By now, I hope the importance of joint mobility is clear, and the benefits myriad. It isn’t the sexiest topic around to be sure. “The Importance of Shoulder Mobility” certainly isn’t as attention-grabbing as “How to Lose 10 lbs in 10 days!,” but it’s one of those often overlooked aspects of fitness that with just a little attention could save you years of pain, frustration, rehab and maybe even surgery – not to mention a boatload of cash in doctor bills. Incorporating just a few minutes of mobility drills a few times each week is a great way to round out an otherwise complete routine. If you’ve missed any of the articles I’ve written over the last few weeks you can catch up here:
Before I get to how to incorporate the mobility drills into your regular physical activities, a recap of why joint mobility is so important:
By engaging every joint in your body the correct way you drastically decrease your chance of injury. With full joint mobility, there is very little of the “out of position” awkwardness that’s at the heart of many injuries. Too often, injuries occur because we make sudden movements along incorrect joints – twisting with the lumbar spine instead of the thoracic spine, for example – due to lack of joint mobility.
It increases the efficiency of your movement. Learning how to move your joints along their predetermined pathways means smooth, clean, unimpeded movement. When you pick up something heavy with your hips instead of your lower back, your only impediment is the weight itself; there are no structural deficiencies getting in your way and making it even harder and the risk of injury even higher. You still have to work against the load, but your efficiency is no longer hamstrung by the use of the wrong joints in the wrong places.
It increases your performance. Understanding the proper role of each joint and muscle group – and how to engage and activate them in your movements – results in massive performance gains. Your bench press will soar once you grasp the importance of the shoulder blade retraction; your vertical leap will jump once you learn to start extending your hips. And besides, you can’t expect to perform on any level if you’re sidelined with a mobility-related injury or if your movements are grossly inefficient.
It will increase your range of motion – your active flexibility. Static flexibility has its place, but for an athlete (or anyone moderately active, really), mobility is far more important. It’s similar to the question of isolation exercises versus compound exercises. Which are more applicable to the real world? Which more effectively mimic the movements you’ll make in your daily life? Static stretches are a bit like isolation exercises, while mobility prepares you for the rigors of real movement.
If you failed, or came close to failing, the joint mobility tests mentioned in my previous posts, plan on incorporating joint mobility drills into your daily schedule. Off-days, on-days, sick days, vacation – no matter what you’re doing or whom you’re doing it with, make sure you perform a targeted joint mobility session every single day. Mobility must come before everything else. It must precede strength, sports, and even just protracted sessions of sitting. It’s the foundation. Mobility prepares you for life, and unless you plan on leading a completely sedentary existence (complete with sedan chair manned by indentured servants), you’re going to be moving throughout it. On consecutive days, do the drills I mentioned for each particular joint, or complete the suggested programs listed in each article. So, Monday will be hips, Tuesday thoracic spine, and so on. Repeat the cycle once you reach the end. Follow this schedule until you’re mobile or until you can complete the tests easily and move around without stiffness. Then, pick just one or two movements for each joint and incorporate them into your workout warm-ups. They should be quick and easy, but with focus on proper form. This should be enough to maintain mobility.
If you’re an athlete with good “subconscious” mobility, but who’s never really given thought to the issue, work the drills into your warm-ups. Natural, raw athleticism can appear to overcome any mobility deficiencies, but that only works for a while. It may even work for years. Eventually, though, lack of mobility will creep up on you. And when it does, when it finally manifests in the natural athlete, the results will be staggering. New, mysterious pains, long in the making, will appear, seemingly out of the blue. You most likely won’t be struck by an acute injury, but rather by wear and tear from years of improper movement obscured by natural talent. It’s better to address the potential problem before it appears. Do two weeks of intensive joint mobility drills, following the movements outlined in the articles, and then draw it down to warm-ups only. Choose one or two movements for each joint in your warm-up, paying attention to the composition of your impending workout to determine focus. Squat and deadlift days get hip mobility, while pressing days get thoracic spine and shoulder drills, and so on. The initial “shock” of full-on mobility training should cement the pathways in your brain and get the neurons firing, while the warm-up drills will maintain them. Never be content to rest on the laurels provided by natural athleticism.
Don’t get lazy. It’s easy to say “Oh, I’ll skip the mobility drill today,” but don’t do it. If it’s easy to skip, it’s just as easy to take a few minutes out of your life to actually do the drill and reduce your chances of injury. Inconsequentiality goes both ways; what’s easy to shrug off and dismiss is just as easy to address and commit to. Do the drills.
Finally, be mindful of your movements. Picking up a coin off the ground? Use your hips. Twisting to see someone calling your name on the street? Rotate along the thoracic spine. In these situations, you could just lapse into the old, lazy ways and get away with it, but you’d be reinforcing incorrect movement for the times when it really matters. What you do in your daily life will set the tone for the rest of your life. Lazy, incorrect joint movements outside of the weight room or athletic field will establish lazy, incorrect joint movements in the weight room and on the field.
Proper joint movements may feel strange. For a lot of people, mobility training forces their bodies to move in totally new, seemingly unnatural ways. We’ve been moving and sitting and standing so awkwardly and so incorrectly for so many years that natural movement patterns seem unnatural. It’s insane, really, how far we’ve gotten from our natures. Diet gets the brunt of the attention around here, but straying from the body’s natural joint movement pathways has powerful consequences, too.
Have you tried any of the joint mobility drills? Experiences? Results? Thank you for reading!
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.