Mobility is the ability to effectively and safely perform the universal human movements, such as squatting, hinging, pushing, pulling, carrying, and crawling that are required for functional living. Many assume that mobility simply means flexibility, but flexibility is only one component of mobility. The ability to move a joint through a full range of motion safely and effectively also requires adequate strength to stabilize joints and healthy connective tissue.
The skeleton works wonderfully when everything is aligned, but the skeleton itself is passive. It is pulled and adjusted by the muscles that attach to it. As we move through life, our muscles develop and grow based on our habitual movement patterns. We begin to compensate when we perform some movements more often than others and with improper patterns, and the muscles develop unevenly– some becoming tight and short, others loose and long. The tighter muscles end up pulling on the skeleton disproportionately, which misaligns our joint positions. Having a joint slightly offset within a socket causes it to wear unevenly over time and limits range of motion. Long-term issues like arthritis are common results.
For example, take the TRX row as a common pulling movement. If you have poor thoracic spine and scapular mobility, due to tight pectorals and lats, you’re going to have trouble activating the scapular muscles to help aid in the pulling movement. Even if you try contracting your scapular muscles, their contraction can’t overcome the pull from the tighter, bigger pecs. The result is that your body misses out on using an entire muscle group (the upper back) while your biceps take most of the load. This is considered dysfunctional and can lead to injuries at worst, and inefficient movement at best.
As mobility relates to strength, you will be stronger and safer lifting weight through a range of motion if your joints are able to comfortably reach the given position. If you are straining just to reach the bar with proper form on a deadlift, you are way more likely to pull a muscle or injure the spine. Replace the deadlift with any hinging motion during daily life (like picking up a heavy box) and you risk the same consequences. Essentially, mobility allows you to place your body in the safest, most advantageous position for utilizing your strength. If you have strength but no mobility, you are working against the pull of your muscles and moving less efficiently through life.
Making sure the muscles are evenly pulling on the bones and joints is the key to preserving joint function and preventing injury. Stretching, foam rolling, and mobility drills help achieve this. Mobility is the final chapter of SPARC’s 4 Health Pillars. Please check out these previous posts about the other elements of fitness — strength, cardio, and body composition. Finally, here are some great mobility exercises to help you get started moving healthier