10 Moves To Improve Full-Body Range Of Motion

Mobility training is finally getting the credit it deserves, and we’re here for it. Not only does it allow you to move more freely and comfortably, but it also comes with a slew of major rewards like injury prevention, muscle activation, and decreased tightness. What I’m trying to say is, mobility exercises are worth your time.

Simply put, mobility is the ability to move your body freely and easily, says physical therapist Amy Hutson, DPT, of SSM Health Physical Therapy. “Without mobility, we can be limited with our performance in day-to-day activities,” says Hutson. So, not only does it affect the ability to engage in essential things like getting dressed and taking a shower, but how much range your joints have also impacts recreational activities like hiking, swimming, or dancing.

Mobility is not the same as flexibility or stability, FYI. The three are related, and you can’t excel at one if you’re neglecting the others. But it’s important to understand the differences.

Flexibility means the body can achieve a certain position, says certified strength and conditioning specialist India McPeak. Think of flexibility as a passive range of motion, like lengthening your muscles in a static stretch. Stability, on the other hand, is the ability to maintain a desired position or movement, explains McPeak. Think of stability like holding a plank steady, maintaining a hip bridge, or balancing on one foot.

Oh, and BTW: Anyone and everyone can benefit from mobility training, says Winnie Yu, DPT, CSCS, a physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City. “You don’t have to be experiencing pain or stiffness to start working on your mobility,” she explains. “Mobility training is a great way to improve your overall joint and muscular health and can help keep you feeling better, more fluid, and less prone to injuries down the road.”

Now that you know mobility is clutch, here’s a complete workout to boost mobility and all the benefits you’ll gain, according to trainers.

Meet the experts: India McPeak, CSCS, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, former collegiate gymnast, and currently working on her masters in sports and exercise nutrition. Amy Hutson, DPT, is a physical therapist at SSM Health Physical Therapy, where she focuses on manual therapy, women’s health, and more. Winnie Yu, DPT, CSCS, is a sports & orthopedic specialist and a physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City.

Benefits Of Mobility Training

  1. It’s easy to practice. Maintaining mobility is so simple. Think of mobility as little movements that can be incorporated into your daily routine. “It’s like a movement snack,” says McPeak. Incorporate a few moves when you wake up, during your lunch break, or before bed to keep your body strong, healthy, and pain-free.
  2. It helps minimize your risk of injury. Investing in mobility will reduce your risk of injury, improve joint health, reduce muscle soreness, and speed up the recovery process. “Without mobility, our bodies may not move optimally and can then put us at higher risk of injury,” says Hutson. Breakdown (aka injury) typically occurs at areas above and below a region with limited mobility, explains Hutson. When you lack mobility in one area of your body, other muscles work overtime.
  3. It can help improve strength. Mobility significantly helps improve overall strength, says McPeak. Your body’s freedom to move with maximum range of motion will increase the quality of your training. For example, by improving hip mobility you can achieve a deeper squat with proper form, which ultimately results in building muscle (it’s a win-win situation).

    10 Best Mobility Exercises To Improve Range Of Motion

    Mobility training can be done any time, but McPeak suggests completing this 10-move routine as a pre-workout warm-up to prep your body for conditioning. Alternatively, you can use it as a cooldown after a tough training sesh to reduce muscle soreness and speed up recovery.

    And remember, consistency is key. “The more frequently you practice mobility, the more improvements you’ll see,” says McPeak. As little as five to ten minutes a day will help you progress, she explains. Whether you complete the entire routine at once or break up different moves throughout the day, making time for mobility is well worth it.

    So, if you’re a mobility newbie or looking to further your progress, try out these 10 exercises for a complete routine, provided by McPeak and Yu.

    Instructions: Complete the full mobility circuit 2-3 times.

