The Glory that is Mobility Work
Updated: Aug 21, 2020
And Why it is Important for Performers
A few years ago, while I was scrolling Instagram, I discovered the wonder that is MOBILITY work and my life was forever changed. What is "mobility" you ask?
Mobility- the ability of a joint to move through a range of motion.
So, how is mobility different than flexibility?
Flexibility- the ability of a muscle to lengthen.
Flexibility is a component of mobility--muscles must lengthen in order for a joint to move in full range. However, it is not the only component.
The goal of mobility work is to move through a full range of motion to increase strength at the end of that range of motion. What this does is strengthen our joints, preventing injury.
Mobility acquires muscle strength to increase range of motion. By moving through exercises in a slow and controlled manner, muscles must contract at end range, training the nervous system to produce more force. I repeat, mobility is not just muscles stretching to allow movement, but also the capacity at which a joint moves within it's joint capsule. Mobility takes into account motor control, which is the responsibility of the nervous system.
I like to think of mobility in reference to ballet. What is it that allows a ballerina to gracefully hold their leg up in the air? While the flexibility of their hamstring is part of the equation, the mobility of their hips is a huge factor. The ballerina has trained their muscles around their hip joint to safely control motion to that extent. Many dancers can hold their leg up to their head using their hands--they have flexible hamstrings. But fewer dancers can actually hold their leg up that high WITHOUT the use of their hands. The same concept can be applied to an arabesque, rond de jambe en l'air, simply holding a passe, and many other ballet movements.
Why is Mobility Work Important for All Performers?
We as people spend a lot of time in static positions with poor posture, sitting at our computers, on our phones, or in front of TV's. Even the way we sit on the sidelines at rehearsal while we wait to be used isn't great (I'm a floor sitter, and therefore, I sit in a hunched position often). As a result, our bodies get tight and become used to a lack of range-of-motion and activation of certain muscles.
Once our bodies become accustomed to this stiffness, when we go to do certain activities like dance, workout, move set pieces, participate in stage combat, operate a puppet etc., we risk loading muscles that aren't meant to be responsible for that movement (we compensate), and we risk pain and injury.
We need to counter this effect with mobility work. Further more, mobility work can give us greater proficiency in the movement we desire to do, making us stronger and more versatile performers.
How to Incorporate Mobility Into Your Routine
Just 10-15 minutes of mobility work every day can prevent injury. It can be something you do when you wake up in the morning or before you go to bed. Additionally, mobility work can (and should) be done before a workout to increase range of motion, stabilize joints, and therefore help you make gains at the gym. Lastly, mobility work is amazing to do as your warm up before a performance. Better than passive stretching, with mobility work you will be activating muscles and increasing range of motion--allowing yourself to give your performance everything you've got without having to worry about possible injury.
When performing mobility work, it is important to move slowly and deliberately. Controlled movement is what allows that muscle contraction and helps the nervous system adapt to that range.
Some examples of mobility exercises include neck circles, shoulder circles, thoracic spine twists, cat/cow, 90/90 hip rotations, controlled ankle flexion, (and so many more).
Don't know where to start? I demonstrate a few examples in this Instagram post:
Be sure to follow The Broadway Bod on Instagram for more mobility exercises, workouts, and other health and fitness tidbits for actors, singers, and dancers!
Now go forth, be healthy, and break a leg!