Tuesday Q+A: What is joint mobility? by John Sifferman

Problems that joint mobility exercises can help prevent

Update: Click Here for a free joint mobility program. Why spend the next few minutes reading about it when you could spend the same few minutes EXPERIENCING it?

If you have been following along with the blog for awhile, you have probably heard me mention joint mobility exercises a few times. This little-known, yet quickly emerging method of exercise is starting to take a prominent place in some of today’s fitness programs, and it is very important for those who have limited range of motion. There have been several joint mobility programs that have been developed over the past few years, and there is a good reason why – these exercises work! I have seen joint mobility exercises prescribed as a method of rehabilitation, pre-habilitation, workout warmups, and a means of athletic enhancement. It has even been referred to as the fountain of youth. This brief article will explain what joint mobility is, why it’s important for your training goals, and how you can get started using joint mobility exercises today.

Think of how well kids move when they’re at the playground – swinging, leaping, and climbing all come naturally to children. Would you think I’m crazy if I told you it is our birthright as adults to move with this same amount of freedom as super-active kids? As we grow older, and stop moving around as much, our body actually forgets how to move. The good news is that this process is completely reversible through highly-accessible, low tech, and easy to implement joint mobility exercises.

Movement is one of the first, integral steps to any physical goal. Having full, healthy range of motion at each joint is imperative to staying injury-free and maximizing our performance in recreation and life, in general.

Joint mobility exercises involve moving each joint through its full range of motion. Some people do this naturally everyday, oftentimes tilting the head left and right or rolling it in a circle to relieve tension. We begin with linear movements such as forwards/backwards, and left/right. Eventually, we can graduate into circles and more complex movement patterns. These exercises involve reaching to the fullest range of motion possible, without moving through tension. It may resemble a form of standing yoga, streching, or tai-chi, but joint mobility is in its own class and not dependent upon old traditions – it is fully supported by the latest research and science of the West as well as the ancient art and practice of the Eastern traditions.

Joint mobility exercise acts as a foundational technique to increase range of motion and restore lost movement patterns, but the benefits don’t stop at increasing range of motion. There are a host of benefits waiting to be explored. I’ll include the immediate benefits of joint mobility training in this article and save the long-term benefits for a later blog post.

Immediate benefits:

1. Once you have finished a whole-body joint mobility session, you will feel completely relaxed. Any tension that was present has either been eliminated or softened.

2. You will restore health at each joint in your body by washing them with synovial fluid (joint lubrication). Prior to adolescence, our body would automatically feed our joints with nutrition. After puberty, the body stops doing this, and the only nutrition that our joints receive is that which we feed it through movement. So, if we don’t move through a full range of motion at each joint, we are literally starving our joints.

3. Another immediate benefit of joint mobility is that it provides a method or reaching a heightened sensory awareness which will improve your ability to concentrate. In other words, you will feel fully awake and aware. A personal note is that once I finish my daily full-body session, I feel ready to do anything, completely prepared for any task.  I could run 10 miles, lift something heavy with ease, or swing from the monkey bars at the playground.

So, how do you begin to use this powerful training tool today? It’s really quite simple. Joint mobility is available to everyone. Young and old, fit or fat – it doesn’t matter, everyone progresses in a predictable way. And it doesn’t take anything more than your own ingenuity and determination to practice.

To begin, if you feel tense anywhere in your body, start by moving that area – just move it, it’s that simple. If your arm is tense, move your elbow back and forth, don’t just flex and extend – move in circles too. There’s no right or wrong way of doing this in the beginning – any movement that you normally don’t do will help to begin to restore proper joint function. Shrug your shoulders in circles, do hip circles – it’s ok if you look like your dancing. If you’re not comfortable with how you look, don’t do it in the front of the health club. If you are seated a lot during the day, move your neck and your shoulders. This is all you have to do to start – just baby steps.

The one important thing to keep in mind is not to move into pain. Experiencing minor discomfort is ok – and we actually want to move into this discomfort, not through it into pain though. Keep your discomfort level at a 3 out of 10 (10 being extremely painful, 1 being minimal discomfort).

