a quick disclaimer before we begin – I’m not here to provide you with any new, fancy mobility techniques.
Trust me, I’d love to! And we do have a lot of helpful information to share with you soon. But for now, I’ll assume that you’ve encountered plenty of new ideas from all the Physical Therapists and programs out on the fitness scene. Instead, for now, I’d like to talk about how you can get better at coaching yourself and others into moving better, without limitations. And to achieve that you don’t need anything fancy or new.
Here are a few super-valuable, practical mobility lessons that I’ve learned during my years as a competitive athlete and coach:
- Take action and own your mobility.
- Ease in and be consistent with your efforts.
- Always practice proper mobility etiquette with fellow athletes.
1. Take action and own your mobility.
The first lesson is short and simple.
Most people wait until something hurts or gets injured before they take an interest in caring for their bodies. It’s human nature. I’m certainly guilty too. But there is a sure way to avoid potential mobility issues, unnecessary pain, and in the worst case, unplanned visits to the doctor’s office.
Get a proper assessment before you start adding in random mobility movements!
Like I said, there are are a ton of qualified fitness professionals out there now who can look you over from head to toe and point out any potential hazards in your movement. I always recommend working with someone that understands the type of training you’re doing. It’s going to be a lot easier to get to the root of the problem quickly when you don’t have to spend time explaining what a clean and jerk is.
Of course you don’t have to get assessed by someone live and in person. There are a ton of products and programs out there that can help you self-assess and identify movement flaws. Again, the key is simply taking action and start gathering experience. Educate yourself and learn about your own body. Pick up only the most basic tools to start, and then work them daily, with intent.
This doesn’t mean you have to be your own PT guru from here on out. But remember, learning self-maintenance is YOUR responsibility, no one else’s. Even if the issue is ultimately far outside of your skill level, the experience will still empower you to better explain the issue to a professional and find a proper solution.
…No one else’s.
My best Assessment advice
In my experience, here’s what you should keep in mind during any assessment:
- Pay close attention to movement, rather than trying to guess what individual joints might be messed up. Major motor control issues like diving knees or a rounded back should be considered the obvious areas of focus.
- The top 3 most common issues to check first are tight ankles (specifically, dorsiflexion), poor thoracic extension (a tight and rounded upper back), and poor shoulder flexion (trouble in the front rack position, and inability to raise the arms completely overhead).
- Once you have addressed these primary considerations, and clear any major motor issues, THEN you can move on to a joint-by-joint assessment of mobility. But NOT before.
Assessment is your best starting point – Take action and gather your data.
2. Ease in and be consistent.
I’ve just started listening to the Bret Contreras Podcast. You might know him as The Glute Guy. In any case, he recently shared an analogy that was so good I pulled my car over and wrote it down.
In reference to people who are just starting to train, he mentioned that you wouldn’t dump a bucket of water on a young plant, flooding it and returning a week later, would you? No, you would water it a little bit at a time, as needed. That’s a very simple, very useful idea.
As a beginner it’s a terrible idea to hit the gym once a week, trash yourself beyond the point of walking normally, and then repeat 7 days later. It just doesn’t make any sense.
The same perspective can be applied to mobility work. Try to approach it consistently and periodically. Start with the minimum effective dose or work, and then add a little bit more each week. Not only is this a far safer strategy, but it also allows for growth and tissue changes that actually last.
Achieving better mobility takes practice and consistency. But it helps to have a roadmap. Movement Specific Mobility can help guide you on what mobilizations to do each day. Click above to learn more.
A simple challenge
Here’s an example of something simple that could make a lasting, positive change in your mobility and performance.
I asked my Barbell Shredded coaching clients to participate in a 30-day squat challenge, just to help promote some extra mobility work and to get them moving more throughout the day. The goal was to accumulate a total of 5-minutes in the bottom of a body-weight squat, every day for 30 days, broken up however you like.
Pro tip: Track your daily efforts for lasting mobility improvements.
I know it’s not exactly rocket science, but here are a few things I noticed when working with my athletes on this challenge:
- There were improvements in range of motion and mobility, but the biggest benefit was a large decrease in warm-up times for each training session.
- The athletes who tried to complete all 5:00 minutes at once from the start were also more likely to quit the challenge after the first week.
- Likewise, athletes who broke up the 5:00 minutes into smaller 1:00 segments were more consistent across the entire 30 days, and seemed to get a much better result.
If there’s something you need to improve, work at it simply and consistently. Track your efforts so you know how much work you’re actually doing. And most importantly, keep hammering away until you’ve made real progress. There’s no rocket science required.
Try creating a challenge of your very own. Just pick something you need to work on, then set a reminder on your phone. Exactly 5-times a day my alarm reminds me to stop what I’m doing and do 30 T-spine extensions over a foam roller. For me, it helps keep my upper back opened up since I spend a large portion of my day working on a computer.
Again, at the moment this makes a huge difference in my training because I don’t have to spend nearly as much time warming-up for my overhead work.
A simple checklist is a powerful training tool.
3. Practice proper mobility etiquette
I just spent about 6 weeks of my summer traveling and training with my GRID Team, the New York Rhinos. Overall, it’s been an incredible learning experience
The biggest thing I’ve noticed about myself is that it’s very hard for me to let go of my chosen methods, my routines and approach, when I’m training and working closely with other athletes and coaches. It’s natural for me to want to share everything that I’ve learned with my fellow teammates and my coaches.
But are they ready to hear it? Am I even in the position to comment on their chosen methods? …Nope. Despite my good intentions, I’m not their coach. And it’s very likely that sharing an extra bit of advice now will only distract them from their work.
Teaching is a funny thing. It’s a lot like telling jokes. You could have the biggest, juiciest nugget of advice for someone. However, if the information is not delivered well, or if your teammate is just not ready to hear it from you, then it won’t matter.
Before you go running around teaching everyone you know the gut smash stick ball trick you saw on YouTube, first make sure they’re ready to learn it, and that they trust you as a teacher and coach. And most importantly, don’t try to teach anything that you haven’t already owned and incorporated successfully into your training.
We all LOVE to learn about new mobility techniques and hacks, but without a core understanding and foundation of daily practice even the fanciest tools will be totally useless, maybe even harmful.
Know your tools.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Please share these simple principles with a friend who could use the advice. Also, if you have any questions about mobility or how you can improve your training, just leave a note in the comments below. I’d love to help you out.
Train hard, train smart,
- Download your FREE mobility guide
- Check out Mike’s mobility gizmos over at MobilityKits.com.
- Learn why your mobility isn’t improving.
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Just a quick question, what is the name of the App that you keep your habits in?
That’s just the notifications app on an iPhone. You don’t need anything special, just something that you’ll use. Something easy and already there.
Thanks Chris! 🙂
I also spend a lot of time at a desk, since it’s my job. I try to take walks throughout the day, short ones every 20 min and a couple longers ones on my breaks.
I have a lack of shoulder mobility, to the point where front squats are doable but a bit uncomfortable, and I can’t do overhead squats with anything other than a barbell due to lack of mobility.
I am going to start trying the t-spine extensions like you mentioned above, but in addition to that what would you suggest I try on my own? I own a TP foam roller, TP quad baller, MobilityWOD supernova (the smaller one, I’m only 4’10”) , and a small band.
Thanks for any advice!
It sounds like you’re doing great. 🙂 Here’s a bit more info from Mike that might help out. http://daily.barbellshrugged.com/improve-overhead-mobility/
Thanks Chris! I’ll check it out