You’re probably sedentary. Yes, you. Sure, you hit the gym often, but your joints remain relatively idle as you sit at work, sit in your car, and sit in front of the TV.
Swinging your arms between bench press sets isn’t enough to keep your joints healthy and mobile for a lifetime. Can’t scratch your mid-back anymore? Your mobility has slipped.
Here’s why mobility matters:
- Poor neck and thoracic mobility is a strong predictor of neck and shoulder pain (1).
- Increasing thoracic spine mobility improves forward head posture even when compared to direct neck exercises (2).
- Improving ankle mobility reduces knee and hip pain, enhances squat depth, improves squat mechanics, and prevents injuries (3).
- Improving hip mobility increases muscle strength because your nervous system inhibits force when it senses a lack of mobility (4).
Improving mobility doesn’t have to be inconvenient. No need to spend an hour aligning your fairytale chakras in some yoga class taught by a hippie. Here are a few exercises you can do quickly to target the most important areas for lifters:
1. T-Spine Mobility
You can do these drills literally anywhere:
Kneeling T-Spine Rotation and Lateral Flexion
- Kneel down and place your fingers around your ears.
- Focus on keeping your hips facing forward.
- Rotate your chest/thoracic spine one direction.
- Slowly flex your spine laterally.
- Once no more range of motion can be achieved, come back to the starting position.
- Repeat on the other side.
Dynamic Wall T-Spine Extension
- Place your hands fairly high and wide against a wall, window ledge, or Smith machine.
- Push your hips back as you lower your chest.
- Take a deep breath at the bottom as you feel the different segments of your spine arch.
- Flex your spine as you round your back.
2. Shoulder Mobility
This is my favorite shoulder mobility drill. It also stretches the pecs while not allowing the spine to compensate.
Dowel Dislocate on Incline Bench
- Lean against an incline bench while standing while holding a dowel or broomstick across your hips.
- Slowly move the dowel overhead, going as far back as possible while keeping your elbows relatively straight.
- Hold wider on the dowel if it’s too difficult and adjust narrower if it’s too easy.
3. Hip Mobility
These hip mobility drills won’t leave any stones unturned.
Hip Mobility Complex
- Take a seated position. Start with a hamstring stretch with one leg on your thigh, then transition to a “hugging pigeon.”
- Bring your hands back and go into both internal and external hip rotation. I also like to rotate my spine before coming back to the starting position.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Get your legs into a frog position and your arms into a plank position.
- Thrust back and forth as you feel your adductors stretch.
- Drown out any thoughts of bystanders potentially judging you for humping the floor.
4. Ankle Mobility
Both of these are wildly effective:
Tripod Ankle/Calf Mobility
- Get into a tripod position with one foot stacked on the other foot’s heel.
- Drive your heel back as you stretch your calf, then bend your knee and maintain a dorsiflexed position.
- Repeat for reps before repeating on the other side.
Stepback Weighted Ankle Mobility
This exercise is harder than it looks, but it’s the best ankle mobility drill I’ve found.
- Grab some weights. Take one step back and keep both feet flat.
- Bend the knee of the back foot while hip hinging the weights down. You should feel your back ankle mobilizing.
- Repeat for reps on both sides.
These exercises can be done in a sequence for 3-10 minutes a day depending on your current mobility. The sequence can be sprinkled in during your warm-up, cooldown, or even between sets.
- Norlander, S, and B Nordgren. “Clinical Symptoms Related to Musculoskeletal Neck-Shoulder Pain and Mobility in the Cervico-Thoracic Spine.” Scandinavian Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 1998, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9825389.
- Cho, Juchul, et al. “Upper Thoracic Spine Mobilization and Mobility Exercise versus Upper Cervical Spine Mobilization and Stabilization Exercise in Individuals with Forward Head Posture: a Randomized Clinical Trial.” BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, BioMed Central, 12 Dec. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5727966/.
- Wyndow, Narelle, et al. “The Relationship of Foot and Ankle Mobility to the Frontal Plane Projection Angle in Asymptomatic Adults.” Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, BioMed Central, 25 Jan. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4727299/.
- Makofsky, Howard, et al. “Immediate Effect of Grade IV Inferior Hip Joint Mobilization on Hip Abductor Torque: A Pilot Study.” The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, Inc., 2007, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2565609/.