Mobility exercises improve range of motion, and athletic performance, and reduce the risk of joint pain and injury. Whether you’re an active person or want to become one, you may want to add mobility exercises to your routine.
How to make it happen? It’s not that difficult, actually. Scroll down to learn more about beginner mobility routine.
Leg mobility exercises
There are several mobility exercises that target your legs in particular. Some of the best choices include:
- Ankle mobility exercise
- Leg swings
- Bulgarian split squat
- Soleus mobilization exercise
- Knee pull
- Lunge stretch
- Walking spiderman
Below, you can see how to perform each exercise.
Ankle mobility exercise
The two most important benefits of ankle mobility exercise are fall prevention and better execution of exercises such as jumping jacks and deadlifts. Ankle mobility exercise helps you reduce the risk of injuries and helps you take your workouts to a new level. After all, strong and stable ankles are crucial for everything you want to do.
To perform ankle mobility exercises, you need to:
- Stand straight facing the wall
- Place hands on the wall to get more support
- Move into a tip-toe position and then rock back onto the heels
- Do 10 to 12 reps
Leg swings work thighs, calves, and ankles and contribute to developing mobility in these areas. There are many ways to perform leg swings. Here’s how to perform them in their easiest form:
- Stand straight parallel to something that supports your weight e.g. a wall
- Place one hand onto the surface
- Raise the right leg out to the side so that only your left foot is on the ground
- Start swinging the right leg to the front and back
- Do 10 to 12 reps then switch sides and do it with the other leg
TIP: For extra challenge stand with arms out wide, instead of using something to support your weight. Also, you can lie down on the ground and swing your legs through exercises such as flutter kicks or leg raises. While these exercises seem simple, they are challenging and also engage your core, especially lower abdomen.
Bulgarian split squat
Squats are among the best exercises you can do for flexibility, range of motion, toning your body, and other effects. The best thing about them is that there are many squat variations you can do. For mobility routine, you may benefit the most from Bulgarian split squat. Not only does Bulgarian split squat work leg muscles, but also core and glutes. To do a Bulgarian split squat, you need to:
- Stand straight with feet hip-width apart about two feet in front of a bench or sturdy chair
- Extend the right foot backward and place it on a bench or chair making sure your feet are still hip-width apart and your left foot straight
- Lower the right knee downward and bend the left knee so that your left thigh is parallel to the ground
- Return to the starting position
- Do 10 reps and three sets and switch sides so that the opposite knee is lowered downard
Soleus mobilization exercise
The soleus is a muscle of the calf and it’s located beneath the gastrocnemius muscle. The main functions of the soleus muscle are to act as a skeletal and postural muscle at the same time. Together with other calf muscles, the soleus is a pantaflexor that enables us to run, walk, or dance. Plus, it prevents the body during stance from falling forward at the ankle.
The main purpose of soleus mobilization exercise is to support normal range of motion of this muscle, particularly because it often gets restricted and doesn’t allow you to bend at the ankles and perform squats or lunges.
Here’s how to do the soleus mobilization exercise:
- Start in a staggered stance (feet spread hip-width apart, but back foot is in line behind the heel of the front foot)
- Make a move like you’re about to sit back so that the knee of the back leg comes in the front and the ankle feels a little stretch (you shouldn’t feel pain, though)
- Lean forward to make sure the hips are in the center
- Straighten the back leg and repeat
- Perform this exercise for one to two minutes then do the opposite side
Although knee pull is a stretch exercise, it’s a great addition to the mobility program. With regular knee pull practice, you can reduce the risk of injuries. In order to perform this simple exercise for stretching and building strength, you need to:
- Stand straight with feet hip-width apart
- Slowly lift the right leg toward the chest
- Hold the knee as close to the chest as possible with your hands
- Remain in this position for a few seconds then release
- Switch sides
Lunge stretch lengthens and improves flexibility of hip flexors in the psoas muscle. You have these muscles on each side of the body. Hip flexors are tight in many people due to sitting for long periods. Tight hips muscles have a limited range of motion and are more susceptible to injury.
Here’s how to perform this important hip mobility exercise:
- Stand straight with right foot forward and left leg and foot back
- Bend the right knee so that the thigh is parallel to the ground i.e. get into a forward lunge position
- Place your hands on the right knee
- Start pressing down the hands to drive the hips forward until you feel a slight stretch in the left thigh
- Stay in this position for 20 to 30 minutes
- Switch sides
Walking Spiderman is an excellent mobility exercise that works leg muscles including calves and hamstrings, but also activates the glutes and core. Here’s how to perform this exercise:
- Start in the plank position
- Begin crawling by moving forward right hand and left knee
- Repeat the process with the opposite leg and the opposite arm
- Do 10 to 12 reps with one leg and then the other
Upper body mobility exercises
Building mobility in the upper body can offer greater diversity in other workouts that you are trying to perform. These exercises help to improve the activation of muscles and significantly enhance flexibility in the arms and other parts of the upper body. You may also experience a reduction in joint pain, soreness, and your risk of suffering future injuries. Not only are these static stretches and other exercises beneficial for people who want to increase activity levels, but they’re also useful for active men and women.
