Mobility work is everywhere today. Some lifters will even spend half their training session trying to do therapy on themselves. But there's no benefit to going over-the-top with mobility. Foam rolling every last muscle, getting into yoga poses, doing overhead squats while standing on a BOSU ball... there are endless ways to spend time trying to get mobile.
So, what's the problem? Effective mobility drills require awareness. If you go through drill after drill with crappy posture and no awareness of what these things actually do, your efforts will create more problems than they'll fix. Here are three examples and some better alternatives.
1 – Standard Face Pulls
Supposedly these will prevent injuries of all kinds. The exercise is typically done standing, and while that's better than sitting it's still problematic for someone who's doing it haphazardly.
The human body will always find the path of least resistance to move efficiently. When your scapular stabilizers are weak then they won't be the primary movers in a standing face pull. Your lower back, T-spine, biceps, and even C-spine can move and compensate, which makes the exercise counterproductive.
Do This Instead: Supine Banded Face Pull
Lay on your back and do them. Lying supine or hook lying (on your back with knees bent) puts you in normal postural alignment and teaches your body what that type of positioning feels like, and where your arms will be moving relative to your body (proprioception).
Keep your back flat against the ground. Keep your fists lined up with your eyes and keep the origin of the resistance lined up with your chest (or slightly above or below).
2 – Bird Dogs
These have gained popularity as a dynamic warm-up. Raising contralateral (opposite side) arms and legs seems like a great way to activate the core and prepare the body for higher-level activities.
However, many people lack the control to do this correctly. So what they end up with is lots of spinal flexion (and/or hyperextension) and rotation. This isn't inherently a bad thing as some people are just stiff, but there are better ways to mobilize a stiff back. The idea is to maintain spinal stabilization throughout the entire ROM of the extremities.
Do This Instead: Deadbugs
A better alternative is the deadbug. Basically, the same movement but now you're on your back. Since your back is against the ground, you'll be able to better discern if you're compensating with spinal movement.
Another thing to consider: Not everyone has the same level of proximal stability, meaning the further the arms and legs travel away from the body the more stabilization is required due to the increased length of the levers. Proximal stability leads to distal mobility.
What I love about this exercise is that you can limit the motion based on your level of core stability. Those who are weaker will need to start with shorter ranges of motion, and stronger lifters should be able to reach the full shoulder flexion and hip extension.
3 – Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
When it comes to stretching, prioritize the "big three" muscles:
- Hip flexors
When these are chronically shortened, they're associated with the most problems. If you train regularly you need to stretch the hip flexors. If you run regularly you need to stretch the hip flexors. If you sit all day at work, well then quit sitting all day, and stretch your hip flexors!
Since the human body is good at finding the path of least resistance, it's relatively easy to screw up stretches that hit the big three muscles. The hip flexor stretch, particularly when it's done standing, seems to be the easiest one to do wrong.
The psoas is actually a tonic muscle, not phasic, meaning that its length is more involved with posture, rather than moving with power. Trying to stretch it while standing makes it difficult to pinpoint, and you'll end up with more spinal extension than anything else.
Also, most lifters tend to try and stretch the quads simultaneously (another reason why athletes like to do it standing). Again, you may get a good quad stretch, but you'll be missing out on the psoas which tends to stay tight.
Do This Instead: Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
The best way to stretch the hip flexors is in half-kneeling. This puts less emphasis on stretching the quads and ensures that you're getting a true hip flexor stretch and are less likely to compensate with spinal motion. You can even put your hand behind your hip for some added force to the stretch.
Add these things to your warm-up and maximize your time, so that "pre-hab" won't be a crapshoot.