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The Definitive Guide to Mobility Exercises: Improve Flexibility, Function, and Strength

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The Definitive Guide to Mobility Exercises: Improve Flexibility, Function, and Strength

Mobility exercises are a great way to not only improve flexibility but optimize physical performance both in and out of the gym.

 

I’m a big fan of Kelly Starrett’s work over at MobilityWOD and of his book, Becoming a Supple Leopard. He’s truly pioneering a new era of sports performance for both elite athletes and “normal” folk alike.

That said, a perusal of his YouTube channel is a bit overwhelming–over 500 videos without any real organization. His book is well organized but you’re given so many mobility exercises that you inevitably wonder which are best, where you should start, and how to build a routine that works for you.

Well, this article is going to help. I’m going to share with you videos of some of my favorite mobility exercises, organized into various body parts as well as exercises.

If you’re having trouble with flexibility or function anywhere in your body, then I recommend you try each of the mobility exercises listed for the area/exercise and choose the 3 – 4 that best address your issues, and do them 2 – 3 times per week. If you’re new to mobility work, you’ll be surprised at how much it can help.

Let’s get to it.

Stuff You’ll Want For Mobility Exercises

Before we talk mobility exercises, I want to quickly share with you some simple equipment that you’ll want for getting the most out of your mobility work.

Foam Roller

Foam rolling is an awesome way to improve flexibility and mobility and is something Kelly uses liberally.

A good foam roller is moderately dense–if the foam is too soft, you can’t apply enough pressure; if it’s too hard, you can wind up bruising yourself, causing too much trauma to the trigger point areas.

Here are the two foam rollers I like and recommend:

High-Density Foam Roller

A good high-density foam roller is cheap and gets the job done. Can’t go wrong.

foam-roller

Rumble Roller

rumble-rollerThe Rumble Roller products are another great option.

Although a Rumble Roller is more expensive than the simple high-density roller, I like it quite a bit more. It’s more forgiving (the harder the roller, the less pressure you can apply before it begins to really hurt) and the knobs are great for working out tight spots.

I like the original density (blue) best.

Trigger Point Performance “The Grid” Foam Roller

What I like about this fancy-looking foam roller is the different surfaces of the grid layout let you apply different amounts and types of pressure on trigger points, which can sometimes be tricky to find and target for release.

trigger-point-foam-roller

 

Lacrosse Ball

The simple lacrosse ball is just as important for mobility work as a good foam roller.

The ball is great for nailing knotty muscles and targeting very specific areas that you can’t quite dig into otherwise like the feet, hamstrings, shoulder blades, and arms.

lacrosse-ball

Strong Rubber Band

rubber-stretch-band

A strong rubber band is crucial for fully mobilizing certain parts of both the upper and lower back.

As you’ll see, a large percentage of Starrett’s mobility exercises use a band and for good reason: it allows you pull and stretch muscles in ways that otherwise just isn’t possible.

Mobility Exercises for the Shoulders

Shoulder problems are by far one of the most common issues us fitness folk run into.

It’s usually related to improper form on the Bench Press and Shoulder Press, but it’s also occupational for many. Most of us sit at a desk all day and if we don’t watch our posture, we can wind up slumped over for hours at a time and really tighten up our pecs, shoulders, traps, and neck.

Well, these shoulder mobility exercises are some of my favorites for restoring limberness and range of motion.

The Simple Five-Way Shoulder

This is a great shoulder mobility exercise to start with. It gives you five basic positions to work with to improve general shoulder flexibility and range of motion.

Shoulder Range and Positional Inhibition

This mobility exercise is simple but important for us weightlifters as even when we’re properly training our shoulders (training all three heads) as well as our backs (which helps us prevent the “weightlifter’s slouch”), our anterior deltoids get pretty smashed.

Mind Your Shoulder Internal Rotation

Proper internal shoulder rotation is important for properly performing lifts like the Deadlift and Barbell Row and absolutely vital if you’re going to be doing any Olympic lifting.

The Best Shoulder Mob Ever

If you want to have a strong, pain-free Bench Press or Military Press, you’re going to need to generate a lot of torque in an externally rotated shoulder position. This video will help.

