Human beings are designed to move. From hopping, skipping, pulling, and lifting, our bodies are capable of complex movements to dynamically engage with the world around us. But for all of that movement potential we innately carry, many of our regular exercises unknowingly box ourselves into repetitive movement patterns that limit our mobility, create tissue imbalances, and make us prone to injury and pain.
From taking a spin class to lifting weights, repetitive movements in a single plane of motion are most likely part of your physical training routine. But as these movements only strengthen certain muscles within certain planes of movement, repetitive movement patterns often lead to muscle imbalances, shifting the position of your joints and how they move, decreasing your performance, and increasing your potential for injury.
Many of us also spend around half of our waking hours sitting or lying down. Sitting or lying keeps us in the same position with little to no muscle activity, which wreaks havoc on our posture and mobility. For example, a lifestyle of sitting causes our hamstrings and hip flexors to shorten and tighten, while our postural muscles gradually become weak and stiff. If we don’t counteract the effects of sitting, we may experience mobility limits and muscles imbalances that affect how well we’re able to move through our workouts and activities of daily living.
What Are Mobility Workouts?
Whether you’re a seasoned athlete, weekend warrior, or fitness newbie, mobility workouts help you maintain and restore your ability to intentionally and functionally move your joints through their full range of motion (ROM). You should be able to achieve this without pain, or compensating with another body part. Mobility exercises can effectively help you reveal and then address muscle imbalances through compound, multiplanar movements (as opposed to only sticking to a single plane of motion). They boost your performance potential and lower your risk of a sports-related injury. The effects of mobility workouts also positively influence your posture in day-to-day life.
Are Mobility Workouts the Same As Stretching?
To answer this question, let’s break down the difference between static and dynamic stretching. Static stretching generally involves holding a muscle at its end-range, without movement. For example, a static hamstring stretch could involve sitting down with your legs stretched out in front of you while reaching for your toes for 30-90 seconds. On the other hand, dynamic stretching moves your muscles and joints through their ROM with fluidity and control. For example, a dynamic hamstring stretch could start by stepping into a lunge with both hands on the ground (or a chair) with the front knee bent. To dynamically stretch the front-leg hamstrings, one could gradually straighten and bend the knee for 10-15 repetitions. Put another way, static stretching is generally passive and used for improving flexibility, while dynamic stretching is generally active and used for improving mobility.
Recent movement science has revealed that static stretching for the sake of increased flexibility may not be as effective as once believed. In fact, static stretching may actually decrease athletic performance by reducing a person’s speed, agility, and muscle-force production. In other words, static stretching can temporarily decrease muscle strength, control, and stability. Dynamic stretching shows promise for enhancing athletic performance, inducing improvement in speed, agility, and muscle-force production and a reduction of injury risk. As a form of dynamic stretching, mobility workouts hold potential for positively influencing many aspects of your athletic performance and physical fitness.
Qigong: A History of Mindful Mobility
Developed over 5,000 years, Qigong is a holistic mindfulness system that aims to unlock our innate potential for health, healing, and full control over one’s own body. In addition to offering an array of breathing techniques and meditation practices, the Qigong tradition offers movements that are improve one’s overall wellbeing (Medical Qigong) and to elevate one’s mental and physical strength, as in martial arts practices (Martial Qigong, or Internal Martial Arts).
Martial arts involve performing technical movements with explosive power and precision, martial artists must develop their focus, strength, agility, balance, endurance, and mobility. With its demonstrated ability to improve physical and physiological functions, like reducing joint pain and building stamina and strength, Chinese martial artists have been practicing Qigong to elevate their potential for centuries.
When Should I Add Qigong to My Workouts?
As an effective mobility workout, Qigong can be woven into your physical training in three effective ways:
Though it can feel tempting to skip warming up, your pre-workout routine can actually ensure your best performance and reduce your risk of injury. A proper warm-up prepares your body for what’s coming by gradually raising your heart rate, elevating muscle temperature, dilating your blood vessels, improving range of motion, and oxygenating your entire body.
Warm Up with Dragon Qigong: Warming up ideally engages your whole body. As a whole-body movement that addresses lower back pain (which you may have after a day of sitting), Dragon Qigong is one of many Qigong exercises that you can use to effectively improve your mobility and prepare your body for physical activity. By concentrically and eccentrically activated your psoas (a hip flexor and deep postural muscle that connects your spine to your thigh), Dragon Qigong can effectively counterbalance the negative impact of sitting.
Cool-downs are a necessary step that allows you to minimise stress on your body by gradually normalising your cardiovascular system, hormones, and muscle length and tension. Skipping your cool-down can cause dizziness, tension, and, long-term, mobility reduction.
Cool Down with Leopard Qigong: As an active, yet calming compound movement, Leopard Qigong activates the liver meridian and supports the diffusion of intense emotions, like anger and frustration. This dynamic stretch also targets the inner thighs, groins, and obliques–areas of the body that may get left out of traditional stretching.
While passive recovery is synonymous with inactivity (and can be essential in the case of certain injuries), active recovery gets your blood flowing with low-impact and low-intensity activity and mobility exercises, such as Qigong.
Tiger Qigong for Active Recovery: In addition to promoting mobility in the hips, Tiger Qigong can help promote mobility in the shoulders, biceps, and chest. With an emphasis on opening the lungs, Tiger Qigong uses a powerful breathing technique that supports another key element to any and every type of physical activity: proper breathing.
Once learned, the mobility workouts contained in the Qigong tradition can help you maximise your physical performance, mental fortitude, and overall well-being. For the latest on how you can enhance your fitness journey, explore our mobility hub and check out our blog. To take your mobility know-how to the next level, explore our online courses or join us for an upcoming in-person training.