We all know exercise is good for us, it keeps us fit and healthy and those that exercise on a regular basis are likely to age better. You may be a regular at building muscle and take part in consistent aerobic exercise, but do you think about your mobility?
You may think of stretching as something performed as a warmup or for specific sports and activities such as gymnastics. Mobility training benefits your workout in ways that a quick warm-up cannot. During mobility training, blood is being moved to the surrounding tissues. Synovial fluid, the fluid in our joints that helps them to glide freely, is carried into the working joints.
Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage. These strains can occur simply when you get out of bed or walk up the stairs not just during a workout.
Not all stretches are the same either. It is common that people use static stretching as part of their routine. However, dynamic stretches – part of mobility training – are not so widely used.
Static stretching usually consists of holding positions with no movement and tend to only focus on the main muscle groups, such as quads, hamstrings, calf, and arm muscles, and they also need to be held for long enough (30+ seconds) to be beneficial. I use mostly static stretches after a workout because forgetting to stretch your muscles after any exercise session could do your body more harm than good.
Without regular stretching, your body gets cold quicker after a workout, and your muscles tighten up. When you complete a workout, the body pumps blood faster to the heart making it beat at a rapid rate. Stretching allows the body to cool down and helps the heartbeat to return to normal gradually. The release of lactic acid during an intense workout is broken with stretching which allows muscle recovery and repair which in turn reduces the intensity of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) for the 24-48 hours after exercise. The blood circulation to the muscles is once again resumed with stretching which also allows the heart rate to come back to its original resting rate. By skipping cool-down stretches, eventually, your muscles will pull on your joints and trigger significant pain and discomfort so do not take them for granted.
Dynamic stretches, on the other hand, are often a static stretch performed with movement. An example of this would be to perform hip circles to warm up the hips; those of you who are regulars to my group classes will be familiar with these, but you might not be aware why we do them. The blood is transported to the hip flexors, glutes, and external rotators, which are the muscles that move the leg. Synovial fluid lubricates the hip in preparation for exercise which helps gain better movement in those areas, increasing performance and reducing injury. Doing these results in many mobility training benefits.
For example, dynamic stretches keep your heart rate higher than static ones, this is important during a warm-up. I try to incorporate these into all my routines regardless of the workout we are going to perform because research shows that dynamic stretching, or stretching while moving, appears to be more effective than static stretching as part of your warm-up.
Mobility and stretching also prepare the mind for a workout. When you start your car on a cold wintery morning, it is often a little sluggish and takes a while to get moving properly; particularly if like mine it is 15 years old! The engine needs to warm up as well as the engine fluids. The same is true with your body. You need a gradual progression to help warm up your engine. The process helps increase heart rate, deliver blood/oxygen to working muscles, increase muscle temperatures and elasticity, increase body temperature, and helps nerve impulses travel quicker from the brain to the areas of the body being used. By ignoring a warmup routine regardless of the activity, you are going to perform, is highly likely to result in a workout that is not as mentally or physically beneficial to you as it should be.
With more of us sat at desks for our work, often for over 8 hours a day, mobility should be considered even if you are not intending to do a workout. With reports suggesting that back pain costs the UK economy £20 billion every year it is significant enough to address it before it becomes a problem. Aches and pains in the back, neck, and shoulders are commonplace in modern life due to our work and lifestyles, but it does not have to be that way. With subtle changes in our working positions, stretches and exercises we can do at our desks we can prevent some of these problems. If this is something you need help with, I have created my own workplace workout (see video below) which is an easy set of exercises you can do from home or in the workplace – no equipment required. The 5-minute workout will help you stay mobile, reduce backache, and improve productivity. It is also safe for children of any age to do if they have been studying all day, you can make it a regular family activity to keep you all well. Use it before a workout too, it is a versatile set of stretches suitable for all abilities.
You now have the reasons why mobility is good for you, and we are advised to take part in some form of cardio activity for 30 minutes every day, and I think we should be spending equally as much time on mobility. If we have a full range of motion in our joints, supported with muscles that can do their job without tightness, our posture is correct, we are able to perform daily tasks with ease and stay active for longer – all of which will prevent premature aging of the body – who wouldn’t want that??! Start to add a little mobility into your day and enjoy the benefits of feeling great, standing taller, and moving easier.