What is Mobility?
If your goal is fat loss, you NEED to incorporate mobility training into your life right now and I’m going to show you why it’s so essential (contrary to what most may believe). Before we dive into why it’s so important for fat loss, let’s define it.
Mobility is being able to move easily and freely through space. To further add onto that, active mobility is being able to move to a certain end-range of motion without the assistance of bands, other people, or any other supporting mechanism. That means having control, strength, and stability as you move while actively maintaining that range of motion. So if resistance were placed upon your body in those end ranges, like gravity for instance, you’d be able to maintain that position without compensating with other parts of your body.
Simply put: mobility is strength and strength is mobility.
Here’s an example: active hamstring mobility. If you laid on your back and lifted one leg up as high as you could, that’s your true active hamstring mobility. If someone helps you get it farther, now we’re moving into passive hamstring mobility because you can’t get to that end-range of motion on your own without assistance.
Without knowing your true range of motion capability you’re likely to compensate in a lot of movements that require hamstring mobility like hinged based movements. Take a Romanian deadlift for example, dumbbells or a barbell. If you go past your actual end-range in your hamstring mobility you’re likely to compensate by rounding your shoulders or your lower back to continue to get farther in that movement. (We’ll dive into why compensation is a no go in a sec – for now, back to fat loss)
Why’s Mobility Important for Fat Loss?
So now that we know what mobility is, let’s dive into the top 3 reasons you need mobility to burn more fat:
1.) Injury Mitigation & Longevity
The first and most important reason I want you to remember, is injury mitigation. Having mobility is going to allow you to move throughout your range of motions with control and stability decreasing the risk that you’ll get hurt. When compensating RDL movement by rounding the lower spine, you’re putting a huge external load on your lower back which can eventually lead to be back injury.
Depending on the severity of the injury you could be unable to do certain movements, or ANY movements at all. You can’t do sprints or rotate and throw stuff if your lower back is a hot mess. With that in mind, at that point your fat loss journey can take a serious halt. And if you’re lacking mobility in multiple areas, the injuries will just keep happening. Compensation injuries don’t show themselves sometimes for years. Yes, YEARS. You could be moving a certain way for a long time and see no problems. At some point though, those compensations due to lack of mobility WILL catch up to you. And because you’ve moved a certain way for so long, it’ll be that much harder to change. Then, if you keep getting hurt, you’re likely to get frustrated and may even want to quit.
But, if we can mitigate the risk for this to happen, why not start now?
Why not decrease the likelihood that we’ll tear ligaments, sprain or blow out joints?
Why not increase our ability to move better and lose fat long-term?
Why not decrease our potential to be in pain?
EVERYONE hates pain. It doesn’t matter if you’re squatting 400 pounds or 40 pounds, everyone hates pain.
At the end of the day, the short-term changes we experience with fat loss are just that, short-term. If you don’t have proper mobility, you won’t be able to see those changes long-term. You’ll keep restarting after an injury, you’ll keep having to fire yourself up to start your journey again. For this reason alone, mobility should be HIGH priority on your list if you’re trying to lose fat.
I’ll be honest though, if you asked me about mobility two years ago I would have scratched my head and said: “what’s that?”. I lived a life of sedentary behavior in front of a computer screen playing video games and studying day after day after day sitting. I was out of shape, immobile, and it only got worse when I started doing HIIT everyday for a year. I would do HIIT, barely cooldown or stretch, shower, and go right back to my studies or more video games. I became this tight, immobile, quarter squatting king that was in incredible cardiovascular shape, but couldn’t really move. To this day I’m reversing 10 years of inactivity followed by that year of intense HIIT. I was in pain. I didn’t practice mobility training at all.
Don’t be me. If you’re not in pain and you don’t practice mobility training, somewhere down the line you could be. Be proactive, not reactive. Don’t wait for that pain to show it’s ugly head and delay your fat loss journey to start incorporating mobility into your life. Start NOW.
2.) Burn More Calories
Lifting weights is going to be key for burning fat, we know that. On top of that, the MORE muscle fibers we recruit through a movement, the more our body has to work to move that weight. If our body is doing more work, what’s going to happen?
More calories will be burned.
Our energy expenditure per session in the gym is going to go up so we’re getting a better bang for our buck if we can recruit more muscle fibers with each exercise. The bigger our range of motion is per exercise, the more muscle fibers we’ll see recruited. So if we can squat and lunge deeper, we’ll be increasing the amount of work required to get back up thus, we’ll burn more calories. Here’s the thing though….
You need adequate mobility to do all those things.
If your true end-range in those two movements is lacking, you’re decreasing your potential calorie burn per session. Don’t get me wrong, quarter squats have their place, but if you’re intention IS NOT to quarter squat, and your intention IS to do a full squat and burn more fat, you’re just not going to do it as effectively without mobility. Your brain will literally prevent your muscle fibers from being stretched at that deep end range of motion because it knows you won’t be able to handle any external load there. I’m echoing Hunter Cook, a renowned mobility specialist, who spoke about mobility in relation to how your brain allows or doesn’t allow you to move into certain end ranges. Hear more about that and more mobility concepts in his interview with Moving Well Podcast HERE.