    1. World’s Greatest Stretch

      How to:

      1. Start in a high plank position with a flat back and wrists under shoulders.
      2. Step right foot forward and plant it outside of right hand to achieve a deep lunge position. Left knee can be straight or slightly bent resting down on the mat.
      3. Lift the right hand from the mat, bend the right elbow, and reach the left forearm down toward the mat between the right foot and left hand.
      4. Hold position for a second. Rotate trunk towards the right and reach the right hand toward the sky. Hold this position for a second.
      5. That’s 1 rep. Repeat sequence for 8-10 reps on same side.
      6. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.

      2. 90/90 Hip Switch

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        How to:

        1. Sit up straight with your legs slightly wider that hip-width apart and both knees bent at 90-degrees.
        2. Keep your heels on the floor (in the same position) and rotate your knees from side to side. (For an added challenge, hold your arms straight in front of you.)
        3. Maintain an upright posture as you move your knees and focus on movement from the hips. Complete 6 reps on each side.

        3. Cat Cows

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        How to:

        1. Start on your hands and knees with hands shoulder-width apart and knees directly below hips.
        2. Inhale as you pull your belly button to your spine and curve your lower back. Hold this “cow” position for 2-3 seconds.
        3. Slowly transition to the “cat” position by arching your back and looking up to the sky. Hold the “cat” position for 2-3 seconds. Complete 8 reps in each position.

        4. Downward Dog Hip Opener

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          How to:

          1. Come into a plank position to start with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and hands.
          2. Push back from your hands and hike your hips up to bring yourself into a downward dog position.
          3. Bend your left knee in towards your chest, then lift your left leg up and back behind you.
          4. Open up from your hip, letting your left foot fall towards your right glute. Reverse the movement to return to start. Repeat on the other side. That’s one rep. Compete eight reps.

          5. Half Kneeling Adductor Rock

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            How to:

            1. Start in a half kneeling position, left leg in front of you with the knee bent and left foot planted on ground, right knee resting on the ground either directly beneath your torso, or slightly behind you, with an approximately 90-degree bend.
            2. Step left foot out to the left and place hands on hips. Shift hips toward the left and weight onto your left foot.
            3. Hold this position for 1-2 seconds before returning to center.
            4. Repeat for 8-12 times on this side. With each repetition, try to shift the hips a bit deeper into the range.
            5. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.

              6. Thread The Needle

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                How to:

                1. Begin on all fours.
                2. Lift your right arm up towards the ceiling while keeping your gaze on your hand as you move.
                3. Then bring it back down and “thread the needle” in between your left hand and left knee, dropping your right shoulder towards the ground.
                4. Immediately reverse the movement for another rep. Complete six reps, then repeat on the other side.

                    7. Achilles Opener

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                      How to:

                      1. Start in a standing position with both feet hip-width apart and your head facing straight-on.
                      2. Step right leg back and slightly bend your left knee, raising both hands over your head in a straight line.
                      3. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs. You should feel this stretch in the back of your legs, primarily in your achilles area.

                        8. Thoracic Extension

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                          How to:

                          1. Lie on a foam roller with it positioned perpendicularly to torso, under upper back with feet flat on the floor.
                          2. Clasp hands behind head and lift hips off the ground.
                          3. Gently allow upper back to extend back over the roller. Only go as far as is comfortable—this stretch shouldn’t be painful.
                          4. Hold the stretch for a few seconds. That’s 1 rep.
                          5. Repeat for 10 reps, holding in different sections on the foam roller.

                            9. Figure 4 Windshield Wipers

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                            How to:

                            1. Start lying on the floor with both arms relaxed at your sides, legs straight.
                            2. Bend your left knee and place your foot flat on the floor.
                            3. Lift your right leg off the ground and place the right ankle on your left thigh.
                            4. Slowly lower your legs down toward the left until your left thigh touches the floor, or until the point of tolerance. Hold for two seconds.
                            5. Slowly rotate your legs toward the right until your right thigh touches the floor, or until the point of tolerance. Hold two seconds. Complete 8 reps on each side.

                            Pro tip:
                            Keep the motions slow and controlled as you try to go deeper into the range of motion.

