Strength, speed, flexibility—you get those ideas. But few fitness terms are as misunderstood as mobility. That’s why Mike Fitch, the 39-year-old trainer who created the Animal Flow bodyweight training method eight years ago, is never surprised when people ask what it is.
And he knows how to answer. “Mobility is flexibility with stability,” he says. Flexibility, Fitch explains, is passive. Stretch your arm behind your head to show flexibility. But can you stretch your arm behind your head and push against or pull something? “That’s creating tension while being flexible—that’s mobility,” he says. “That makes your tissues resilient from any angle.”
You build it not with weights but with disciplines like Animal Flow, which challenges you to move fluidly on all fours in a variety of positions. “The goal is to shed light on your weaknesses,” Fitch says. Then you move your body lightly through ranges of motion that may cause pain or feel restricted.
Over time, this can restore your mobility and beat joint soreness. Oh, and you stealthily increase critical strength in your mid-back and core. Over months or years of training, you may even learn to pull off impressive bodyweight feats. But it starts with these five basic moves you can do anywhere, anytime, every day.
Do 1 set of each exercise every day, aiming for 15 to 20 reps in each direction. Try to relax your body while following the cues, Fitch says. “The goal is fluidity. Don’t try to muscle these motions.”
What it does: Ever deal with a sore back? This is your answer to that, a move that relaxes and loosens the length of your spine, and improves your posture, too.
How to do it: Sit with your shins on the ground, hands on your knees. Hollow out your torso and hunch your chest forward, shifting your chin to your chest. Now tighten your shoulder blades and arch your spine, pulling your head upward. Squeeze your shoulder blades hard at the top.
What it does: Remember: Mobility is more than flexibility. You’re forcing your shoulders to stabilize your weight, and your core and hips are getting work.
How to do it: Start with your hips pressed back toward your heels, knees an inch from the ground and arms extended. Now lift your hips upward, tucking your right leg tight to your torso as you do. Shift your torso forward. Finish with your shoulders directly over your wrists and your right knee just outside your right arm. Return to the start and repeat on the other side.
Shin Box with Spine Rotation
What it does: Few moves offer more bang for your buck than this, says Fitch. “You’re getting deep hip rotation and opening up your spine, from pelvis to skull.”
How to do it: Start seated, feet flat on the ground, knees at 90 degrees. Raise your arms to shoulder level, palms touching. Relax your hips so your knees drop to the right side, the left knee nearly touching your right foot. As this happens, slide your right hand along your left arm; let it stop at your chest. Reverse the motions to return to the start; repeat on the other side.
What it does: Fitch calls this “great training for a deep squat” because it attacks all the muscles you need to improve your squat. You’ll train hip mobility, hone knee positioning, and also attack your ankle and Achilles flexibility too.
How to do it: Start standing, feet shoulder-width apart, then lower into a deep squat, butt below your knees if you can. Reach to the front, rolling your torso forward. Rise onto the balls of your feet. Open your arms wide. Pause when you’ve stretched your arms as far as they’ll go, then return to the start.
What it does: “Neck, upper back, shoulders, and arms all get work,” Fitch says. Take this one slowly, and you’ll feel it opening up the tight tissues of your upper body.
How to do it: Sit on your shins. Extend both arms out to your sides, elbows slightly bent, palms up. Turn your head to look at your right hand; as you do this, rotate your left arm so your elbow faces up. Pause and feel the stretch. Return to the start and repeat on the other side.