3.) Build Muscle
If we can increase our mobility, we can stretch our muscles to new end ranges. If we can stretch our muscles to new end ranges we are going to build more muscle in more places. Building more muscle in more places increases your fat-burning potential because your body now needs to work harder to recruit a larger pool of muscles than before to move that weight! However this higher muscle mass to fat ratio is not just relevant for the gym.
Carrying more muscle on your body day-to-day will also increase your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) contributing more to your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). TDEE is a combination of everything you do in a day to burn calories. Muscle tissue contributes upwards of 20% to TDEE while fat tissue only contributes 5%. That’s a HUGE gap. The more muscle you have, the greater energy you burn daily doing everyday activities, thus increasing your potential fat-burning capability long term.
So if you’re trying to lose fat, build muscle. If you want to build more muscle, build your mobility. Simple as that.
Now that we know the importance of mobility, where do we start? Before we can improve, we need a baseline. We need to see where we are before we can know where to go. These are some tests for common limitations I see in my own clients, but know that you are not the same as everyone else. Be curious and discover your body and the limitations it may or may not have. That curiosity will be key in your longevity! I would recommend filming yourself doing each of them, or having a friend help you!
Ankle Mobility Screen + Fix
Dr. John Rusin is a renowned strength coach around the world and has an amazing article and video series on fixing ankle mobility once you’ve identified which issues you may or may not be having.
Overhead Squat Test + Modification
Derrick Price goes through an overhead squat test with great explanations for what you want to look for while the test is going on. He points common compensations that can show where you’re tight or lacking mobility.
Hip Internal and External Rotation Test
Squat University is one of the best resources online for improving your squat and saying safe doing so. Dr. Horschig goes through the Craig Test for internal and external rotation of the hips, two essential abilities you need in your hips to squat.
Thoracic Rotation Test + Fixes
Dr. C goes through an easy thoracic rotation test explaining why you need it. The test can easily be modified by using a broom instead of the PVC pipe that she has in the video. She then takes you through some great mobility exercises to begin to open up that tissue and get it rotating effectively!
Shoulder Flexion Test
If you’re doing any type of overhead pressing, this is a key screening. In a pass/fail manner you can see immediately if you need to work on your shoulder mobility overhead.
Internal and External Rotation Shoulder Test
Here we’re going to be using the Apley’s Scratch Test to see screen your internal and external shoulder mobility. The video includes ways of scoring your own mobility as well providing a great metric for progress.
Incorporating Mobility Into Your Life
Now that you know where you are and where you need to be, the next thing to remember is: mobility training takes time.
For sure keep hitting the gym, keep lifting weights continuing your journey with fat loss. But, along the way be cognizant of your mobility, continue to open up your muscles, and strengthen them once you achieve that new end-range.
The two best areas to start, in my opinion, are your most mobile joints: your hips and your shoulders. Being ball and socket joints they can move in any direction giving them the most innate instability and potential weakness in supporting muscles if not trained properly.
Remember: mobility is not just flexibility, it’s strength as well.
I’ve included a mobility flow of my own for shoulders and linked another mobility specialist, Ian Markow, who shows a really great 90-90 hip mobility flow.
Shoulder Mobility Flow by CoachKronic
It’s key to control your positioning with each step of the movement. You want to feel your lower traps working to maintain that holding that position at the start. If those upper traps and neck are doing the work, work on pulling your shoulder blades down to activate those lower traps. Also if you start to feel your lower back curving, or hurting, go ahead and put a rolled up mat, or pillow under your belly button to support that low spine.
Hip Mobility Flow by Ian Markow
Like fat loss, mobility takes time and we need to be patient. Focus on something and improve on it everyday. Even if you just spend 5 minutes a day, that’s better than nothing. Like training, like nutrition, your mobility training NEEDS to be progressed into. Adherence is key here! Start slow and work your way into it. I’ve included some great accounts on Instagram to follow to learn how to further improve your mobility below:
Proactivity, not Reactivity, is the key to mitigating risk of injury and getting the most out of your training sessions in the gym. Don’t wait for pain, an injury, or limitations to come creeping out of the woodwork. Put mobility up in your priority list to keep burning fat long-term, keep striving for your goals long-term, and do it all pain-free.
Karon is a full time trainer and coach, working with clients privately and online. His main focus and expertise, is in quality of movement. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon with a B.S., he then decided to continue down his path towards his passion and applied to the University of Pittsburgh for the Master’s program in Health and Physical Activity. He was accepted, so Karon took a leap of faith and quit his secure job to pursue his dream in fitness. His brand is titled Coach Kronic, because Karon preaches “Kronic Behavior, Kronic Results” with emphasis on taking small, consistent steps for people to get what they want out of their bodies and minds! You can find him over at https://kronic.fit/