Resetting After a Shoulder Tweak

If you perform heavy presses regularly, you’re going to deal with aggravated shoulders from time to time, and if you don’t do anything about it, it’s going to impair your performance.

In this video, Starrett shows us how to “reset” our shoulders after tweaking them.

Mobility Exercises for the Hips

If your hips are restricted in their function and range of motion, your lower body exercises are going to give you some serious grief.

Many people that suffer from hip problems think they’re suffering from leg muscle problems and then are baffled why their situation doesn’t improve despite all kinds of hamstring and quadriceps work.

The Lower Extremity Basic List

This “basic list” covers all the major bases in hip mobility and is a great way to find your sticking spots, which you can then further address with other exercises given below.

Hip Flexion Case Study

I ran into this exact problem Kelly talks about in this video and wish I had known about this mobility exercise. Instead, it took me nearly 5 weeks of weekly massage work on my psoas, foam rolling, and stretching until my hip flexors finally got their act together.

Three-Way Hip Mobility

In this video you’ll find three great mobility exercises for releasing sticky tissues and get everything in your hips sliding and moving properly.

Third Most Important Hip Mobility Exercise: The Superfrog

For whatever reason, I’ve always had limited abduction on my left side and it was messing with my squats. This nasty little sucker of an exercise (which starts at 2:58) works wonders.

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Mobility Exercises for the Quadriceps & Hamstrings

If you’re going to deadlift and squat heavy weights regularly, you’re going to run into some snags with your big leg muscles (which can, in turn, cause pain/discomfort in other areas of the body like the knees and lower back).

It’s smart to be proactive about this and begin a proper leg mobility routine early.

Back in Quadness Baby

The most common problems caused by tight quadriceps are tight hips that can’t move freely and pain in the area of the patellar tendon. These quadriceps mobility exercises are great for keeping these large leg muscle supple and pain-free.

Upstream and Downstream Solution for Knee & Heel Pain

If you’re dealing with knee or heel pain, this one’s for you.

Best Hip Extensor Mobility Exercise

If your hamstrings are too tight, you’ll never be able to squat or deadlift comfortably and when you do, you’ll be at a greater risk of injury. This mobility exercise is a powerful variation of the traditional straight-leg hamstring stretch.

Long Car Ride Recovery

These two hamstring mobility exercises are a great addition to the above, and together, should be all you need to keep your hamstrings flexible and functioning optimally.

Mobility Exercises for Loud Creaky Knees

Noisy joints doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem, but healthy joints aren’t very creaky.

I tend to have this issue with my knees–they painlessly crack and creak when I squat so if you’re like me, this is for you. 🙂

Mobility Exercises for the Back

Shoulder pain is the most common complaint I hear among weightlifters but back pain is a close second. Especially among those that emphasize heavy, compound weightlifting in their workouts. And boy does back pain suck: it’s not only just annoying, it really holds you back in the gym as you won’t be doing any heavy lower body work unless your back is pain-free.

So, in this section of the article we’re going to look at some of Starrett’s best exercises for keeping the entire back supple and moving the way it should. I recommend you include some back work in your mobility routine even if you’re not currently experiencing pain as it will help keep it that way.

Simple Recipes for Back Pain

If you’re currently dealing with back pain, these mobility exercises will help.

The Ball and Your Back

Like most mobility work, using a ball doesn’t feel good but it delivers great results.

Peri-Scapular Death by Pain Ball

Don’t worry, you won’t die. 🙂 This is a great routine for working out problems in the upper back and lats.

Mobility Exercises for the Deadlift

If I could only do one exercise in my workouts, it would be the Deadlift. It trains every muscle in your body except your chest and requires tremendous lower body and arm strength to perform properly.

That said, lack of mobility in certain areas of the body make it basically impossible to safely pull a lot of weight. In this section of the article, Starrett will give us an in-depth look at the Deadlift and how to ensure we have sufficient flexibility and “fluidity” to perform it correctly.

Deadlift Prep Parts 1 & 2

In this two-part video, Kelly explains the key positions you need to be able to get into to deadlift properly and gives some mobility exercises that help you get into these positions easily.