If you’re lifting weights, especially heavy weights, you may want to start with mobility fitness routine. The reason is simple, weightlifting increases the levels of lactic acid which increases stress and tension. Mobility exercises are beneficial for your connective tissues as well.
You can use these exercises to work on your overall upper body mobility:
- Horizontal adduction stretch
- External rotation stretch
- Bicep brachii stretch
- Levator scapulae muscle stretch
- Trapezius muscle stretch
- Towel stretch for rotation
- Pectoral stretch
Below, you can see how to perform these exercises.
Horizontal adduction stretch
With this exercise, you can improve shoulder flexibility. Horizontal adduction stretch is also beneficial for people with shoulder pain. Additionally, this exercise makes it easier to perform overhead movement and activities.
In order to perform horizontal adduction stretch, you need to:
- Sit or stand straight
- Extend the elbow to adduct the shoulder across the chest
- With the other hand grasp the adducted shoulder at the elbow area
- Make sure to pull the shoulder across the chest into a more horizontal position i.e. you need to feel a slight stretch and tension
- Switch sides
External rotation stretch
In the grand scheme of things, external rotation targets a very important muscle in the rotator cuff called the infraspinatus muscle. This particular muscle is necessary for rotating the long arm bone (humerus) away from your body. By exercising this muscle, you can add more stability and flexibility to the shoulder area. Here’s how to perform an external rotation stretch:
- Lie down on the back with 90-degree shoulder abduction
- Hold some weight in your hands (enough to produce tension in the anterior shoulder area)
- Externally rotate the shoulder
- Hold the position for a few seconds and let your hands move freely toward the ground
Bicep brachii stretch
Bicep brachii stretch is a practical exercise for increasing flexibility and full range of motion. Like other arm stretches, this one can also alleviate neck pain, and back pain, and improve your posture. You need to partner up with someone to do this exercise. Instructions are below:
- Stand straight with arms behind the back and elbows extended fully
- The other person should gently hold your hands or wrists and pull them toward themselves
- They need to pull until you feel a slight tension in the upper arm area
Levator scapulae muscle stretch
Levator scapulae muscle sits at the back and side of your neck. The main function of this muscle is to lift the scapulae i.e. shoulder blade. Exercises and movements that target levator scapulae muscle relieve sore or tight muscle, but also reduce pain and increase flexibility. To perform this shoulder mobility exercise you need to:
- Place one hand on the back of the head and the other hand on the shoulder of the side that you want to stretch
- Using a hand at the back of the head, gently push the head into flexion
- Use the other hand to gently depress the shoulder to create tension
- Switch sides
Trapezius muscle stretch
Trapezius muscle stretch can reduce tightness in the neck, which is particularly useful since many people have tension in this area due to poor posture and spending too much time using phones or computers. To perform trapezius muscle stretch you need to:
- Stand straight or sit down on a chair
- Place the right hand on the lower back with the elbow bent, there should be V or L shape behind your back when you do this
- The left hand goes on top of the head
- Engage your left hand to gently apply pressure to your head
- Gently pull the head toward the shoulder
- Stay in this position for 30 to 45 seconds
- Switch sides
Towel stretch for rotation
Towel stretch for rotation is a great way to improve the range of motion and flexibility of the shoulder. In a nutshell, this exercise combines three motions around the shoulder such as internal rotation, adduction, and extension. Here’s how to perform it:
- Sit or stand with feet shoulder-width apart
- Grasp the towel with your left hand and move the left arm in adduction and external rotation
- Try to grasp the towel with right hand behind your back
- Start stretching the towel so that you feel a slight tension in your shoulders
- Switch sides
What makes pectoral stretch an amazing addition to your mobility routine is that it lengthens chest muscles. Strong pectoral muscles improve posture and contribute to overall upper-body strength.
In order to perform this exercise you need to:
- Get into a supine position i.e. lie down face up
- Grasp one hand with another behind your head so that the neck is in a neutral position
- Allow the hands to drop down to the support surface or the ground (while still grasping one another under your head), you’ll feel mild tension in the shoulders
TIP: For an extra challenge, you may want to get someone to press your elbows gently toward the floor.
