What is a mobility workout?

Jan 17, 2023

If you’re looking to improve your mobility it’s about more than just stretching. You’ll need to do a specific type of workout. Simply making your muscles more flexible will not achieve this. Instead you’ll need to focus on increasing the range of movement of the joint.

Here’s how.

Mobility versus flexibility

Mobility and flexibility are often used interchangeably, so to differentiate we have to think about the result not just the muscles. In short, the muscles are the means to the end, the mobility is the end we have in mind - the range of movement of a joint. While flexibility is more about the muscles specifically, how much they can stretch, or how long they can become.

Of course when it comes to a joint, there are multiple muscles at play, meaning that having one or more long muscles doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have good mobility at the joint. Simply stretching out the glutes, for instance, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to  get down into a full squat as there are other muscle groups that play a part too.

The three steps to a mobility workout

The aim of a mobility workout is to increase the mobility of a joint not just to make specific muscles more flexible but to make them all longer. And this means adding a bio-mechanical aspect.

Step 1 – Massage

Massage could mean self-massage, foam rolling or someone else giving you a massage. Whichever method you choose, the idea is to help make stiff muscles more supple before being able to increase the range of movement. Massage helps to realign muscle fibres and work out any tightness that might be there, from an old injury for instance.

The other benefit of massage is that it helps to reduce the activity of sensitive receptors. There are certain receptors within muscles that respond as they lengthen and shorten. It also increases the micro-circulation – I share a diagram explanation of this in the video tutorial above.

Only once the muscles are more supple, can we begin to work on lengthening them.

Step 2 – Muscle elongation

Step two is about overcoming the stretch reflex.

To explain what we mean by stretch reflex I like to use the analogy of a spring. Imagine the coil of a spring, one that you can look straight down the middle of if you turn it on its head. Pull the ends apart and the coil gets longer, squash it together and it is shorter. If you pull it slightly too far it will want to spring back unless we hold it.

Our muscles work exactly the in a similar way. We have spindles that essentially wrap around the muscle fibres. They have a sort of unconscious reflex, if you stretch them gently they want to ‘spring back.’ As we massage each muscle and begin to stretch it out, the spindles will allow the muscle to stretch further than it once did. By doing this we’re teaching the spindles that they are able to elongate despite the reflex.

The interesting thing is, once we’ve massaged the muscle to overcome the reflex, we have an estimated 20-30 minute window in which we can use the new range of movement. After that the reflex will kick back in.

Step 3 – Stimulating the muscle

Once we’ve managed to overcome the reflex, we need to do some specific exercises depending on the movement required. It’s important at this point we don’t overwork, or overload the muscle as that could create an injury. After a consultation, I can offer tailored exercises to help you increase mobility in the joint or area in which you have an issue.

If you have had a previous injury you may find your muscles try to guard against the problem happening again. You twisted your ankle a couple of months ago, for example. You limped so as not to put too much weight on the painful leg, your muscles tightened to protect the joint and facilitate the limp. Now the pain has gone, the swelling has gone and you’re able to walk again, but there is a residual tightness around the ankle. It’s remained there, subconsciously, to protect the joint.

This is a restricted mobility issue that needs addressing through specific exercises. But only after massaging and working to elongate the muscles will you create the space to be able to carry out any exercises that will give you an effective result. In repeating these new movements you are teaching the brain, through neuro-stimulation, the new range of movement the muscle or joint should be able to achieve.


If you’re in the UK, you’re struggling with joint mobility and want to improve it join me.


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