Deadlift/Pulling Prep Through Better Hip Positioning

This video repeats some of the material in the above two, but is worth watching for more education on proper deadlifting and simple mobility exercises to help your hips specifically.

Mobility Exercises for the Squat

Like the Deadlift, the Squat is incredibly important for building whole-body strength and size and also requires quite a bit of lower body mobility to perform correctly.

10-Minute Squat Challenge

This is a simple but effective mobility exercise for fixing various lower body problems that get in the way of proper squatting.

I Wish I Could Squat Jerk

This video gives a couple great mobility exercises for helping with comfortably reaching the bottom of the squat.

Quick Squat Ankle Test

Tight ankles are an insidious squat buster that many people don’t know about.

Want Even More Mobility?

If you like what you see in this article and want even more, then I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Kelly’s book, Becoming a Supple Leopard. It’s a funny title but an incredibly useful book–it really is the bible of mobility.

Becoming a Supple Leopard

 

 

What do you think of these mobility exercises? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Dom Wint

    Just got Kelly’s book for my birthday. Excited to see what he has to say. Was wondering where you stood, Mike, based on the fact he’s a CrossFitter. But I guess, based on this book, he’s a CrossFitter that does it right.

    • Michael Matthews

      Kelly’s the man. I don’t think CrossFit is inherently horrible. It’s just not ideal for building muscle or strength and it’s dangerous if you have a shitty coach.

      • john max

        JOIN THE ILLUMINATI CALL +2347059014517 OR info. illuminatraoccutic@gmail.com JOIN THE ILLUMINATI FROM NIGERIA, USA, OR ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD TODAY BE RICH, FAME, AND POSSES POWER.email us on info illuminatraoccutic@gmail.com OR call us on +2347059014517 for immediate initiation New members registration is now open online now !!!!! BENEFITS GIVEN TO NEW MEMBERS WHO JOIN ILLUMINATI. A Cash Reward of USD $300,000 USD A New Sleek Dream CAR valued at USD $120,000 USD A Dream House bought in the country of your own choice One Month holiday (fully paid) to your dream tourist destination. One year Golf Membership package A V.I.P treatment in all Airports in the World A total Lifestyle change Access to Bohemian Grove Monthly payment of $1,000,000 USD into your bank account every month as a member One Month booked Appointment with Top 5 world Leaders and Top 5 Celebrities in the World. If you are interested call the agent now +2347059014517 or send your e- mail to info.illuminatraoccutic@gmail.com for immediately initiation.New members registration is now open online..

  • Timely and serendipitous post! I’ve recently been suffering from back issues related to flexibility and mobility. THANK YOU for posting!

    • Michael Matthews

      This will definitely help!

  • Josey

    Love Kelly! I was surprised to learn he does Cross Fit but when I saw him execute the exercises I knew immediately he was legit. Also helps that he’s a DPT!

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah he’s awesome and he’s not your average CrossFitter. I think of him more as a really smart guy that’s into powerlifting and Olympic Lifting. 🙂

  • halevi

    Great article. I’m experiencing several issues that could probably be helped by this article. When should these exercises be done? Before working out? After working out?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! I like to do them separately from my lifting workouts.

      • halevi

        Thanks.

  • sj

    mike

    podcast with kelly? that would be really interesting. great article.as always.

    • Michael Matthews

      I’d love to do one with him. I’ll reach out.

  • Saib

    This article couldn’t be more timely. My hip flexors are absolutely killing me when deep-squatting.

    • Michael Matthews

      I’ve been there brother. Mobility work will really help.

  • William Lim Jr

    This is great Mike! I’ve been trying to work on my flexibility on my hips and hamstrings, but didn’t really have a good guide to follow.

    I would very much like to incorporate these with BLS. I lift in the mornings and plan to do mobility in the evenings since you suggested doing mobility separately. I can think of 3 scenarios to do this:

    1) Doing the mobility exercises on a particular muscle group as a prep for lifting with that muscle group the next morning;
    2) Lifting with a particular muscle group in the morning, then doing mobility on the same muscle group as recovery in the evening of that same day; or,
    3) Lifting with a particular muscle group in the morning, then doing mobility exercises on that muscle group the evening of the following day.

