Training with Mobility: Assessing Movement and Performance

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Soldier runs on treadmill
A soldier from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, runs on a modified treadmill during the Holistic Health and Fitness training course at a gym at Fort Drum, N.Y., Jan. 24, 2020. (Pvt. Anastasia Rakowsky/27th Public Affairs Detachment)

Adding a mobility day is a no brainer for those of you who train hard, focus on your performance in tactical professions (military, police, fire) and are starting to acquire several years of very active service. 

However, mobility and flexibility are two often misunderstood, neglected and hastened elements of fitness.  Here are several ways to incorporate mobility and flexibility during the warmup, workout and cooldown phases of your exercise sessions. 

You can add these recommendations quickly and without eating up what seems to be the number one reason why mobility and flexibility training (aka dynamic and static stretching) are often neglected -- lack of time.

Warmup phase: Obviously warming up before exercise is required. However, it depends on what you are doing as a workout when it comes to types of warmup exercises that need to be done.  Remember the goal is to get warmed up for the exercise that is in the near future of your training day.

During workout phase: Depending upon the activity, you might have some time to add in mobility and stretching into the workout as rest sets or preparing for a new movement. For instance, doing some deep third-world squatting between leg workout sets is a good hip mobility drill as well as leg, hip and lower back stretching exercises.

Cooldown phase: Typically an easier and less intense version of your activity makes for a great cooldown section. However, you also can transition into the pool after a tough lift, PT or run/ruck to cool down and focus on technique and skills of the pool. This is an easier workout but necessary, depending upon the activities you are training for (military selection, etc.).

If you are running -- Start off with a five-minute bike ride or walk and jog, mixed with some squats and lunges, to loosen tight muscles and joints -- especially if you're just waking up or after sitting for longer periods of time than usual. Your workout actually can have sections of mobility and flexibility thrown into it to reinforce full range of motion or movement of joints that will require more flexible and pliable muscles. Adding quick movement exercises will help the warmup as well as your mobility and flexibility. Personally, a 25-yard jog, with a variety of dynamic stretches mixed with a squat pyramid from 1-5 or 10, will yield a great warmup and get the legs ready to run (as well as do added leg PT, hills or intervals).  A squat pyramid is defined as: 1 squat -- run 25 yards (on a basketball or tennis court or field) 2 squats -- run 25 yards … keep going up to 5 or 10 squats with runs/dynamic movements in between. * Note -- Make sure each of these squats are slow and deliberate, full range of motion, and the runs can be progressively faster or add in the dynamic stretches such as butt kickers, leg swings, hip openers, etc.

If sprinting and doing fast intervals, stay focused on fast movements and dynamic stretches during the workout.  You always can cool down with light, static stretching.

A cooldown section can be a combination of an easy jog, walk, biking and light, static stretching. Swimming and treading or running in water is a better way to recover from the gravity of running/rucking and sprints and intervals.

If you are lifting or PTing -- You still want to get the blood flowing, especially from the heart to the muscles being worked.  Adding in a bike warmup for 5-10 minutes on leg day or rowing or an elliptical machine on upper-body lift days make logical sense. Follow with some no-weight calisthenics such as squats and lunges or slow deep steps on a flight of stairs to loosen the legs further for lifting. 

The above squat pyramid is another option. If working upper body, you can replace the squats with push-ups but make each set of push-ups start and end with a toe touch, move into the down dog position and hold the stretch for a few seconds, then do your pyramid set of push-ups -- return back to standing in reverse order. This extra movement only takes a few seconds but is ideal for adding in mobility work for your shoulders, hips and ankles.

If you do not have a place to run, you can replace the run with 10 jumping jacks or 10-20 jump rope swings like this:

Repeat 3-5 times

Jumping jacks or ropes 10-20

Push-ups or squat 10

For lifting preparation, the calisthenics version or a very light weight of the lift is an ideal exercise for warmup using full range of motion, good form, and balance and stability. This brings to mind the TRX suspension trainer, which also can be used for what is actually a lighter version of the squat as well as exercises for the chest, arms, shoulders and core as well.

Lighter and easier versions of themselves -- Some warmups can just be a less intense version of the exercise you are about to undertake for long periods of time. Take swimming, for instance. If you are about to do a swim practice of several thousand meters, you typically will warm up with some easy paced swimming with some light stretches and movements of the arms, legs, shoulders and hips to prepare fully for the workout. Finishing off the workout with an easy swim cooldown, followed by some static stretching, is ideal to continue the cooldown process and start the recovery process for tomorrow’s swim workout.  

At the end of the day -- After the day is done and you have mixed in hours of sitting for work or driving, or significant labor, as well as a fairly aggressive workout, you need to stretch and foam-roll. Stretch from head to toe and learn how to use the foam roller -- often called the poor man’s masseuse.  This 10-minute exercise in mobility and flexibility is key to pain-free movement.

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