One of the most overlooked aspects of the real world and the fitness world is mobility. Mobility difficulties are not only a problem of old age, whether you’re an elite athlete or a soccer mom, it is important to regularly work on improving your mobility. If you want to prevent possible injuries and live a happy, pain-free life then you NEED to start improving your mobility. By giving yourself a mobility assessment you will know which areas of the body are the weakest. Once you assess and test your mobility you will be able to directly target and improve your weaker joint complexes.
In this article we will specifically target mobility, so try to do this assessment cold to see your everyday mobility and then you can test after a warm-up or workout just to compare.
The definition of mobility is the quality or state of being mobile or movable: ability or capacity to move. When we speak of mobility in the human body, we’re referring to the ability to move naturally with strength through an ideal range of motion. Increased mobility will help you to reach your goals whether it’s to put on muscle or just to feel better throughout a normal day. This article will walk you through 7 body mobility tests then provide you with some tips and exercises on how to improve your joint mobility.
Think of your mobility as the cornerstone to a healthy pain-free body. Lesser mobility leads to instability which decreases the movements you’re able to perform. Without proper movement, it’s difficult to build strength, power, and endurance. So, forget about building your repertoire of specialized skills related to fitness if you’re missing one of the most import pieces of a strong foundation; mobility.
There are many joints in our bodies that require mobility but in this article, we will touch on the joints/areas that people often have mobility issues with: shoulders, hips, upper back (thoracic spine) and ankles. These areas are the most used in basic movements.
Follow the tests and drills below to assess the mobility of your most important joints, which includes the shoulders, thoracic spine, hips, ankles.
We chose to the following mobility tests and drills because they can be performed alone in the comfort of your home.
Now let’s start testing your mobility!
These two tests will reveal the state of mobility and flexibility that your shoulder joints possess. Because the shoulder joint is the weakest joint in the human body, knowing your range of motion is important so you don’t overexert or injure yourself. Take a few minutes to test your shoulder mobility to gauge your ability and if you need to, start doing more shoulder mobility exercises.
*** If you had to arch your back to keep your arm straight on the floor then you’ve got some room for improvement.
How do you measure up?
Fantastic = Fingers overlap
Above average = Fingertips touch
Average = Fingers are less than 2 inches apart
Needs improvement = Fingers are more than 2 inches apart
To increase your shoulder mobility you must start doing exercises and stretches that help get the blood flowing into the shoulder joint. A perfect low impact exercise to in crease your shoulder mobility is Standing Arm Swings.
Stand with your back straight and your arms by your sides. Swing your arms up, forward then back as far as they can go without raising your shoulders. Then return slowly to starting position. Do this for 30-60 seconds for a total of 5 sets.
Related: Improve Your Shoulder Mobility
Now, let's move on to t-spine mobility assessments...
1. Start with your hands and knees on the ground with your hands stacked under your shoulders; keep your knees hip width apart.
2. Press through your hands while rounding your upper back and retracting your shoulder blades together.
***If you weren’t able to get both flexion and extension in your spine, there’s plenty room for improvement.
1. Lie down on your back then move into a supine spinal twist.
2. Extend your right leg straight.
3. Move your left knee towards the right side of your body and your left hand to your head.
4. Rotate open.
5. Test the other side.
***If you can’t open up at least half way to the floor, then there’s room for improvement.
There are a number of exercises and movements that can help to improve your thoracic mobility. Try this beginner thoracic mobility exercise the Cat Camel Stretch.
Start with your hands and knees on the floor keeping a neutral spine with your hands under your shoulders. To perform the cat portion of the exercise simply sink your back towards the floor and raise your head simultaneously pushing your tailbone out. Make sure you breathe out during this movement. Next, move into the camel position by tucking your head and tailbone in while arching your spine. Breathe in during this movement. Shoot for 20 repetitions of this movement with a brief pause at the top and bottom.
Related: T-Spine Mobility Exercises
We all know how important hip mobility is, so let's test the hips!
1. Lie down on your back perpendicular to a doorway.
2. Place your hands at your sides and your palms facing up.
3. Align the midpoint between your knee and hip with the door-frame.
4. Lift your leg that’s closest to the door-frame. Make sure to keep your knee extended and your foot flexed. Your other leg, arms and head should keep contact with the ground.
5. Repeat with the opposite leg.
***If your ankle doesn’t clear the doorjamb then you should work on improving your hip mobility.
1. Lie on your back.
2. Bring your feet together with your toes pointed back towards your body.
3. Use a towel to wrap it around the bottom of the foot of the leg you’re testing.
4. Use the towel to slowly pull that foot as high as you can.
5. Keep both legs straight. Your untested leg and back should keep contact with the floor.
***If your untested leg or back come off of the floor you should stop the movement at that point
***If you can get your leg up to 90*, you have ideal hip mobility
6. Repeat the test with your other leg.
Here are 3 of the best beginner hip mobility exercises to help strengthen and open up your hip joints which will lead to a greater range of motion. It will take continuous practice with these stretches to improve your hip mobility. These should be performed in a slow and controlled manner. Hold each stretched position for 10-30 seconds and repeat 5 times with brief rests in between to shake it out.
Lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Place one leg over the opposite thigh then pull your crossed knee toward your opposite shoulder.
Sit with your back straight legs spread and your feet together then start moving you knees towards the ground. Use the pressure from your elbows to push down on your knees in a controlled manner allowing for a deep stretch.
Begin with on your hands and knees with your knees spread as far apart as you comfortably can. Rock back and forth in this position, keeping your feet on the ground and your toes pointed outward.
Related: Hip Mobility Exercises & Releases
The ankle is probably one of the most overlooked joints. It's important to have good mobility in your ankles! Let's do this test to see how good your ankle mobility is...
1. Start by kneeling on one knee with your test leg in front of you. Your toes of your test leg should be 3 inches from the wall.
2. Keep the heel of your test leg down and make sure your feet are straight out in front without any rotation.
3. Try to touch the wall with your knee by moving your knee over your foot.
***Stop the movement, if your foot moves from original position.
***If you can touch the wall with your knee would be ideal ankle mobility.
4. Repeat test with other ankle.
How To Improve Ankle Mobility
In order to fix your tight ankles and increase your ankle mobility you must start moving through a greater range of motion. By performing Toe Raises and Heel Drop on a Step you are flexing the joint resulting in strengthened ankles.
Stand on the edge of a step with your weight on the balls of your feet. Push through your toes raising your ankles then slowly drop your heels down below the step level. Repeat 10-20 reps of 2-3 sets every other day. If you have limited mobility use a railing or wall for support.
This stretch targets the ankles, hips and thoracic which makes it one of the most effective stretches for improved mobility. It’s no wonder why the it was given the moniker world’s greatest stretch. We recommend you do this stretch no less than three times a week. Make sure to stretch each side for 5 reps, 10-30 seconds per time.
Step forward with your right leg. Start moving down into a lunge position and place your left hand on the floor so it’s parallel to your right foot. Then place your right elbow inside your right foot. Make sure to square your hips and try to keep your back flat. Finally, move your right hand outside you right foot then rotate and reach up towards the sky.
The two things we are looking for during these screening tests are:
If you found imbalances then you should train the weaker side more often. If you found less than ideal mobility then you should add more mobility exercises into your daily life. Start by adding the mobility exercises we provided in the Functional Foundations Guide.
I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not too late to reclaim your joint mobility that you had as a child. Use mobility exercises as a warm up, active recovery or as a stand-alone workout. We recommend that you try to add at least 3 sessions of mobility training a week but even better would be to start off each day with a few mobility exercises that will have you moving better and feeling better throughout the day.
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