                              10. Sky Squat Reaches

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                              How to:

                              1. Starting in a standing position, feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, and slowly lower down to a deep squat.Keep both heels and forefoot on the ground and reach across the body with your left hand and hold your right ankle.

                              2. Reach your right arm up and away toward the ceiling and rotate the torso toward the right. Your gaze should follow the right arm. Hold for two seconds, then return to the center position. Complete 8 reps on each side.

                              How To Track Mobility Progress

                              While it’s not as easy to quantify mobility as stats like running pace, you can assess your progress and check in with your body regularly to monitor developments with or without a pro. Measuring your mobility can highlight areas that are *chef’s kiss* and where you may need some extra help.

                              1. Work with a trainer. They can conduct a mobility assessment and give you personalized tips.
                              2. Film yourself doing a variety of exercises. The recording can help you visually track movement progress. Watch your movement patterns over the course of a few weeks. If you see (and feel) a difference in range of motion, you’re on the right track.
                              3. Keep a workout journal. On the days you exercise, write down how your bod feels, recommends Hutson. Consider the following questions and answer honestly: What can and can’t you do? How does a specific movement pattern feel? Sometimes one move can unlock a new mobility level, so it’s important to gauge how you’re feeling and work on a variety of exercises.

                              Frequently Asked Questions

                              What is mobility training?

                                “Mobility training is a type of exercise that develops your ability to control your body through the full range of motion available at each joint,” says Yu. “This can be in an isolated manner by focusing on one joint area at a time, or in a more gross manner by targeting multiple joints at the same time.”

                                To break it down a bit more, mobility training allows you to temporarily improve range of motion, blood flow to the muscle groups surrounding the targeted joints, and neuromuscular control through the full range of motion within the joint(s), says Yu. “In our daily lives, due to our occupation, our lifestyle habits, or our sport, we can become more or less mobile in certain areas,” she explains. As a result, it’s easy to lose range of motion in your hips, back, and shoulders, so it’s crucial to incorporate mobility work to counteract these negative effects, she adds.

                                Is there a link between mobility and aging?

                                  As you age, your body will change, says Yu. Your joints may become less lubricated, your cartilage may thin, and your tendons may become less elastic, all of which can lead to symptoms of stiffness and/or reduce your available range of motion, she explains. But by keeping on top of consistent movement and working on mobility as part of your normal routine, you may be able to reduce the extent and speed at which your body changes, she adds.

                                  What’s the difference between mobility and stretching?

                                    Both mobility and stretching are forms of stretching, says Yu. “One is just dynamic with a strength component and the other is a static hold, but both can lead to overall benefits in your musculoskeletal health,” she explains.

                                    Mobility exercises challenge your body to maintain control through a targeted range of motion, and when done consistently, they can make positive changes to your long-term joint and muscular health, says Yu. Stretching is more passive and is when you hold a position where the muscle is lengthened which inhibits muscle contraction and allows the muscle to relax and become further stretched, she explains.

                                    What exercise is best for mobility?

                                      There’s no one best exercise for mobility, says Yu. “If a specific joint area feels more tight or restricted, you can choose mobility exercises that better isolate that area, but if you want to improve your overall mobility, you can choose more full-body moves,” she explains. “Incorporating a well-rounded routine (like the one above!), that encompasses mobility moves for each of the major body areas is much more functional and beneficial than just choosing a singular exercise.”

                                      How much mobility work do I need?

                                        There’s no real harm in doing more frequent mobility work, says Yu. “Even if you started your mornings or ended your evenings with a daily mobility workout, it can only help,” she explains. However, if you’re new to mobility training, Yu recommends starting with two to three mobility sessions a week and building your way up to four times a week.

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                                        Andi Breitowich is a Chicago-based writer and graduate student at Northwestern Medill. She’s a mass consumer of social media and cares about women’s rights, holistic wellness, and non-stigmatizing reproductive care. As a former collegiate pole vaulter, she has a love for all things fitness and is currently obsessed with Peloton Tread workouts and hot yoga.