Mobility is a buzzword that's being thrown around pretty often these days. Most of us think it's interchangeable with flexibility and that stretching on a regular basis will make you more mobile, which will in turn improve your overall fitness, especially in the weight room. But Vishal Kumar, B.S., multicertified trainer, functional movement expert, and general manager at Epic Hybrid Training Center in San Francisco, is here to set the record straight.
"I define mobility as strength through flexibility and fluidity of the joints. It's the ability to actively control your joints through all ranges of motion and really own that end range of motion," Vishal told POPSUGAR. "This requires a person to communicate with their body and recruit strength through a full-body isometric contraction (also known as irradiation) and use that strength to move the joint or body through whatever capacity that area is designed to have."
That means the classic stretching we're used to doesn't actually create comprehensive mobility in the body. "Typically, the thought process is that passively stretching means you are getting mobile. However, when something is done passively, then it lacks control," he continued. "It can actually be more harmful for the body because now there is a new passive range that a person may try and load yet may not be able to control that position, and this is where injury can occur."
In other words, if you passively stretch your hamstrings (like this seated straddle) over and over again and think you've become more flexible, you might injure yourself the next time you try to deadlift a heavier weight because that range of motion isn't ready to actively accept a heavy load.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't stretch at all, though. "Passive stretching does have some benefits and plays a role when looking to gain active mobility, but it shouldn't be the focus of most people and their training," Vishal explained. Isometric contractions are a better way to successfully increase your mobility. "For example, if you have a shoulder that should be able to rotate all the way around because it's a ball-and-socket joint, then making sure it is able to achieve that rotation without any other body part helping should be the goal," he said. "This is a very isolated approach to mobility training, but the more detailed the approach, the easier for the body to move efficiently as a whole."
When working on his own mobility rather than passive stretching, Vishal uses a "flow-based structure, which integrates the whole body through different positions I can move and breathe through." He added, "Whether you're looking to move a barbell or move apartments, you would want the foundations of your body to be strong so you can lift and move things with the most prepared version of [your] physical self."