“Mobility often becomes a limiting factor [ when it comes to strength and power],” says Kelly Starrett, owner of CrossFit San Francisco and author of Becoming a Supple Leopard. Why? Because if you can’t move a joint effectively through its full range of motion, you can’t tap into your full strength and power.
What’s more, without proper mobility, you increase your risk of injury as you force other areas of your body to pick up the slack.
Think you’re mobile enough?
The Mobility Test
Think you’re mobile enough? Take this test:
- Spread your feet shoulder-width apart
- Drop into a deep squat (butt to calves)
- Keep your chest up and back flat
- Hold that position for two minutes
If you found that excruciating (or impossible), you’re not alone.
To increase your mobility, Starlett recommends the following five mobility exercises, performed several times a week — post-workout, before bed, or both.
1. T-Spine Roll
Target: Thoracic (upper) spine
Benefit: Opens the upper back, boosts core stability, and relieves pressure on the lower spine.
- Grab two lacrosse or tennis balls and tape them together. Lie face up on the floor with your new “roller” positioned just below your shoulder blades (your spine should rest between the balls).
- Raise your arms above your chest and hook your thumbs together. Now lower your arms toward the floor behind your head.
- Do as many reps as you can up to 100 (shoot for at least 50). Scoot forward to move the roller a few inches up your spine, and repeat.
2. Psoas Extension
- Stand inside a doorframe so that you’re facing one of the jambs.
- Step your right leg back, moving your foot outside the door along the wall as you lower your body into a lunge (your back should touch the jamb behind you).
- Reach toward the ceiling with both hands and grab the jamb as high above your head as possible. Hold for as long as you can, or for two minutes.
- Stand up and repeat with your left leg back.
3. Lunge and Twist
Target: Entire body
Benefit: Relieves tension in the glutes, hamstrings, hips, groin, and torso, enhancing range of motion throughout the body.
- Step forward with your right leg into a deep lunge (bend both knees to 90 degrees and hover your back knee away from the floor a few inches), placing your left hand on the floor and your right hand on your right foot (press your arm against inner thigh).
- Hold your foot firmly against the ground as you press your right knee outward with your arm. Hold for five seconds, then relax for five seconds. (Repeat for a minute and a half. Without moving your hands, rotate your torso up to your right, and then up to your left).
- Continue this move five times, taking 10 seconds per rotation.
- Stand up, step forward with your left leg, and repeat on that side.
4. Overhead Bench Stretch
Target: Shoulders, lats, and triceps
Benefit: Increases range of motion in your shoulders, and loosens your lats and triceps.
- Grab a broomstick or similarly sized pole with your hands about six inches apart and turn your palms down.
- Kneel in front of a bench or chair. Place your elbows on its surface so that they’re about fist-width apart.
- Move your knees backward and lower your torso toward the floor until you feel a deep stretch in your shoulders and lats.
- Hold for as long as you can or until two-minutes.
5. Half-Kneeling Lat Extension
Target: Shoulders and lats
Benefit: Stretches your lats, improving upper-body mobility.
- Loop a resistance band around a sturdy pole or another immobile object at shoulder height. Face the pole and grab the band with your right hand, turn your palm down.
- Step back to create tension in the band with your arm extended toward the attachment point.
- Now, step back with your right leg into a deep lunge (bend your knees to 90 degrees and rest your back knee on the floor), allowing your right arm to extend above your head at a 45-degree angle.
- Hold for as long as you can up to two minutes. Stand up, switch sides, and repeat.
Prevent Mobility Busters
Increasing your mobility with these exercises is a big advantage for your mobility — but, you also need to overhaul the habits that sabotaged your flexibility in the first place.
“We spend so much time sitting — both at home and at work — our bodies forget how to move,” says Starrett, adding that the result is a handful of fairly predictable patterns of immobility, including tight hips, rigid shoulders, stiff backs, and quads as taut as piano strings.
And mobility issues aren’t limited to the lower body — tight shoulders can cause your back to round every time you do overhead presses, setting the stage for pain that ripples from your shoulder joints right down to the lumbar spine.
Ready for a reset? Focus on sitting less, moving more, and doing these exercises for about 10-minutes a day.
Very soon, you’ll notice you’re lifting more weight, experiencing discomfort, and suffering fewer injuries that keep you from working out.