FITNESSTraining and WorkoutsMobility vs. Flexibility: How They Contribute to Your Training Program

Mobility vs. Flexibility: How They Contribute to Your Training Program

By Ryan Provencher, Executive Fitness Advisor for CRACKYL Magazine

Incorporate Both into Your Comprehensive Firefighter Fitness Program!

When looking for workouts or exercise programs, our focus is often the development of strength, power, endurance, and conditioning with the goal of increasing our performance as firefighters. Although these attributes are crucial to optimizing performance, it is equally important to incorporate mobility and flexibility into our training. Mobility and flexibility training will contribute to the development of the attributes listed here and will also help to improve your performance on the job while reducing the risk for injury. Here are a few strategies for incorporating both into your workout routine.

Is there a difference?

As we discuss strategies for addressing mobility and flexibility for firefighters, it is important to differentiate between the two. These terms are often used interchangeably, and strategies for improving each of these attributes are not always addressed or clearly defined in the exercise programming available.

Mobility is the ability to control movement of one or more joints through a full range of motion. Mobility is active and may be developed through dynamic drills that focus on single or multi-joint movements depending on the adaptation goal. 

Flexibility is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to be lengthened through a full range of motion. Flexibility is generally passive and may be developed through a variety of exercise modalities. Static stretches, “contract/relax” techniques, and various types of yoga are examples of effective options for improving passive range of motion. 

Programming considerations

It is important to be intentional when selecting exercises for mobility and flexibility in your physical training program to realize the greatest benefit. If you are participating in a periodized strength and conditioning program, you have specific movement patterns that you are loading to achieve the desired adaptation. Developing a plan for mobility and flexibility that augments these movements will help to optimize progress and will aid in recovery.

What do mobility exercises do?

Mobility exercises “prime” your body for the movements you will be performing in your training session by moving the joint or joints in a similar pattern while activating the muscles you will be loading. For example, if you are incorporating the Lunge pattern into your strength training, you may consider dynamic movements such as “Knee to Chest/Heel to Glute” or “Lunge + Reach” to prepare for the exercise. Mobility exercises may be incorporated into your warm-up before your workout and added to your routine on dedicated recovery days. The goal is to identify and address mobility limitations in your body while preparing for higher intensity training.

What do flexibility exercises do?

Flexibility exercises will help to “restore” the muscles you have loaded to natural resting length. For example if you are engaging the glutes, quads, and hip flexors in the Lunge movement, you might consider  the “Kneeling Lunge + Quad” and “Modified Pigeon” poses to unload the tension in these target areas. The goal is to release the tension that has accumulated in your body through higher intensity training with the intent to optimize recovery.

Mobility circuit

Here is a sample Mobility Circuit that you may incorporate into your physical training program:

  1. Shoulder Rotation: Backward/Forward – Alternating
  2. Elbow Rotation: Inside/Outside
  3. Thoracic Flexion/Extension – Standing
  4. Thoracic Rotation – Standing
  5. Pelvic Flexion/Extension
  6. Static Lateral Lunge – Alternating
  7.  Knee to Chest/Heel to Glute
  8. Ankle Rotation: Inside/Outside

When using this circuit as a warm-up, you may perform 10-20 repetitions of each exercise, or you may use intervals of 30-60 seconds per exercise.

On dedicated recovery days, consider 30-60 seconds per exercise and repeat the circuit 2-3 times. Spend additional time on the areas that feel especially tight or restricted.

This is a comprehensive warm-up to perform as a crew before training on-shift as well.

Flexibility circuit

Here is a sample Flexibility Circuit that you may incorporate into your physical training program:

  1. Child’s Pose
  2. Cross Body Shoulder – Kneeling
  3. Modified Pigeon
  4. Plow Pose
  5. Kneeling Lunge
  6. Prone Spinal Twist
  7. Upward Facing Dog
  8. Downward Facing Dog

When using this circuit as a cool-down, hold each pose for 1-2 minutes.

On dedicated recovery days, hold each pose for 1 minute and repeat the circuit 2-3 times. Spend additional time on the areas that feel especially tight or restricted.

This is a comprehensive cool-down to perform as a crew after training on-shift as well.

Comprehensive firefighter fitness

We demand a lot from our bodies as firefighters and we are all looking for ways to reduce the wear and tear over time. It is important to consider “Total Training Load” when we are selecting our workout programs, especially when it comes to the volume and frequency of moderate and high intensity training. Incorporating mobility and flexibility into your comprehensive firefighter fitness program will augment your strength and conditioning, improve your job performance, reduce your risk for injury, and contribute to longevity as we strive to retire fit and healthy.

Ryan is the Training Division Chief, Health/Safety Officer, and Wellness/Fitness Coordinator in his department, founder of Firefighter Peak Performance, and Executive Fitness Advisor for CRACKYL Magazine. He has a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science with a minor in Nutrition from Washington State University. He has worked as a Volunteer Firefighter, Firefighter/EMT, Firefighter/Paramedic, and Company Officer before promoting to his current position. Ryan is grateful to combine his love for firefighting and physical fitness over his career of nearly 30 years. You can get in touch with Ryan by email [email protected].

Contests & Promotions