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

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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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