Mobility exercises complement your training for size, strength, and speed (power). Specifically, they require your joints to move into their end range of motion (ROM), whereas the strength-training principles avoid end-range joint actions to maximize safety in handling heavy loads.
Many common physical activities require our joints to function in their mid-range of motion, but our joints also need some activity using their full ROM to stay healthy and maintain their current range. As the saying goes, "Use it or lose it."
So, it's smart to add mobility exercises to your workouts to help you develop a more well-rounded body that's not just stronger and better looking, but also more mobile.
The Yoga-Plex is the single best exercise I know for maintaining and increasing overall joint mobility. Why? Because it allows you to work on the range of motion at your ankles, hips, thoracic-spine, and shoulders – all in one exercise.
The World's Greatest Stretch
The inspiration for my development of the Yoga-Plex series comes from what the folks at EXOS called The World's Greatest Stretch (WGS) back in 2004.
A key to performing this and the Yoga-Plex variations below is the ability to step your same-side foot up to your hand while keeping your foot flat on the floor and your hips down. Your torso should form a straight line with back leg.
The solution for the folks who aren't able to accomplish this is simply to elevate their hands on something like yoga-blocks or an aerobic step platform.
Note that when the hands are elevated, it usually means eliminating the downward dog portion of the sequence and doing that part separately with your hands on the floor. This is because the body angle involved in the downward dog commonly causes us to push the blocks or platform forward, which throws off the entire exercise. However, some folks are able to prevent this. They can add in the downward dog portion when their hands are elevated if they choose.
Do 4-6 reps on each side.
Since I first coined the name Yoga-Plex and premiered the exercise in my "Warm-Up Progressions" DVDs back in 2007, it's become a staple concept in the training world. Since then I've also developed several other variations.
Here's how to do the standard Yoga-Plex:
There are two few key differences between the WGS and the Yoga-Plex.
First, instead of stepping your foot to the outside of your same-side hand, you step your foot up to where your same-side hand was while simultaneously lifting your hand off the floor and reaching your arm directly above you to form a straight line with your torso and back leg.
This not only requires more of a mobility demand from your hips, but reaching your arm straight above you as you step your leg up forces you to automatically create a long straight line between your arm, torso, and back leg. In other words, the Yoga-Plex is a more advanced version of the WGS.
The second difference is you make a full circle (make the biggest circle you possibly can in a clockwise direction) with your same-side arm. This demands moving your shoulder through a more dynamic-mobility action than simply reaching your arm towards the sky.
These two differences make the Yoga-Plex a more fluid action to perform.
Perform 4-6 reps on each side.
The Lateral Yoga-Plex
I got the inspiration for this version while taking a yoga class at my mother's studio, Flow Yoga, in Port Richey, Florida. It's more demanding on thoracic spine and shoulder range of motion.
- Instead of starting in push-up position with your wrists underneath your shoulders and your feet positioned roughly hip-width apart, here you place your feet wider. Start with your feet about 6 inches (15 cm) farther to each side than shoulder-width apart.
- When you shift your hips back into the downward dog, reach your arm to your opposite leg. If you can, touch your shin or grab your ankle, but don't force anything. This reaching action creates both thoracic spine and shoulder extension and rotation on your weight-bearing arm.
- If you reached towards your left leg with your right arm, you'll be stepping up with your left leg and rotating with your right arm when you come out of the downward dog. This is an easy way to not get confused as to which leg should step up and which arm should rotate on each rep, as you should alternate sides. Whichever leg you just reached for will be the leg you step up with. And whichever arm you just reached with will be the same arm your rotate after you step your leg up.
- Step your foot roughly 6 inches to the outside of your same-side arm so that your front foot is flat and your torso now forms a straight line with your back leg.
- While keeping your back foot straight, rotate your torso to the opposite side of your front leg as you make the biggest circle possible with your arm in a clockwise direction.
- Rotating your torso away from your front leg (instead of towards your front leg) is more demanding on your thoracic spine because your hips can't shift at all to help you rotate.
Do 4-6 reps on each side.
I use this version to teach the Yoga-Plex. It requires you to perform each element in individual segments. This allows you to focus on learning how to perform each aspect properly.
But the segmented Yoga-Plex does have a few unique elements the previous versions don't, which makes it a valuable version to use even if you're competent with the more advanced versions.
- Segment 1: Hip Rolls x 8-10 reps in each direction
- Segment 2: Rotational Arm Reach x 4-5 reps in each direction
- Segment 3: Dynamic Hamstring Hip Flexor Stretch x 4-5 reps of each
- If needed, you can do this with your hands elevated on top of a small platform such as yoga blocks or an aerobic step. Just make sure the platform is no wider than your shoulder width.
- Do all three segments with one leg forward, keeping your foot flat and just outside of your same-side hand. Then switch your stance and repeat each segment with the other leg forward.
- When performing the hip rolls, rotate your hips and back foot as far as possible to each side while maintaining a fairly straight line from your torso to your back leg.
- When doing the rotational arm reach, don't roll your hips or back foot. Just rotate at your torso while reaching your arm to the sky as far as your can without forcing anything.
- When doing the dynamic hamstring and hip flexor stretch, try to straighten your front leg and lift your toes to your nose while keeping your hands on the floor for the hamstring stretch portion. On the hip flexor stretch portion, reach your arms overhead and lean your torso back by driving your hips forward using the glute on your kneeling side.
- When stretching your hip flexor, make sure to create the extension from your hip, not from your lower back. You can further enhance the stretch by also leaning away from your down knee as you reach back while driving your hips forward in a controlled manner.
A Few More Tips
- If you're doing these exercises as a part of a dynamic warm-up, don't pause for more than a second or two at any point. Maintain a constant flow.
- You can rotate which version you use each workout.
- You can use the above versions at any time throughout the day as a feel-good stretch. You can either perform them dynamically as shown in the videos, or as more of a static stretch by holding each position for around 30 seconds. Do whatever feels best to you.