We know that stretching before and after an exercise, for the sole purpose of avoiding injury and relieving muscle tension, is essential in our workout programs. These are just two incredible benefits attributed to stretching out our muscles. However, there are many more takeaways from stretching that we should all consider. Believe it or not, by incorporating stretching into our daily routines, we increase our ability to build muscle mass and tone throughout our bodies. As stretching and moving our joints through full rotations affect our mobility, our range of motion is enhanced and contributes to a better development of muscle during strength training.
Read on as we discuss the similarities and differences between mobility and flexibility, as well as the many benefits that mobility can have on our overall muscle tone. We’ll also share exercises that showcase a full range of motion and simple stretching techniques to add to your day-to-day routine.
The Difference Between Mobility and Flexibility
Before breaking down the advantages that mobility and flexibility have on our muscle tone, it’s important to know their key differences. Often times we hear the words mobility and flexibility used interchangeably. This isn’t necessarily accurate and can distort the definitions of both. Just because a person is flexible doesn’t always guarantee they have proper mobility, and vice versa. The best way to understand the differences of each is to break down what exactly the two terms refer to when used to represent the body.
Flexibility comes with the muscle’s ability to stretch for a certain period of time. According to Kean University, the muscle is able to stretch due to its six elasticity components. These contain the concentric, eccentric, and isometric contractions. (These essentials are some of the guiding principles behind muscle fibers working together with the body’s motor units).
Mobility, on the other hand, has to do with the muscle’s full range of motion. For example, our necks capacity of movement includes ranges: left to right and up to down. Someone who can move their head in all four directions has a proper range of motion and mobility. Those who have difficulty moving their head to the right have a disturbed range of motion and lack perfect mobility.
Exercises That Highlight the Importance of Mobility
When it comes to building muscle, many trainers and coaches watch carefully for proper form. The reason being, besides preventing injury, is to ensure that you’re fulfilling the muscle’s full range of motion to maximize your workout. By stopping the muscle short or not fully extending and inverting, the muscle may not be worked the proper way, and results may fail to show.
Now, a benefit: By engaging in these types of exercises (properly), in addition to stretching, the body will be able to train itself into increasing its mobility. Below are some examples of exercises that utilize full mobility in their form.
One of the most dynamic exercises in the book, kettlebell swings, utilize a myriad of different muscle groups and are reliant on the body’s strength, flexibility, and mobility. Kettlebell swings are dependent upon the hip’s internal and external rotation. Often times, those who aren’t practicing proper form and lack range of motion in their hips compromise with their core. This can throw off their back or neck in the process.
There are times where some find it difficult to reach a full squat position. This often has to do with the body’s lack of ability to reach a full range of motion in either their hips, ankles, and/or shoulder flexibility and mobility. The squat is often the perfect testing caliber for someone’s mobility standing. This is because it takes into account many different parts of the body’s range of motion.
The beauty of lunges is that there is a wide variety of formations, adaptations, and outputs that one can perform when engaging in a lunge. The primary activated rotation in a lunge is the hip flexors and can prove difficult if not exercised and positioned properly. As one of the hip bones is positioned and stabled in a squared position, the alternating hip bone is extended backward and engaged in a kneeled lunge. When engaging in a lunge, it’s important to be aware of your hip flexors to avoid popping out a hip.
Shoulder Press/Overhead Press
The shoulder press is one of the most controversial strength training moves. There are many who believe that people should not engage in a shoulder press as it can be dangerous to our spines. Meanwhile, others think the practice is safe and helps support the growth of multiple muscle groups throughout the entire body. But, one thing is certain, your body’s mobility needs to be secured before moving forward with applying a shoulder press to your workout routine. In particular, the thoracic spine must be able to extend properly. The T-spine, in addition to being one of the body’s core mobility extensions (most of our movements as humans comes from the T-spine), can easily impact the cervical spine, if not managed properly.
Tricep dips work not only the triceps but also the chest. The shoulder is in constant motion, due to the compound movement of the tricep dip. If looking to master the tricep dip, one’s rotator cuff must have a proper range of motion and be strong enough to support the body’s weight in resistance.
Stretches to Enhance Mobility
Fortunately, many exercise movements, like the ones listed above, can work in increasing range of motion and mobility. Along with participating in exercising movements, there are many stretches to incorporate prior to, or after, exercising to help expand mobility. Some are listed below.
Slowly make large arm circles moving both forward and backward, alternating every five to ten reps. This will help assist the shoulder rotator cuff.
Often practiced in yoga, hip openers are an ideal stretch to increase mobility. This helps with exercises like squats and kettlebells. One particular hip opener to practice is called the wind-relieving pose. While laying flat on your back keep one leg out straight and bring the opposing knee to chest/heart center. Hold for thirty seconds and switch to the opposite leg.
Alternating ankles, start by moving the ankle in circles, both clockwise and counterclockwise, changing every five to ten repetitions. Additionally, try spelling the alphabet with your foot. This will move your ankle in all different directions.
Neck Half Circles
Slowly move your head from left to right in semi-circles, making sure to avoid cracking your neck.
Mobility and flexibility are key components for any effective and safe workout routine. Be sure to check in with yours regularly to ensure your muscles and joints are working with full range of motion.