Aside from burning fat or building strength, improving range of motion remains one of the most popular fitness goals. We’d all like to be a little more limber and flexible, regardless of whether or not we’re an athlete looking to maximize performance. This rings particularly true for those of us sequestered to long days at our home office, working remotely and trading our daily commutes and step counts of years’ past for something a little more solitary.
Mobility — your joints’ ability to traverse their range of motion without any issues — is a critical component in our overall physical health, as it helps reduce injuries, limit pain and improve posture and balance. And again, while it’s important for weightlifters to avoid injury by incorporating mobility exercises into their training regimen, you don’t need to be a gym rat to want to reap those benefits. Protecting the health of your joints is something we can all get on board with.
From a general perspective, activities like yoga and dynamic stretching are great ways to boost mobility and flexibility in your entire body. But for the purposes of this article, we’ll categorize some specific mobility exercises based on five different body parts — the thoracic spine, shoulder, hip and ankle. These are four common areas that lack mobility, so we’ll pay particular attention to them. Lastly, make sure to proceed with caution as you begin many of these mobility exercises. Your joints are fragile, after all, and any movements design to test the limits of your range of motion can be harmful if performed improperly. Take your time, ease into it and know your limits.
And while most mobility exercises are generally equipment-free, there are a few pieces of gear that can make the experience more comfortable — which we’ve sourced at the bottom of the article. You’ll be loose and limber in no time.
1. Thoracic Spine Mobility Exercises
The thoracic spine sits in the upper part of your back and is responsible for movements like bending over. It’s also directly linked to your posture — bad posture can lead to some serious problems in the thoracic region of your spine. Because it’s so integral to the movement of your torso, it’s critical to keep your spine healthy. There are a number of simple mobility exercises for your thoracic spine that require no equipment, many of which you can find in the video below. One of our favorites is called kneeling rotations, which offer a great stretch for your thoracic spine that you can knock out anywhere.
Instructions: Place both knees on a hard, comfortable surface and sit back so your butt rests on your heels, which helps lock your lumbar spine in place. Place one elbow on the ground in front of your knee, with your forearm and hand extended to create a 90-degree angle at your elbow. With the opposite hand resting behind your head, begin with that elbow hovering above the ground. Rotate your torso upwards until you feel a stretch. Pause, then return to the starting position. Repeat on each side. You can also perform this mobility exercise with your torso at more of a 45-degree angle with the floor.
2. Shoulder Mobility Exercises
Any dude who’s spent a ton of time bulking up knows how easy it is to lose shoulder mobility. You can test your own shoulder mobility by trying to touch your hands behind your back, with one arm behind your head and the other behind your hip reaching upward. If you’re having trouble lacing your fingers, let alone touching them at all, you should probably work on your shoulder mobility, which is a crucial factor in lifts like the bench press, or even simple daily movements like reaching to grab a book from the top shelf. Most mobility exercises serve as both a test and exercise, a movement that indicates your level of mobility while working to improve it. This shoulder exercise is a great example and is as easy as they come.
Instructions: Stand up straight with your arms at your sides and your palms facing inward. Slowly raise one hand in front of your body with your arm extended, rotating the arm upwards until it’s perpendicular to the ground, making sure to keep that palm facing toward your body. When you get to the top, reach a little higher, then rotate your palm outward and move your arm behind your body, trying to keep it in the same plane of rotation. If you feel the arm moving away from your body a lot (a little is normal) you’re definitely lacking in mobility. A good way to test this is by doing this mobility exercise close to a wall. Once your arm rotates past your body, try to keep it from hitting the wall as you increase your mobility.
3. Hip Mobility Exercise — 90/90 Stretch
Hip tightness or a lack of hip mobility is one of the most common mobility complaints you’ll hear. This is no doubt affected by a sedentary lifestyle, as sitting for prolonged periods of time can tighten and shorten the tendons of the hips and the muscles surrounding them. This particularly affects athletes, as a lack of mobility in the hips is killer for anything from squats and deadlifts to explosive interval training and distance running. If there’s one area to focus on, it’s your hips.
Instructions: The 90/90 stretch, as the name would indicate, involves rotating your legs back and forth as they create 90-degree angles at your knees. Begin by sitting with your legs just outside shoulder width and your knees. You can place your hands behind your back on the ground for support. Drop both legs to one side, letting them fall into 90-degree angles. You should feel a strong stretch in your hips. Shift your legs to the other side of your body to complete one rep. You can hold the position or lean into the stretch for a more intense sensation.
4. Ankle Mobility Exercises
Running, for all its calorie-burning prowess, can really wreak havoc on your joints, particularly your ankles. Mobility in the ankles is key to getting the most out of your runs while avoiding injury along the way. The exercise below incorporates what’s called ankle dorsiflexion, or the ankle’s ability to bend and contract, drawing the toes back toward the shins. It also features a resistance band, which we’ve linked to in the next section.
Instructions: Secure a resistance band behind your body and wrap one end around your foot so it sits at the bottom of the ankle. Place that foot flat on a raised surface — like a box, chair or low table — so your knee creates a 90-degree angle and your thigh sits parallel to the floor. Shift your body forward so your knee extends beyond your toes, leaning into the resistance so you feel a stretch in the ankle. You can continue moving forward further as the mobility increases.
1. Amazon Basics Extra Thick Exercise Mat
As we indicated earlier, mobility exercises aren’t the most gear-forward fitness routine. But a good exercise mat goes a long way toward making you more comfortable as you twist and turn your body in all sorts of tense ways. Amazon’s exercise mat is extra thick (and extra comfortable) and comes in seven different colors. The included carrying strap makes it easy to roll up and store or take with you on the go.
2. Gaiam Yoga Block
Odds are, your hips are tight. We could all use a little more hip mobility, and in our quest for it, we’ll be folding our legs into positions that put a ton of tension on our already-tight hips. This yoga block from Gaiam is an incredible tool for alleviating some of that tension. You just place one under your butt while performing a movement, and it takes some of the stress off your hips. Of course, we’d all like to be in a place where we don’t need blocks, but this will get the journey started more comfortably.
3. Fit Simplify Resistance Bands (Set of 5)
Resistance bands offer a safe, simple and portable alternative to weight training, and help increase strength, balance and flexibility. You can use them for all sorts of workouts, but they really come in handy while helping your body stretch and increase its range of motion, adding that little bit of resistance to maximize every movement. This set of bands from Fit Simplify features five different color-coded resistance and includes a carrying bag for convenient storage.
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