Have You Lost Mobility? Here’s How To Get It Back!
As a health coach, fitness trainer, and Z-Health coach, I often get questions like this one below. In fact, you may have wanted to ask me the same question and just haven’t gotten around to it yet!
I’ve come to the unfortunate realization that 15 years of sitting at a desk – combined with the simple fact that I’m almost 40 – has left me severely lacking in mobility. And, it’s something I now want (and need) to really address. However, I’m also a realist and know that with a busy work and family schedule, getting to the gym is hard enough – but adding a lot of mobility work on top of that could be really challenging. So, I’m wondering what is the best way to efficiently tackle this problem? Should I do a little bit each day? Is it better to go to a yoga class 1-2 times per week? Or something else? I’d like to make some positive changes, but ideally without completely overhauling my weekly schedule. Thanks for any direction you can provide.
The short answer to this question would be a blunt one, something like, “If it’s really important, make the time!”
But that’s not really a helpful answer, now is it?
So let’s explore this question in more detail and see what solutions we can come up with.
Here are eight things I’d consider if you’d like to really dedicate yourself to improving your overall mobility as efficiently as possible.
1. Frequency is everything.
In simple terms, mobility is your ability to reach a certain position or posture. It’s different than flexibility in that mobility necessitates stability within a range of motion, not just the range of motion of a joint (or series of joints). In other words, you need motor control, too.
Think back to when you were learning to ride a bike. Did you go out and try for 5-6 hours every Saturday morning, or did you put in several runs every day for a few weeks? If you’re like most people, it was definitely the second option.
So frequent exposure is key for motor learning, and you can’t improve mobility without motor control.
What that means in the context of mobility work is that you need to do something every day, and possibly even multiple times per day.
A pre-training warm up of even ten mobility drills should only take about ten minutes total. Or the mobility routine I do every morning takes only a few minutes and it’s a great way to start the day. You can see that routine here.
2. Sign up for classes if you really need the accountability or if the instructor is absolutely fantastic.
Yoga and Pilates can be absolutely fantastic tools for helping you to improve your mobility if:
a) They improve your accountability so that you’re more likely to actually make this a priority.
b) You have an outstanding instructor that both motivates you and teaches you about how your body works.
These options can also be terrible approaches if you have unqualified instructors or attending classes doesn’t really work with your schedule and becomes a burden more than a blessing.
3. Mix in a little mobility work at night before bed.
This piggybacks on the “frequent exposures” theme. I know of a lot of people who’ll do a bit of foam rolling and stretching at night while watching TV or getting ready for bed. This also seems to help some people unwind, possibly by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (especially if combined with good focus on breathing during this work). If getting in some stretching and rolling before bed doesn’t exactly excite you, just pick 1-2 high priority drills and do them. Or just stretch out your calves while you’re brushing your teeth!
4. Break up prolonged periods of immobility.
I really enjoy long car trips. Years ago I used to just plow through them with as few stops as possible. But my hips and low back would take three days to forgive me.
These days, I make sure to stop every 2-3 hours. In fact, on a recent car trip from Oregon all the way down the west coast, I took four days and never drove more than 400 miles a day. I felt dramatically better in the days that followed.
I think you can extend this logic to how we break up our days, too. If you have to be at a computer for the majority of the 9am-5pm work day, try to get up and move around every 20-30 minutes. Walk to get some water, use a doorway to do some stretches, or do some Z- Health hips circles.
It’s a lot easier to do a little to maintain your mobility than it is to lose it and try to get it back.
Please read that last sentence again, copy it out, and post it somewhere you’ll see it every day. This is a hard lesson to learn and one that I unfortunately learned later in life………but I learned it!
5. Be patient and don’t skip steps.
Getting quick improvements to range of motion isn’t particularly difficult. You can get that from manual therapy, increased body temperature, or “tricks” to the nervous system. After these quick improvements, we need to incorporate some stability training to make these changes “stick.”
They won’t improve dramatically from one session to the next, though. In fact, you may only hold 5% of that change from one session to the next, and that’s why you need to stay patient and persistent with these drills over an extended period of time to see real results.
6. Manage your breathing.
We’ll keep this one really simple:
Inhale = tension = stress
Exhale = relaxation = de-stress
If you’re holding your breath while doing your mobility drills, stop! Control your breathing, and think about fully exhaling at the lengthened position of your movements to give your system a chance to perceive it as a “new normal.” The yoga folks have been preaching this for thousands of years!
7. Choose comprehensive mobility drills.
If you only have 10 minutes per day to devote to improving your mobility, you are best off focusing on drills that provide plenty of bang for your buck. In other words, you want drills that challenge multiple joints and planes of motion at the same time.
8. Balanced programming and optimal technique help to improve mobility.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is take a good hard look at your exercise programs and training technique to see if they’re pushing you further into your mobility deficit. There are countless programming pitfalls in this regard, but you’ll never identify them until you take a step back to review what you’ve been doing.
In other words, if you do the same things over and over again, you’re bound to develop mobility strengths and weaknesses. So it’s important to understand this and reassess your training from time to time.
Also, crappy technique reinforces bad patterns and loss of mobility. Doing something A LOT before you learn good technique and do it well, is a really bad idea!
Additionally, this can turn soft tissue and neuromuscular restrictions into joint restrictions (laying down bone that shouldn’t be there). I know this is complicated to grasp, but it happens often without us even being aware of it. You can’t just fix changes to the joint with stretching, so it’s important when you train hard to train smart and with solid technique.
These are only eight and I’m sure there are many more. At the end of the day, though, most of the mobility improving strategies come back to common sense. Your body desperately wants to move, and you need to make time for that movement, and approach it with a plan as you would any other priority in your life.
Since 2007 I’ve be working with people from all walks of life using the Z-Health system and it’s absolutely the BEST way to eliminate pain and stay healthy, energetic, and vital. Contact me to learn more!