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University, 65 million Americans report a recent episode of back pain. Some 16 million adults have chronic back aches.
We live in a world of chairs and cars. We drive to the gym to exercise and log more screen time than Bill Gates or Steve Jobs could have ever imagined.
Without actively improving our mobility with daily mobilization, we will lose it and experience the consequences.
What Are Mobilizations? (And How Are They Different From Stretching?)
Given the context of the pain and limitations resulting from a sedentary, modern lifestyle, one question arises. How can we practically counteract these effects?
Here, we introduce mobilizations, a concept distinct yet often confused with stretching. The latter has been a staple in fitness circles for decades. But it falls short in providing comprehensive benefits essential for optimal mobility.
Stretching typically focuses on inducing tension within large muscles. It’s a passive act. You pull, and you feel the stretch, but that’s mostly where it ends.
There’s no engagement of the nervous system or the intricate dance of joints and fascia. This is pivotal to fluid, unrestricted movement.
While stretching is common and even intuitive, it’s not as effective in creating lasting changes in mobility or range of motion. It’s akin to applying a bandage where surgery is needed. It provides a temporary relief, but not a solution.
On the contrary, mobilizations are dynamic. They’re an active process that encompasses the whole body – muscles, fascia, joints, and even the nervous system and brain.
When you’re mobilizing, you’re not just stretching muscles. You’re also engaging and conditioning your body’s entire movement ecosystem. It’s an informed, focused effort that tells your brain, “We’re moving, and it’s safe, and it’s good.” This active engagement translates into sustained improvements in mobility. It reduces restrictions and enhances fluidity in movement.
In the grand scheme of enhancing mobility, mobilizations are your ally. It’s not about momentary relief. It’s about instilling a change that ripples through your daily life, reducing pain, enhancing flexibility, and improving overall well-being.
In a world replete with chairs, screens, and limited movement, mobilizations emerge as a practical, efficient tool to reclaim the natural, unrestricted mobility. Each movement is a step away from the pervasive stiffness and pain and a step closer to a life of fluidity, freedom, and optimal health.
The Importance Of Consistency
Before I get into a beginner mobility routine, let’s circle back on the importance that this is a daily endeavor. Not a weekly, even every other day, but daily endeavor. This is because mobility is a tortoise vs. hare scenario. Even one mobilization a day over the course of months and years will do more for you than 30 minutes of mobilization once a week.
This is due in-part to how long it takes tissues to change. Studies suggest it can take 6 months up to two years of consistent work for permanent flexibility changes.
Before you turn heel and declare this too daunting, understand we’re not asking you to undergo hours of self torture per-day. Nor is our goal to turn you into gumby. Instead, I’m asking you to simply make time everyday for mobility so you can maintain your current level of mobility. It;s also the best way to ameliorate pain as it occurs, and retain your robust ability to move at any age.
Even if you truly only did one mobilization a day, for two to five minutes per side, you can live a much healthier life. Your own body will communicate its needs as life happens, and you could simply mobilize the muscle asking for the most TLC, each day.
Shoulder hurts today? Do one shoulder mobilization. Hurts again tomorrow? Keep at it. Eventually you’ll see improvement and can move down the list to the next spot.
This is just to illustrate how even one mobilization a day can be effective. I hope you’ll do much more than that. As with anything, you get out what you put in.
When To Mobilize
Simple answer: whenever you can. I’m a big fan of making things as easy as they can be, so I mobilize in front of the TV for 20 to 30 minutes in the evening. My wife, Juliet, prefers to tack her mobility onto her morning workout as a cool-down routine. You can get creative. I’ve seen folks who like to mobilize first thing as part of a morning ritual, or immediately after punching out of work as a downregulation session.
Whatever works for you, works.
Some notable benefits of mobilizations that could inform you are that techniques involving self-massage, ergo the use of a foam roller, lacrosse ball, or other implement have a dual effect in upregulating the parasympathetic, or rest-and-digest, nervous system. This can aid in sleep if done before bed, or help lower stress.
You also don’t have to do all your mobilization at one time. Depending on your interest level, you can do a mobilization on waking up, a few more as a workout cool-down, and a longer session after work or before bed to downregulate your nervous system. Whatever the case, the only thing you “need” to do is be mobilizing daily, at least once. Do what works for you.
The Best Mobility Routines: How To Do Mobilizations
Alright guys, now for the juicy bits. Here’s how to perform a mobility workout. We’ve broken down the process to ensure that your transition into a more mobile lifestyle is seamless and effective. Don’t worry, we’re keeping it simple because we know how valuable your time is.
Now, let’s kick things off by getting our hands on the right equipment.
What You'll Need
To begin, having the right tools at your disposal can significantly enhance your mobilization efforts. These items are not only accessible but also easy to use, ensuring that you can start your mobility journey without any unnecessary complications.
- Lacrosse-Size Ball or Tennis Ball: Ideal for sinking into the tissue and helping to “unglue” them.
- Foam Roller or Rolling Pin: Perfect for self-massage and releasing muscle tension.
- Exercise Band, Strap, Belt, or Towel: These aids are excellent for helping position your joints correctly.
- PVC Pipe or Broomstick: Ensure it’s about three to four feet long, a crucial tool for various mobilizations. You can shop these and more here.