    Which do you think would be most ideal among these, or if you have better ideas what would they be?

    Thanks man!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! I’m glad you like it.

      Many people like #1 and I alternate between that and #2.

  • JamesPond

    Mike, thanks. I have been using mWod Pro for a while and love it keeping me mobile, healthy, and moving correctly! Great article!

    • Michael Matthews

      Great! Thanks!

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  • Fitbro

    Hey Mike,
    Do I need to buy rubber band for these mobility exercises if I have bodylastics bands? Thanks.

    • Michael Matthews

      For some yes but not all.

      • Fitbro

        Cool. Another question, I can’t properly do wall extensions. In starting position (arms/elbows parallel to floor) my arms aren’t on the wall (except elbows) but like in ~30 degree angle from wall and, when I go up, arms & elbows loose connection with wall entirely, so what do you think – is that a shoulder problem?

  • Andy

    Mike, have you tried Trigger Point X-Factor Massage Ball? It’s a lot more expensive than simple lacrosse ball, but is it worth it?

    • Michael Matthews

      No but I’ve tried the Beastie Ball and like it.

      • Andy

        And would you recommend beastie ball over regular lacrosse balls mainly for back massage or just can’t beat lacrosse balls?

        • Michael Matthews

          The trigger points of the beastie are nice but I’m not sure I would say it’s wholly BETTER.

  • john max

    JOIN THE ILLUMINATI CALL +2347059014517 OR info. illuminatraoccutic@gmail.com JOIN THE ILLUMINATI FROM NIGERIA, USA, OR ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD TODAY BE RICH, FAME, AND POSSES POWER.email us on info illuminatraoccutic@gmail.com OR call us on +2347059014517 for immediate initiation New members registration is now open online now !!!!! BENEFITS GIVEN TO NEW MEMBERS WHO JOIN ILLUMINATI. A Cash Reward of USD $300,000 USD A New Sleek Dream CAR valued at USD $120,000 USD A Dream House bought in the country of your own choice One Month holiday (fully paid) to your dream tourist destination. One year Golf Membership package A V.I.P treatment in all Airports in the World A total Lifestyle change Access to Bohemian Grove Monthly payment of $1,000,000 USD into your bank account every month as a member One Month booked Appointment with Top 5 world Leaders and Top 5 Celebrities in the World. If you are interested call the agent now +2347059014517 or send your e- mail to info.illuminatraoccutic@gmail.com for immediately initiation.New members registration is now open online………

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  • Derrek

    Is it ok to take off after 7 weeks of workout and not 8? This would be my 8th week. I’m getting over a cold and think it would be nice to rest as well I gotta work a lot this week. Thanks!

  • Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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  • Ashleigh Fernandez

    Thanks so much for all the information you have on you your page. Incredibly helpful

  • Mark

    Kelly mentions that he prefers the toes pointed straight ahead instead of them being turned out in the 10 minute squat challenge video. What’s your thoughts on that? I can’t imagine doing heavy squats without my toes slightly pointed out.

  • Elkie Chiu

    I bought his book, after straining my lower back, I developed sciatica pain down my left leg. Went to see a Physio who diagnosed Piriformis Syndrome. But It was the techniques and exercises in his book, that really helped me to manage the symptoms whilst I was healing. Apart from helping my injury my flexibility has improved so much in 5 weeks !! I could just about touch the floor with my finger tips from a standing position, now I can get my palms flat on the floor and I can nearly get my head to my shins ! He is a genius ! Highly recommend buying his book !

    • Wilson Lau

      Hi Elkie, which book are you referring to?

      • Elkie Chiu

        Its “Becoming A Supple Leopard” By Kelly Starett

        • Sorry to hear about the strain to the lower back. :/

          Good job on the results you’ve gotten from the book so far. Keep it up!

          I’m a big fan of Starett’s work on mobility. I recommend his book on MFL. 🙂

  • Geoffio

    Oh Man I have been looking for an article like this all my life. I have always suffered from a rigid body even though I stretch. I always feel tight and my range of motion is poor… It always responds well to stretching but I just don’t know enough stretches to go the next step… Thank you Mike… and Kelly you are a pioneer… Huge thank you.

