Ushering into this New Year, people bring with them a hoard of resolutions, many of which involve elaborate exercise regimens and a new gym membership. Plans to bulk up or lean down, to walk more or lift heavy; people are hyper fixated on their bodies and more specifically, on their physiques. Unfortunately, as most people see exercise as a means to their ideal body shape and size, mobility — one of the most important and fundamental aspects of fitness — is often neglected.
Mobility is the reason we are able to get in and out of chairs, climb stairs, walk around and generally move throughout life. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), mobility is the cornerstone of fitness. Mobility training has even been shown to increase joint health and cardiovascular health. Many people confuse mobility with flexibility and while they are similar, they should not be used interchangeably.
Velocity Sports Performance defines flexibility as “the ability of a muscle to be lengthened,” while mobility is “the ability of a joint to move through a range of motion.” In other words, a typical test of flexibility would be to bend over and touch your toes with your legs straight, whereas a test of mobility would be to get up off the floor without using your hands. Flexibility is more of a passive stretch and mobility is an active motion; both are extremely important for a healthy, functioning body. However, mobility requires strength and motor control, the basis of all movement, while flexibility does not.
It might be difficult for younger generations to think of mobility training as necessary or applicable to them — it’ll be decades before they have trouble getting out of chairs or being old and in pain, right? Wrong. You can be young and suffer from pain caused by limited mobility. Roger Frampton, movement coach and author of the book, “The Flexible Body: Move Better Anywhere Anytime in 10 Minutes a Day” details his own experience with movement training.
Frampton, having grown up in the Arnold Schwarzenegger generation, started his fitness journey wanting to be as muscular as possible. He was in the gym five days a week lifting weights like his life depended on it and as you can imagine, became insanely strong. When his career path took a turn into modeling, transitioned into body-weight training to become leaner.
Even though he was the picture of fitness, he was plagued by constant muscle tightness and chronic pain. He tried a number of therapies, but none of them helped. It wasn’t until he took an adult gymnastics class that the lightbulb went on.
“Here was this young girl in a class filled with kids just like her, doing gymnastics next to our adult class. She and all her classmates were able to move their bodies in ways that we adults couldn’t,” Frampton said in his book. “I sat there on the floor in this daze, exhausted from my shocking attempts at an exercise called a Bridge and tried to cast my mind back to six-year-old Roger. I wonder: would six-year-old Roger be better at this than me? And if he were better, what had happened between then and now?”
That was the genesis of Frampton’s journey into “human movement.” Movements that all humans should be able to do, that we were born naturally doing and that we need to start doing again. One example of a “human movement” is the squat, also called the Asian squat or deep squat. For children and many individuals from Asian countries, this position is natural, comfortable even. Yet for Americans, it’s an exercise.
When you combine that with the 65 million Americans reporting episodes of back pain and 16 million reporting chronic back pain, it’s clear that there’s something wrong with our way of moving or lack thereof.
Especially in college, being a student involves long hours of sitting in front of a laptop. Studies have shown that sitting for prolonged periods of time can lead to a host of health issues, among them lower back pain and spinal issues. When sitting, the hip flexors tighten and core stabilizers weaken, putting the spine under extra stress. Mobility drills can help reverse the damaging effects of sitting.
Recently, new fitness trends have propelled mobility training to a much wider audience. The ‘Hip Mobility Challenge’ popularized by TikTok has been actively spreading awareness about the importance of unrestricted, pain free range of motion. It’s a step in the right direction.
There’s nothing wrong with working out to look and feel better. Having a workout routine that keeps you active, whether it’s the gym, a sport or simply walking outside, is a great way to keep your body healthy and happy. But when it comes to mobility: if you don’t use it, you lose it. Our hips and backs are fine now, but without proper care they won’t stay like that forever. It’s an investment that your body will thank you for.
Melody Muniz is a senior from Miami, Fla. majoring in creative writing and double minoring in dance and communications.