Strength training and aerobic exercises are familiar practices in the world of Western fitness — and for good reason. Each offer athletes and fitness enthusiasts numerous benefits, from helping to build strong muscles and bones, to supporting the heart and lungs. But while these are important elements to support overall fitness, there’s another aspect that’s rapidly gaining traction and popularity — mobility. Through this guide, we’ll break down exactly what mobility is, and explain why it should be your next fitness goal.
What is mobility?
To understand what mobility is, it’s important to outline the differences between mobility and flexibility. Flexibility refers both to the ability of a muscle to be stretched (called extensibility) and how far a joint can move through its range of motion (ROM), either passively or with assistance. Mobility, on the other hand, refers to your ability to actively move your body to various positions using your own dynamic neuromuscular strength and control. Put simply, flexibility considers how far a muscle or joint can move, while mobility considers how well the components of your musculoskeletal system (muscles, joints, and connective tissues) are able to participate in various ranges of motion.
Functional mobility refers to your ability to adapt to your environment and complete the tasks in your everyday life — such as picking up your child, reaching up to put your groceries in the cupboard, getting up from a chair, and regaining balance after you’ve tripped over a shoelace. When your musculoskeletal tissues are able to functionally move through diverse ranges and adapt to various situations with fluidity and control, your body is better able to handle the increased physical effort that’s required to maximize your athletic potential.
Healthy, functional, and pain-free mobility can be enhanced through varied joint movements and muscle contractions, loading your body through weight-bearing activities, and coordinating multiple body parts and systems through multiple planes of movement. As it teaches diverse, coordinated, and multi-planar movements for the entire body, Qigong offers mobility exercises that can help you improve your functional mobility, elevate your athletic performance, and achieve your fitness goals.
Benefits of mobility exercises
Balance and coordination
By simultaneously engaging multiple muscle groups through multi-planar movement, mobility exercises help you improve your inter-muscular coordination, balance, and proprioception (knowing where your body is in space). In addition to allowing you to experience your body as a connected and integrated system, mobility exercises can help you improve your movement efficiency, increase your overall ROM capacity, and elevate your ability to move with trust and confidence.
Overall strength and active recovery
Whether your preferred activity is running, golfing or something else entirely, you’ll repeat similar movement patterns as you train or compete (think about the repetitive movement of a golf swing). Though repetition of particular movements is essential for you to perform your chosen physical activity or sport, staying exclusively within a particular movement pattern can inhibit your overall performance capacity and make you prone to overuse injuries. Because they break the cycle of your regular training routine, mobility exercises can help you build strength in under utilized muscle groups, develop control in different ranges of motion, and still enjoy activity on well-earned recovery days.
Injury prevention and recovery
Experiencing an injury can derail your training plan, and even bring physical activity to a complete halt. When it comes to sports and fitness, overuse or exercising is one major cause of injury. Because they diversify your movement patterns and develop numerous physical capacities, mobility exercises can help you to prevent future injury. As they promote ROM and place a low to moderate load on the body, many mobility exercises — when performed correctly — are also a great exercising to help your body slowly recover from an injury, nursing you back to health by building up much-needed muscle strength.
Qigong: an exercise for lifelong mobility
The time-honoured tradition of Qigong has long taught how mobility is a movement capacity that can boost your physical performance and enhance your quality of life. In addition to helping you improve your posture, mood, and mental faculties, White Tiger Qigong teaches a comprehensive movement system that can help you improve your functional mobility, balance, coordination, breath capacity, core strength, cardiovascular fitness, and overall physical conditioning.
A signature feature of White Tiger Qigong, is that it trains the practitioner to become flexible, strong and fluid all at the same time. In its dynamic form, Qigong encompasses exercises from balancing and deep stretching in low stances, to spinal twists that are most often derived from animal forms and dragon movements. Each of these exercises engages muscles that can support and enhance mobility. Once you have even a few Qigong techniques mastered, you will be ready to incorporate mobility training into your regular fitness regime.
Try these Qigong exercises in your next workout
Taken from 5 Element Qigong by Qigong master Tevia Feng, this stance teaches athletes new ways to promote mobility by mimicking a snake’s movements. This involves deep twisting and coiling of the body, gently pushing your mobility to new limits and raising your willpower. The snake, moving like water through grass, is known to be clever and nimble, yet soft and flowing. The more you practice these slow yet powerful movements, the more your body will transform to flow and move more easily.
Tiger descends the mountain
With a focus on crouching, breathing, and balance, this stance effectively strengthens the hamstrings, quadriceps, and buttocks. It requires strong leg action through all of the four quadrants, as well as promoting shoulder and back fascia mobility. You can find more about this exercise by reading 5 Animals Qigong, by Qigong master Tevia Feng.
Deer slaps its legs
Trying this Qigong movement from 5 Animals Qigong, by Tevia Feng will target and engage the entire body, including hips, core, and legs. It is especially effective for strengthening hip mobility, which is easily restricted and can often hinder workouts. During the movement, as the weight transfers to the back leg, it allows a deep stretch to open up the hip flexor. The psoas and leg muscles are also stretched and strengthened throughout this stance.
Like mindfulness, mobility is developed through the routine practice of methodical techniques. Visit our blog, or browse our ebooks and online courses to learn how Qigong improves your mobility and overall fitness today.