Joint mobility used to be a term for physical therapists helping injured patients build up their strength. Today, athletes and average Joes alike are incorporating joint mobility stretches in their workouts. What’s the buzz about? And what are the benefits?
Joint mobility refers to movement–your ability to move an arm or leg easily, but with control, through the full range of motion. It’s different from flexibility, which measures the length of your muscles and how much they can stretch without tearing. Mobility and flexibility work together during any warm up to activate your muscles. Here are 5 top mobility exercises you can incorporate into your next workout.
- Ankle Mobility Stretch on the wall
- Kneeling Thoracic Spine Rotation
- Cook Squat
- Spider Stretch to Thoracic Rotation
- Knee Hug Drop Lunge to Rotation
Ankle Mobility Stretch on the Wall
Ankle mobility is important because this joint has to be flexible when you move. From sprinting to lunging, the ankle absorbs a lot of energy. If you have poor ankle flexibility, your body will make adjustments that may cause more harm then good, like putting unneeded stress on your knees. Isolating the ankle against the wall allows you to put the joint a full range of motion, stretch out lower leg muscles, and prep the ankle for your workout.
- Stand facing a wall. Place your hands at chest height against the wall.
- Place one leg in front of the other.
- Keep your chest tall.
- Bend the front leg slightly, keeping the heel on the ground.
- Your back leg should be slightly bent.
- Focus on the front leg getting the stretch–not the back leg.
- If the front leg cannot keep the heel on the ground, move closer to the wall.
Kneeling Thoracic Spine Rotational Stretch
The thoracic spine is the section of vertebrae between the neck and the lower back. It’s a common source of injuries in golf, baseball, hockey, volleyball and softball, because these sports require twisting. Many athletes believe that they should rotate with the lower back, but this mistake doesn’t allow the body to move naturally and leads to injuries.
Creating great rotation in the thoracic spine will help increase shoulder strength, decrease shoulder pain, and help with overall sport-specific movements. The thoracic stretch on the knees will isolate the thoracic spine and really focus on that set of joints. Some coaching cues are:
- Begin on all fours with a flat back and your stomach tucked in.
- Place one hand on the back of the head, keeping the opposite arm locked out.
- While the hand is on the head, bring the elbow down to touch the opposite arm.
- As you touch begin to bring the arm in rotation up to the sky, keep your hand on the head.
- Do not force the movement–keep the pace comfortable.
- Rotate through the thoracic spine, keeping lower back in alignment and absolutely still (no movement).
The Cook Squat
This squat is named for Grey Cook, one of the founders of the fitness screening system that Fit Code uses for our members. The idea behind this squat is a full body movement that puts the muscles to work and also focuses on joint mobility through the ankles, knees, hips, thoracic spine, and shoulders.
- From a standing position, take a deep breath and raise both arms above your head.
- Exhale and hinging at the hips, bend down to touch your toes. , elbows inside the knees
- Your elbows should be inside the knees, and your chest should be tall. You should be able to wiggle your toes.
- Squat all the way, pushing your butt down and behind you.
- Lift one arm up, keeping your chest tall and your gaze directly ahead of you.
- Lift your other arm up. Stay low and on your heels.
- Stand up with your arms still raised. Exhale and lower your arms.
Spider Stretch to Thoracic Rotation
The spider stretch targets the ankles, hips, adductors and hamstrings. And it includes a thoracic stretch at the top of the movement. As you warm up, start with basic movements and then transition to more advanced stretches. Save this deep stretch for the end of your warm up.
- From a standing position, drop into a deep lunge with your right leg in front and your left leg behind you.
- Place both hands inside your right knee and keep your arms straight with your wrists, elbows, and shoulders stacked. Let your bent right leg press out slightly. Keep your knee aligned over your toes.
- Your left leg should be fully extended behind you in a straight line as you push up with your left toes.
- Keep your back flat and your chest tall.
- Lift your left arm up toward the ceiling, rotating your torso as you lift. Lift until your left arm is directly over your right arm. Let your gaze follow up to your extended arm.
- Bring arm back down, switch legs, and repeat.
Knee Hug with Drop Lunge to Rotation
Like the Spider Stretch, this movement is best saved for the end of your warm up. The knee hug with drop lunge to rotation is a total body stretch.
- Stand tall and lift the left knee up toward your waist.
- With both hands, gently take the knee and hug it into your chest. Allow your right leg to extend fully.
- Release the left knee and step down into a controlled lunge with your left leg forward.
- While in the lunge position, keep the chest tall and rotate with the upper body toward the left knee.
- Stand up and repeat the exercise with the right knee.
These five stretches truly can help you move better and avoid injury. Becoming more flexible and mobile will allow you to move faster, cut quicker, improve your body awareness, and become stronger in the gym.