    • Glad you found it!

      My pleasure man. Thanks for the support!

      LMK if you have any questions. I’d be happy to help.

  • Sam

    Hi, this is an interesting article, but there is loads of exercises. It would probably take over an hour to do them all.
    How would you go about choosing the most important exercises for general maintenance/prehb and fitting them into a weekly exercise regime (pre/post workout?

    • Thanks Sam!

      Good point. I’m not going to make a note to update this. A good place to start is with the “Agile 8.” Check it out.

      • Andrei

        Hi again Mike. I have 1 quick question. All my joints are kind of rigid and i think this thing prevents me from doing the proper movement at squats and deadlifts.( didn’t feel my poor range of motion in other exercises). Is the Agile 8 routine enough to improve my mobility ( i guess it improves the lower body mobility)? I ask this because my bad form started to feel in my lower back and i’m afraid of an injury. Thanks in advance.

        • Yeah that’s a great routine. I recommend it.

          This may help too:

          http://www.muscleforlife.com/joint-pain/

          • Andrei

            Thanks alot for the answer. Read that article some weeks ago too. Managed to get some glucosamine sulphate pills. Hope the pills + Agile 8 before deadlifts/squats will let me execute the exercises with proper form.

          • My pleasure. Nice!

            Hope so too. LMK how it goes!

          • Andrei

            Hey Mike. I just stoped by to say thanks for all the advice you gave me. I say this after the intense leg workout i had yesterday without any back pain. Agile 8 + omega 3 + glucosamine condroitine MSM rock. Thanks and keep up the good work.

          • YW! That’s great to hear. Will do!

            Talk soon.

  • Will

    Hi Mr. Matthews,

    If you had to choose one, would you choose the high density foam roller or rumble roller? Which one is the game changer? Would either work for the suggested leg mobility exercises in Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger?

    • Rumble for me because the high-density is VERY hard. Maybe I’m just a wuss though. 😉

      Yeah both work fine.

  • Grayson Palmer

    These mobility excercises are awesome. I always had a little pain coming down during my side lateral raises, despite my best efforts. I have been leaning slightly forward and doing them with some external rotation. After doing the shoulder mobility work my shoulders feel great and I went up on weight for the side laterals with no pain. I have been doing BLS for 6 months, I wish I was doing these excercises since the beginning. Thanks Mike!

    • Glad to hear you’re doing better now, Grayson! Happy I could help.

  • Miz Eloise

    hi mike. qdo i really need these now. im just a newbie and have been following your bls since july 2016. ive stalled on my squat. dont laugh ok but i can only squat 12.5 kgx6 x 3 sets. thats where i stopped progressing. so will these help? im 32 yers old female 23.8% bf

  • Miz Eloise

    im looking for ways to improve my squats even just by tweny tiny bit weight. im also on a caloric deficit. infeel like if i focus on these this will just be Esy scapegoat for my poor strength. what dya think

    • Take a look at the article I referred you to below and LMK what you think.

  • Miz Eloise

    annoying. the first video i watched is so scattered. i wish you have yoir own vids mike. i like how organized you are.

    • I hear you. I’m going to be putting together a whole course on mobility next year, and I may be doing mobility videos as well so stay tuned. 🙂

      In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about the subject, I recommend reading Becoming a Supple Leopard and/or Movement.

      • Nathan Hanak

        I’m stoked to see you do these Mike. Love Dr. Kelly, but quick note you can perhaps improve upon with his videos, is it’s hard to understand what areas he’s talking about should be affected or where you should feel, what part of the muscle/body part you should be pushing, where the stretch should be felt. He puts one in a lot of seemingly contorted positions and I’m not always sure if I’m doing it right. Keep up the good work, it’s been so helpful Mike!

        • Glad you’re excited and good to know! Thanks for the tip. 🙂

  • Chris Stark

    I can’t believe you put something like this together for free. You’re the man.

  • Gerard

    Hello Mike, which are some good mobility exercises to prevent and decrease wrist pain? Thanks!

  • JonNy 5M1Th

    wow! a treasure trove.

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