Muscle, strength, endurance, fat loss; those are the most common terms we associate fitness with. But there’s an important component to fitness that isn’t openly discussed as much. It’s called mobility. Trainers underemphasize the importance of it, and athletes far too often drop it down on the priority list. But mobility is an indication on how well and efficiently we move and even helps us ward off injuries. To answer some of the questions we get on mobility, we tapped into New York City-based physical therapist and trainer, Joe Vega, M.S.P.T., C.S.C.S.
Q1: What is the difference between mobility and flexibility? Which one is more important and why?
“A person with great mobility is able to perform functional movement patterns with no restrictions in the range of motion (ROM) of those movements. A flexible person may or may not have the core strength, balance, or coordination to perform the same functional movements as the person with great mobility. There are a host of possible muscle imbalances that cause this, but these problems can be fixed with a combination of what I call the three S’s—soft-tissue work (foam roll), stretch, and strengthen. It’s important to recognize that flexibility is a component of mobility, but extreme flexibility usually isn’t necessary to perform functional movements.”
Q2: What areas are really important to keep mobile/flexible?
“Start with the common areas that are affected by bad posture such as the neck, mid back, lower back, hip flexors, hamstrings, and calf muscles. All of these areas should receive the three S’s, and it’s recommended that you do all three of the steps in order. A failure to follow all three steps will lead to decreased mobility which will in turn negatively affect your squat, deadlift, and other Olympic lifts.”
Q3: What are some good total-body mobility exercises?
“It’s important to address all areas of mobility, but three must-do exercises would be overhead squats, the prayer stretch (elbows on a bench from your knees, let the chest sink down), and knee-to-elbow bird dogs. Don’t forget to foam roll, that might be the most important component of all.”
Q4: What size foam roller is best for loosening up the back muscles?
“The go-to foam roller of choice to prep the back muscles would have to be the Trigger Point Grid or Grid Mini. The larger grid allows the user to prep the larger back muscles, while the mini is great for hitting those hard to reach areas, like the shoulder blades. The larger grid is the perfect weight (just over one pound), and small enough (a mere 13 inches) to pack into a travel bag so you can foam roll on the go.”
Q5: What is the best way to crack my back safely?
“High-thrust spinal mobilizations are usually reserved for chiropractors. However, with enough pressure as you foam roll stiff areas such as the mid back it’s not uncommon to hear some relieving snap, crackle, and pops.”