Mobility exercise can help you build more muscle and prevent injury at the same time.
You can improve your mobility with basic exercises like squats and pull-ups, a trainer said.
Work through a full range of motion with a bit less weight, and gradually increasing over time.
If you aren't doing at least some mobility exercise in your workouts, you're missing out on gains for both muscle and longevity, according to a personal trainer.
Good mobility can improve muscle growth and prevent injury, and it's easy to do with exercises that are probably already in your routine, said Ben Foster, founder and head coach of the People's Athletic Club.
"It's one of the biggest two-birds-with-one-stone opportunities you have," Foster told Business Insider. "If you are already exercising, just exercising with full range of motion will not just give you better results in the gym in terms of capacity to build muscle, but actually improves your mobility even more so than a traditional practice like yoga."
Mobility is also a key factor in staying strong and active as you age so you can keep doing the things you love for years to come, according to Foster.
"It's the most important thing. It's hard to overstate," he said. "If you want to exist with some independence in your later years, you have to be practicing the ranges of motion necessary to do that."
Movements like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and pull-ups give you the opportunity not only to strengthen but stretch your muscles, if you do them correctly. As a result, you can get even more of the health-boosting benefits of working out, without having to spend extra time in the gym with these strategies.
Include strength training in your mobility workouts
When most people think of mobility, they think of static stretching exercises, or workouts involving yoga; while those have benefits, resistance training can be as or even more effective for improving mobility, according to Foster.
That's because static stretching primarily changes how your brain responds to the stimulus of a stretch, making it feel easier, according to research. In contrast, resistance training, such as exercise with weights, trains the muscle itself to produce force in different positions.
"I love yoga, I'm a big proponent of it, But increases in static stretching don't stick around. It's neural, not physiological," he said. "When you're loading the muscle with weight, there's a physiological change to the body that's a more permanent and lasting change."
You don't have to totally forget yoga, which has plenty of benefits too, Foster added. But focusing on active mobility with resistance can help you be strong as well as flexible.
Get the most out of each rep with full range of motion in your squat and bench press
You don't need to add any complicated exercises to your routine. Some of the best exercises for mobility are ones you're probably already familiar with, but may not be doing correctly, Foster said.
Foundational exercises like squats, deadlifts, and even bench presses involve mobility, but there's a catch: in order to take advantage of the benefits, you need to be working through what's known as full range of motion, moving as far as is safely possible while maintaining control of the exercise.
For example, performing a squat to full range of motion means lowering yourself past the point where your knees are at a 90 degree angle (parallel to the ground), and getting your butt as close to the floor as possible.
"In most movements, people aren't getting the most range of motion they could be," Foster said. "I see people squat to parallel, just below, or not even that."
If you're stopping your squat too soon, your muscles aren't getting as much stretch and tension, which ultimately means fewer gains.
"We want that because that's where we get the big response in the muscles," Foster said. "Research shows that the most muscle-building part of the movement is when the muscle is at its most stretched."
Squats are the only exercise that can benefit from full range of motion, either. Other examples include:
Bench presses: bringing the weight all the way down to the chest before lifting it again
Pull-ups: lowering to a dead hang between each rep
Deadlifts: lifting the weight up and then lowering back to the ground with control, instead of dropping the weight at the top
Focus on perfect technique before increasing the weight
One reason people shorten their range of motion is that it can make it easier to lift more weight, since you're not working as hard for each rep, according to Foster.
But that doesn't necessarily translate to better strength or muscle gains, he said.
In contrast, getting in a full range of motion, along with other muscle-building techniques such as slowing down the movement, can make an exercise feel much more challenging. While it can feel counterintuitive to make things harder for yourself, the payoff is that you'll likely see more benefits, without needing to put in more time in the gym.
"I want it to feel as heavy as I can make it by doing slow and control, pausing in bottom position, getting in a stretch," Foster said.
Gradually work up to better mobility over time
If you're new to mobility training, it's a good idea to start with little to no weight as you work up to a greater range of motion, perform fewer sets, and be aware of whether anything hurts throughout the workout so you can ease up if needed.
Just as you build strength and muscle by gradually increasing weight over time with progressive overload, you can safely improve your mobility by slowly increasing your range of motion, instead of trying to force your body at all once into exercises like deeper squats.
"Pain is never the objective and if you experience pain in a larger range of motion, stay slightly above," Foster said. "What most people will find is that they can get lower than they're getting now, and in two to six weeks of doing that, can progress themselves over time to getting a little bit more."
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