Each of these tools is crafted to target specific aspects of your mobility. They’re designed to be versatile and effective, ensuring that each session brings you one step closer to a body that moves with grace, strength, and fluidity.
Now, with your tools in hand, it’s time to dive into the practice.
Test and Retest
Embarking on the mobilization journey is as much about understanding your current mobility state as it is about enhancing it. How do you do that? Test and retest.
Test and retest refers to getting into the positions you want to improve before mobilizations, and then after to see what changed.
For example, if you’re mobilizing your hamstrings, you would stand and touch your toes before mobilizing. Then, you do it again after to see how much progress you’ve made.
The “contract-relax” technique is intrinsic to most mobilizations. This method requires contracting a muscle, then relaxing it. Each step typically lasts for a few seconds each, repeated over the suggested time. Derived from proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), this technique is pivotal in training your brain to control a muscle in a specific position.
In many mobilizations, you’ll be taking muscles and joints to their end ranges. Contracting and relaxing in these positions assures your brain that it’s safe. It also enhances your ability to recruit the necessary muscles effectively and safely. This technique can also self-soothe and desensitize painful areas, offering relief and promoting healing, marking it as a cornerstone in the mobilization journey.
As a general rule of thumb, contract the muscle by flexing as you inhale for 3 to 4 seconds. Then hold the contraction for a few seconds, and then relax the muscle as you exhale. Your goal is to be able to completely relax the muscle you are mobilizing.
Fix Your Hips
You could write whole encyclopedias of mobilizations. One could argue they’ve already been written. So where should you start? I suggest focusing on the main junction points in your body where tons of muscle tissues and fascia interact with each other. IE, your hips and your shoulders.
The modern lifestyle often results in restricted hip mobility. Mobilizations designed for the hips focus on countering the impacts of such lifestyle habits. They navigate your joints through varied positions, unstick compressed soft tissues, and engrain new patterns of movement.
Hip Test & Retest
Your hips are a primary locus for the tissue systems in your body to pass through and connect. Poor hip function is as detrimental as good hip function is resilient.
Regular work on your hips can open up the rest of your body.
The couch mobilization is an old classic, and favorite, of ours here at The Ready State. This hip opener addresses all the parts that get stiff from sitting and slouching day-in and day-out. It’s the best way to prepare yourself for doing deep squats one day.
Hip Wheel Mobilization
The hip wheel mobilization addresses the hip flexors where they make contact with your high glutes.
Both of these areas affect hip positioning and range of motion. By rolling around on them for a bit, you can help improve blood flow to often-stiff tissues and help tie things back together.
Fix Your Shoulders
If the hips act as a sort of engine for the lower body, the shoulders are the engine of the upper body. In fact, both systems affect each other and your entire body. No tissue above the knee lacks a direct connection to one or the other.
Your shoulder mobility also takes a hit from the slouching that is so common in this modern era of desk jobs and smartphones.
Working on your shoulder mobility is worthy of daily or every other day effort in conjunction with your hips. Here are a few mobilizations for that purpose.
Shoulder Rotation Test & Retest
A simple shoulder range of motion test is to lay down and reach your arms over your head. Try to press the back of your hands against the ground with your arms straight. Notice how much tension is in your shoulders and neck while doing this.
After mobilizing, return to this position. You should notice it’s way easier to get the back of your hands against the ground.
Basic Lat Mobilization
The lats are powerful muscle systems. They connect your shoulders to your back, to your spine, to your ribs and even to your abdominals. Stiffness and restriction in the lats can have body-wide consequences. Brushing them out is huge for improving not only shoulder function but torso rotation.
The shoulder reset uses a kettlebell to reset your shoulder position. This can also be a great test and retest mob you can use to measure progress. Perform daily, before other mobilizations if using this as a progress measuring mobilization.
Chase The Pain (Away)
Beyond generally working on hip and shoulder mobility, you can also base your daily mobilizations on your aches and pains. Simply prioritize based on stiffness and restriction. In fact, I’d say doing at least one mobilization every day on your most restrictive tissue is a good rule of thumb.
For our subscribers, you can search mobilizations based on pain areas using the pain section in The Virtual Mobility coach app or in The Member Dashboard on The Ready State. *
If your pain has become chronic or seems to come back no matter what you do, you may want to check out our pain protocols to see about nipping it in the bud, or the butt if that’s what hurts, for good.
As a final note, if you do have access to The Virtual Mobility Coach, you can also simply do our daily maintenance protocols. There is a different routine ranging from 10 to 30 minutes featured every day, or you can peruse the full library based on body part and/or time.
Do The Mobility Work with TRS
Mobility is our birthright. But chairs and other factors of modern life can slowly steal away what should be every human’s natural ability to move without restriction. This is why daily mobility training is so important. While consistency is key, you don’t have to spend hours a day in ineffective stretches.
Simply by learning the principles of mobilizing your tissues, you can manage pain and achieve full range of motion. Therefore, it’s time to maintain your health with a few mobilizations a day.
We’ve dedicated our lives to your ability to move, and you can access all the mobilizations you need via our Virtual Mobility Coach. Remember: The best daily mobility routine is the one you can perform today.