Mobility has turned into the Antichrist for strength and size trainees across the globe, but it shouldn’t be.
The truth is, you’re only going to be as strong as your range of motion allows. As soon as you leave your comfort zone, you’ll notice a dip in strength that’s so severe it’ll be humbling.
A smart lifter knows that there should be no ‘comfort zone’. You need to be strong through as great a range of motion as possible.
Not only will having the capability to use full ROM create a stronger body, it’ll also potentiate more muscle development due to the length-tension relationship being optimized.
But before we go any further, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. There’s a key difference that needs to be highlighted.
Mobility vs. Flexibility
Being mobile is much more important than being flexible. Flexibility usually looks at things muscle by muscle – a pair of flexible hamstrings allows those particular muscles to lengthen significantly.
Mobility, on the other hand, looks at how a group of muscles act on a certain joint in question, allowing that joint to access great ranges of motion. For example, the hip joint can become restricted despite a lifter having very flexible hamstrings, since there are several other muscles that cross that junction.
Moreover, mobility often has to do with a body in motion. Reaching down to touch your toes isn’t quite the same as crab walking or doing a somersault. That’s why it matters more than flexibility.
In the world of dynamic exercise and compound movement, there’s a lot going on. Having accessible range of motion won’t only make for more gains – it’ll also save you from injury in the long haul.
The Best Mobility Moves
Let’s focus on the areas of the body that need mobility the most.
Hips & Shoulders
These are both ball-and-socket joints that are responsible for very large ranges of motion. They also have the most muscles crossing their joints respectively. With that said, their need for mobility and a great range of motion is maximized compared to a joint like the elbow or knee.
It’s important to notice that though there are similarities between the hip and shoulder joints, there are also some key differences. Most prominently, the hip joint is usually deeper nested than the shoulder joint. That’s why a hip dislocation is rarer than a shoulder dislocation.
Long story short, the shoulder joint is capable of slightly more range of motion and is also more susceptible to injury due to its shallower articulation. For that reason, as much as it relies on mobility, setting it up with a proper foundation of stability is essential also.
Ankles & Wrists
Not having mobile ankles and wrists may not sound like a big deal, but they can get in the way of completing movements like front squats, overhead presses, cleans or even push ups without serious compensations or pain.
These joints should also be capable of a fairly wide degree of rotation that can only act to help the body’s health.
I saved this one for last, as it’s extremely important. It’s essential to understand that the overall health of the shoulders will directly hinge on the mobility, integrity, and overall performance of the thoracic spine.
Since the T-spine is a dictator of posture, the position of the scapulae can change depending on how the T-spine sits and acts. To improve back and shoulder health, this is, without a doubt, a good place to focus (and in many cases, a good place to start).
The Best Mobility Drills in the Game
In my books, mobility training should involve movement. All of these movements do that, and the main focus shouldn’t be just to “go through the motions”. Then the drill won’t take at all.
You have to make a concerted effort to feel every last degree of range you put your body through, and the associated stretch the target muscles receive through those ranges. On each rep. If you don’t, you’re wasting your time.
1. Squat and Reach Mobility Drill
This combines a deep squat with overhead shoulder mobility, and a thoracic twist, to target ankles, hips, T-spine and shoulders all in one.
As you can see in the video, it’s OK if the heels are elevated or leave the ground. The emphasis should be on using whatever means to get the spine as vertical as possible – even if your back rounds and your heels raise a bit. We need to start somewhere.
Use the elbows to block the knees from caving in, and plant one hand down to reach upward with the other. Remember to let your face follow your hand.
2. Spiderman Walks
Though this is similar to the drill above, this allows the hip flexors and groin muscles to be stretched one at a time, due to the unilateral nature of the movement. This is a movement that can easily be compensated through when attempted, so remember these check points:
- Take longer strides, not shorter ones. Too often the hips are kept too high thanks to a chopped, short step forward. If you want to stretch the groin, you need a larger step to have the chance to push the hips in.
- Don’t reach to the ceiling with your hand – reach with your chest. That will avoid “making up the range” with your hand, and keeping the focus on your T-spine.
- Don’t reach behind you. Reach directly above you. Your arm should be perpendicular to the floor at the top of its ascent – not angled back.
For a visual, here it is.
3. Side Lying Twist
This one’s important because it really helps a lifter differentiate between thoracic spine rotation and lumbar rotation. The truth is, the lumbar region shouldn’t be responsible for much rotation at all.
When the T-spine is deficient, the lumbar is often relied upon to make up for the lack of mobility, and that leads to back problems. Trapping a medicine ball under the top leg will instantly let a lifter know what segments of the spine he relies on, since if he twists from the lumbar spine, the top knee will usually separate from the ball.
If trapping the ball is impossible to do while keeping the moving hand on the ground, you have some mobility to work on.
Bonus: Do Heel Walks
Though this may be considered a strength movement more than a mobility movement, poor ankle mobility is often a product of weak tibialis muscles.
Simply walking on the heels for sets of a couple of minutes within your workout can give the tibialis muscles a workout that they’d never get otherwise. Their strength can help pull the shin forward and allow for greater range of motion at the ankle.
Your mobility matters. Don’t neglect it.
It’s going to be the deciding factor to your sustainable gains, and also for your general health. The alternative: you can be a muscle-bound lifter who can’t scratch his own shoulder.
Being big and strong doesn’t have to come at the expense of basic flexibility and mobility. That’s the reason football players are never mistaken for bodybuilders. Think about it.