There will be more information coming about this superb training method in future blog posts (including some beginner routine videos!). Look for the next installment to be my personal story about finding and exploring joint mobility exercises.

Update: here’s that free beginner-level joint mobility routine (follow-along videos): The Intu-Flow Joint Mobility Program: Beginner Level.

And if this kind of training interests you, then the absolute best deal on joint mobility training resources can be found here: Joint Mobility Training Super-Package. You’ll be amazed at how much they’re offering at such a low price.

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9 Responses

  1. Great post :) Find it very interesting keep up the great work :D

    one question though :) I’ve noticed that when i move my shulders in full range motion it begins to make some crakking noises :S
    Do you have any comments on that.. ? I hope so :D

    PEACE..

  2. Jonathan,

    the cracking noises are very normal when going through a full range of motion, and they can happen at any joint. The simple explanation is that tiny pockets of air are getting squeezed out of the joint capsule and making a “pop” noise when released. As far as I know, it’s nothing to be worried about unless there is pain associated with it.

    There are some very detailed explanations of the different types of noises in Scott Sonnon’s book Free to Move – ie the difference between snaps, cracks, pops, grinds, etc.:

    http://www.rmaxi.com/products/intuflowcomplete

  3. Glad to have found this website. I have had limited mobility in my joints my entire life. Primarily my wrists and ankles, but I realize now that I am older, my back and hips as well. Until the past few years, I have been very active, but always found stretching more difficult than average. I have also never been able to do pushups because my wrists will not bend.

    Is this related to the joint or is there something else I should be looking at?

  4. Hi Susan,

    It’s hard to say what your wrist mobility issues could be without seeing you in person, and I’m not a doctor or PT, either. I always recommend starting with a foundation of joint mobility exercises, regardless of your condition. If you work on the joints surrounding the problem area, and only move to a range of motion that does not cause any pain, then I think you’ll benefit greatly as you shave away the tension and restore healthy ROM.

  5. What are the possible ramifications of increasing ROM in joint where the mobility is already present, such as the gleno hume jnt and lumbar spine in hypermobility.

  6. Hi Elsia,

    Going beyond normal, healthy range of motion becomes problematic for joint integrity. It can be conditioned as we see with contortionists, but it isn’t healthy. Once normal range of motion is attained in the most basic ranges, then further joint mobility training can be used to coordinate and refine that range of motion for the purposes of movement sophistication.

    So, the goal for someone with inadequate ROM is to get more movement potential out of a given exercise. And conversely, the goal for someone with healthy, full ROM is to move better through those ranges of motion. This is why the Intu-Flow Joint Mobility program uses 4 different levels of sophistication/difficulty. Each level builds off of the former.

  7. Hey John, I have been observing your site for a while, and I like your videos and see the tremendous progress you have made through the months. I was wondering if I could send you a video of me doing the joint mobility program from head to toe and see if you could help with anything that I am doing wrong or need to improve on. I have such an imbalance in my body (my left side is noticeably weaker than my right). I can do pistols with my right leg, but not with my left, and I suspect that this imbalance is really hindering my training. Do you think the joint mobility program will help me with my balance? Any help will be much appreciated. Thank you

    • Justin,

      Yes, I think it will help a lot, but joint mobility in and of itself usually is not enough to correct an imbalance of this nature. It can and should be an essential aspect of your program, but you may need to go deeper with focused myofascial work (e.g. yoga) to release the outer bag of your muscle tissue, and you might need to address some basic strength imbalances directly through strength training or similar methods.

      I wish I had the time to take a look at your mobility routine, but my schedule has gotten extremely tight the last several months and time is limited. Depending on your location, you may be able to find a CST professional in your area who can work with you directly. Some of them offer online training, too, where you can submit videos for review and coaching advice, etc.

      Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you, and good luck!

  8. Hey John, I appreciate all the information you have given me. It will certainly be put to good use. Thank you so much.

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