Whole-body mobility exercises
While some mobility exercises are specific to certain parts of the body, others rather focus on providing greater coverage. Whole-body mobility exercises are generally considered essential. They help to work your upper and lower body. Different mobility exercises can be used for targeting the whole body, such as these:
- Cat-Cow pose
- Alternating T-spine rotation
- Windshield wiper
Below, you can learn how to perform each exercise.
Cat-cow pose targets the neck, shoulders, spine, chest, hips, back, and abdomen. This yoga pose improves posture and balance, strengthens the spine and neck, and increases coordination. Plus, the cat and cow positions are great for people with back pain as well.
Other yoga poses can help you improve flexibility and range of motion e.g. child’s pose and downward dog. The best thing about yoga is that no equipment is necessary; you just need a yoga mat.
Here’s how to perform it:
- Get into a table pose with hands and knees on the ground
- Take a deep breath and move into cow pose by lifting the sit bones upward and pressing the chest forward so that the abdomen sinks
- Look straight ahead, lift your head and relax your shoulders
- Exhale and get into a cat pose by moving the spine outward, drawing pubic bone forward, and tucking in the tailbone
- Release the head toward the ground
Alternating T-spine rotation
Alternating T-spine rotation improves the stability of the cervical spine, thoractic spine mobility, and mid-back muscles, and improves your range of motion. There are various methods to perform alternating T-spine rotation, but as a beginner, you should start with the easiest form. You need to:
- Lie on the side of your body with the lower leg fully extended and the upper leg bent to your side at a 90-degree angle on the foam roller
- Extend the lower arm outward
- Extend the upper arm into the air
- Start rotating the top shoulder toward the ground as if you’re trying to reach something, making sure the arm is fully extended
- Then move that arm forward so that two hands touch one another
- Alternate sides
Spider exercise simply belongs to your mobility routine. It targets tons of muscle groups including pectorals, deltoids, trapezius, biceps, triceps, obliques, abdominal muscles, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, abductors, and adductors. When performed properly, spider exercise increases strength in your core and improves flexibility and range of motion in limbs, and back, provides a gentle quad stretch, you name it. Spider exercise is also beneficial for men and women with back pain.
Here’s how to perform it:
- Get into a plank position (hands on the floor shoulder-width apart, arms extended, legs behind you, feet hip-width apart)
- Push the toes of the right foot into the ground
- Raise the left foot off the ground and rotate the leg externally
- Engage the core and bring the left knee to the outside of the left elbow
- Extend one arm e.g. right arm out in front of you with your palm on the ground while the left knee is reaching the left elbow
- Keep alternating the bent knee and hand as you’re crawling or walking forward, but make sure you stay low to the ground
The windshield wiper is a fun exercise and it also improves mobility in different muscle groups. The exercise targets abdominal muscles primarily but also works the lower back and obliques. No equipment is necessary to perform this simple, yet challenging exercise. In order to do a windshield wiper, you need to:
- Lie on the back
- Extend arms straight out to the sides
- Lift the legs and bend the knees at a 90-degree angle
- Without allowing the legs to touch the ground, rotate the hips to one side with knees bent
- Lift the legs and go back to the starting position
- Rotate the hips to the other side
How many times per week should I train mobility?
There is no perfect frequency at which you should train your mobility on a weekly basis. The needs of individuals tend to differ. This is something you should keep in mind to help you determine the right frequency. It is generally advised to train your mobility movement skills at least two to three times a week. Many people will include mobility training every day they do their regular workout.
How long should my mobility sessions be?
There is usually no need to spend too much time on your mobility training routine. Many people will incorporate their mobility work with their regular exercise routine. It is, however, important to note that you should ideally start with longer sessions at first. This gives you the ability to build some initial mobility.
A good starting point for mobility exercises is around 20 minutes per session. As you build your mobility, consider decreasing the amount of time you spend on these exercises. There are many exercise routines that last for around five minutes, yet provide highly efficient results.
Mobility exercises can do wonders for your athletic performance and everyday life actually. These exercises, such as static stretching, improve flexibility, and range of motion, and reduce the risk of injuries. It’s not that difficult to incorporate them into your regular workout routine. This post focused on the best mobility exercises for beginners.
Make sure to start with exercises from this beginner’s guide today. After all, benefits of mobility exercises go beyond workouts for most people. They also extend to everyday activities that you can do with ease now.
Dr. Ahmed Zayed holds a bachelor’s degree in medicine from Alexandria university and is a practicing plastic surgeon. He’s our expert on all things nutrition, medicine, rehabilitation, and flexibility. Dr.Ahmed has been a medical content writer for more than 11 years and his work reached top publications such as the HuffingtonPost