Mobility Exercises: The Loaded Stretching Solution
For most lifters, mobility exercises are an afterthought. Fortunately, there's a fast, effective, and more fun way of improving range of motion: loaded stretching. It's the "lifter's way" to mobilize yourself throughout the range of motion you'll need to access when you start the workout.
You want your muscles to be pliable so that you don't get injured, but you don't want to become overstretched to the point where you lose strength and power during your lifts. That's where loaded stretching comes in.
Here are four variations you can do before or after your workout to help improve mobility.
The squat-loaded stretch is a great primer that'll help you get into a comfortable position deep in the hole of your squat. Bigger and tighter lifters especially benefit because they sometimes need a little bit of weight to push themselves into position.
Everyone will have a slightly different bottom position for their squat because of anatomical differences and the bar's position on the back. Regardless of your depth, feeling tight, braced, and finding a comfortable position at the bottom will lead to a better transition out of the hole.
- Stay in the bottom position for 5-10 seconds.
- Choose a load that's heavy enough to "push" you into position but not so heavy that you struggle to stand back up.
- Brace your core and keep your spine neutral as you move around to feel for restrictions in the body.
- To get a deeper groin (adductor) stretch on one leg, drive your knee further out, and shift toward the side that's tighter.
- To get a deeper calf stretch on one leg, shift your weight slightly forward on that side. The goal is to drive your knee past your toe without your heel lifting off the floor.
- The end goal is to have both legs feel symmetrical at the bottom of the squat and to have all your musculature working in sync as you stand back up.
You can do this one with a barbell on your back or dumbbells by your side. It'll stretch the hip flexors of the leg that's on the bench and the glutes/hamstrings of the leg on the floor.
The end goal is to have both legs feel equally mobile and all your musculature working in sync. Move around slightly to feel for restrictions.
This drill is fantastic for "freeing up" the shoulders. The weight of your body allows for distraction to be placed on the shoulder, giving the head of your humerus (upper arm bone) more room to internally and externally rotate.
Proficiency with this drill will allow for more natural and fluid movements to come from the shoulder girdle. Although it may be painful to watch, it's not harmful to the shoulder, provided you start slowly and methodically. I've recovered from shoulder dislocations and surgical labrum repairs on both shoulders and now have the capability to do this drill.
To modify it, practice it with your feet touching the floor. Almost all lifters with relatively healthy shoulders can do this variation and learn how their shoulder is supposed to rotate. In the second part of the video, you'll see that I have a bar that's the perfect height to do this from my toes. If you have a shorter bar, you can bend your knees and still do the drill.
Another great option? Hanging shoulder circles.
This will help increase the pliability of your pecs and lats. It's a great go-to drill if your workout consists of any overhead work.
- Start from a dead-hang position with your arms fully straight.
- Engage your lats and core as you flex your hips, bringing your thighs toward your chest.
- Continue bringing your hips through your arms so that you rotate upside down.
- Keep your core engaged as you lower your feet toward the ground.
- As a bonus, turn your palms in or out for a greater stretch at the end of the movement.
- Once you come to a dead stop, bring your thighs to your chest in a tucked position.
- Lift your hips back towards the ceiling and lower yourself back into a dead hang.
- This drill can be a bit too much for some lifters to jump right into. Need to work your way into this movement? Here's a great place to start.