I believe that it’s so important to change up your fitness routine often to get the best results and to keep things interesting. A little while ago, I reached a point in my yoga practice where I felt like I had almost hit a plateau with my flexibility, so I decided to switch things up in order to keep progressing.
I’ve always had an interest in mobility training, but it’s something that I never really understood how to practice until now, after I did my own research and started going to some mobility classes. Mobility training can support a yoga practice on many levels, especially if you find yourself in a similar plateau. There are a few different types of mobility training, namely active mobility stretching, where you use your own bodyweight to load the pose and go to your end range of motion and hold it there, with no assistance other than using the strength of your agonist's muscles. There is also weighted mobility stretching, where you use a weight and progressively increase it to really lengthen the fascia and connective tissue to its end range, as well as to build functional strength. Another type is ballistic stretching, where you use the momentum of a moving body or a limb to try and push the body it beyond its normal range of motion. One more that I like practising in the evenings especially, is passive stretching, where you hold a position with the assistance of a prop, such as in yin yoga.
I’ve been mixing up various mobility exercises for several months now, with great results. I used to practise seated straddle pose in yoga classes and never felt any closer to getting my chest to the floor (blame my internally rotated hips), but since I started practising mobility training, I can confidently say that I think I should be able to get into a flatter pancake pose by the end of the year if I continue to practice consistently – this is key.
For me, the difference between yoga and mobility training is that I am able to push my range of motion to the limit in a pose and hold this in an active way with the key muscles engaged, and repeat it. Over and over again. With yoga, and especially in class, you don’t tend to repeat specific poses more than once or twice, apart from Downward Dog and Chaturanga, so if you are working on a specific pose then having a self-practice is crucial in order to progress. If you are not born with the flexibility of a dancer, a mobility practise will seriously help your flexibility and strength a lot faster than going to yoga classes will – at least for me it has.
Here are four of my favourite ballistic, static and active mobility moves that I weave into my yoga practice:
Long Lunge Lifts
This ballistic exercise will help to stretch the hip flexors, quadriceps and build strength in the legs. Start in a low lunge with your back knee on the floor. Slowly start to lean forwards into the lunge until you feel this in the hip flexor of your front leg. From here, start to lift the back knee off the floor just a few inches, square the hips, and then set the knee down. Repeat this for 1-2 minutes at your own pace and then switch legs.
Camel Against The Wall
I’ve recently been practising this active and static exercise to help open my chest, strengthen my back muscles and quadriceps. If you have any back pain, go easy on this one and don’t lean as far back. Find a wall space and kneel in front of it with your chest facing the wall. Lift up so that you are in a high kneel and lift your arms above your head, bringing your chest and knees to touch the wall. Push your hips forwards and start to lift up with your arms, and lean back, keeping your arms in line with your ears. Squeeze your glutes and draw your belly button in, and lean back with your arms and chest as far as you can without bringing your knees away from the wall more than an inch or two. Repeat x 20 slow controlled reps and then hold for 30 seconds.
Skandasana lunges are an active stretch that strengthen the inner hamstrings, the legs and the ankles while working to increase mobility in the inner and outer hip joints. Start standing with your feet as wide as you can comfortable manage without feeling wobbly. Make sure both feet are pointing towards the front. Then bend into your right knee, hands in prayer, and start to come on to your left heel, toes up. Keep bending as low as you can get without using your hands, until your bum reaches the floor. If that’s too much, use your hands to lower yourself down to a seat. Then, either using your hands or no hands, try and lift yourself back up, and repeat on the other side. Keep practising this until you’re able to lower down and get back up without using the hands at all. If you have a knee or ankle injury, just don’t lower all the way down. Bend into your right knee until it’s 90 degree, then place your right elbow and forearm on your knee, lean your chest forward and send your bum back until you feel the stretch on the inside of your left leg.
Deep Squat Circles
A favourite active stretch for increasing mobility and flexibility in the hips, ankles, calves and heels. Standing with your feet hips width apart, start to sink your bum lower and lower, until you come down into a deep squat with the heels flat. Turn your feet slightly out if you feel like you aren’t able to balance, or widen the legs if your heels don’t reach the floor. Place your hands in prayer, lift the chest, and start to make circles with your hips clockwise for 10 reps, and then anti-clockwise, to stretch out your ankles and heels while getting deep into your hips. Stay in this deep squat for as long as you can, working up to 5 minutes.
Let me know how you get on in the comments, and follow my videos over on my Instagram @sarahfretwellyoga for more yoga and mobility videos.