I often get asked what the best mobility drills are. Many people will hear the word mobility and confuse it, understandably, with flexibility. Let’s clear up the difference before diving into the main discussion and how you can start to train your mobility today.

Flexibility vs. Mobility

Flexible
  1. Flexibility is the ability to move a joint and it’s associated tissues through their range of motion. Does not involve contraction of the targeted muscles.  Is typically expressed passively, without the activation of muscle tissue.
  2. Mobility is best described as the process of using full range of motion and loading the muscles and joint through that range of motion. Involves a combination of stretch and contraction of the same muscle.  Highly dependent upon motor control.

The biggest distinction between flexibility and mobility is the strength component. Flexibility will allow your joints to move fully through ranges of motion, but makes no guarantees about safety and handling an external load in those ranges, specifically the end ranges (furthest positions).

Mobility applies to fitness by improving the general health of an individual. It’s strongly tied to decreased pain (1), improved function (2), and healthier, and longer-lasting joints (3).

As far as mobility and health go, feeling better and being able to move better will allow you to:

  • do more with your body, even as you get older
  • it will keep you healthier for longer
  • it will protect your from injury by decreasing the likelihood of loading in the end ranges of your joint tissues
  • it will keep pain at a minimum/eliminate it for the long-term

Mobility for health

Odds are if you haven’t been doing your best mobility work since your infancy, then you are a good bit less mobile than you could be. Have you ever watched a baby squat? From a strength coach’s standpoint, it’s pretty damn impressive.

So if you, like most people in the world, have found yourself sitting for a portion of the day, unable to squat to the ground, experiencing low back pain, or general stiffness of your joints, then it’s time you start taking your mobility more seriously.

The good news is that mobility starts with flexibility, and stretching is easy.  You must increase the range of motion of the muscle and surrounding tissues before you can start loading it through a larger range of motion.

What’s the biggest cause of injury?

Loading a muscle or joint PAST it’s range of motion. This is what injures muscles, and in serious cases, the tendons and ligaments of the joint. Not ideal.

7 Best Mobility Drills

Best mobility practices begin with an understanding that causing a change in range of motion takes a long time, and requires a very gradual loading process.  These are not quick results, and if you want the best from mobility, you’ll have to put in the time.

This section will be broken up by body regions and will provide 1 to 2 progressions for each movement, starting with flexibility and progressing to more loading, hence mobility.

The best flexibility drills and the best mobility drills to progress with include:

  1. a. Shoulder flexion stretch – > b. Shoulder dislocates – > c. Z-Press
  2. a. Shoulder extension stretch – > b. Reverse plank – > c. Weighted extensions
  3. a. Squatting butterfly stretch – > b. World’s greatest – > c. Overhead squat
  4. a. Kneeling hip flexor stretch – > b. + Quad – > c. Knee extensions Nordic?
  5. a. Hamstring stretch – > b. Inchworms – > c. RDL’s
  6. a. Calf stretch – > b. Calf raises – > c. ATG squat // pistol squat
  7. a. Side to side lunge -> b. Pancake stretch – > c. Cossack squat

Best Mobility Drills for Upper Body:

1a. Shoulder Flexion Stretch

Shoulder Flexion Stretch
  1. Start with your hands on the wall about shoulder height and shoulder width apart.
  2. Pushing your hands into the wall, lean your torso forward so that your back stays flat and your head passes through your arms.
  3. Keep your arms straight and push through until you feel a stretch in the shoulder, chest, or upper back.  Maybe even all three.
  4. Accumulate 2-3 minutes of stretching in this position.  The goal is to be able to have your head go through “the window”, or pass through the space between your arms.
  5. Progress this stretch by gradually putting your hands lower on the wall, or eventually get to downward dog.

1b. Shoulder Dislocates

  1. Holding a pvc pipe, a light stick/dowel, or a band, place your hands in an overhand grip and take a very wide grip to start.
  2. Keep your arms straight for the whole movement.
  3. Lift the pipe in front of you, raise it overhead, and go behind you until it reaches your backside.  Follow the same process in reverse to bring it back to the front.
  4. Your arms should never bend at the elbow, if they have to, widen your grip until they no longer have to bend.
  5. Needless to say, you should perform this movement with symmetry, not cranking one arm first, then the second.
  6. You should feel a stretch across the chest and through the shoulders with this.
  7. Perform 20 dislocates, meaning return to starting position 20x.
  8. Progress by adding a 2.5 pound weight to the stick or slightly more.

1c. Z-Press

  1. Sit on the floor holding a weight stick or barbell.
  2. Keep your legs straight and your back vertical, no flexion or rounding of the spine.
  3. Press the barbell overhead and be sure to put the head “through the window” to ensure full extension.
  4. Return the weight to your shoulders and repeat in slow and controlled reps.
  5. Progress with weight.

2a. Shoulder extension stretch

Shoulder extension stretch
  1. With your hands place on the floor directly underneath your shoulders, fingers pointed away from your hips, gently scoot forward until a stretch is felt in the front of the arm and shoulder.
  2. Be sure to push chest out for this movement to accentuate the stretch across the chest.
  3. Accumulate 2-3 minutes of stretching in this position.
  4. Progress by taking the stretch slightly further over time.

2b. Reverse Plank

Reverse Plank
  1. Start by sitting on the floor, with your hands placed just underneath the shoulders.  Point your fingers backward, away from the hips (point them forward like the picture for an additional challenge).
  2. Straighten your arms, and raise your hips, keeping your chest high and open through the whole stretch.
  3. Hold for 10-20 seconds, and accumulate 2-3 minutes in this position.
  4. Progress by bending your knees and making a table top where the hips are in line with the shoulders and knees, and the shins are vertical.

2c. Shoulder Extensions

  1. Start with a weighted stick or pvc pipe.  The pipe will be resting on your backside, and your hands will be in an overhand grip, just outside of shoulder width.
  2. Raise the bar behind you keeping your arms straight and your chest pushed out and tall.
  3. Do 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps.
  4. Progress in weight.

Extra Credit

For the shoulders and upper back, since they are a very connected system, there are some extra credit exercises to progress to if these are becoming smooth and routine for you.

  1. 90-to-90
  1. Lie on your side on the floor with both legs out straight, as if you were standing.
  2. Fold the top leg over the bottom leg and make a 90 degree angle with your hip AND your knee.
  3. With your arms in front of you, hands together, open your top arm as far as you can, keeping your other arm, and both legs in the starting position.
  4. Return to start.
  5. 10 times on each side.
2.  Kettlebell windmills
  1. Start with a light kettlebell held overhead and your feet in squat position with your toes slightly pointed out.
  2. If the kettlebell is in your right hand, you will be leaning slightly to the left and reaching to the ground with your left hand while your right hand reaches up to the sky.
  3. Start by hinging the hips backward and slightly away from the side you are leaning to.
  4. Your upper back should twist as you bend over so that you can keep your eyes on the kettlebell and reach down towards the ground with the opposite hand.
  5. You should feel this in your T-spine (mid-upper back), and your hamstrings.

**This is one of the best mobility drills because it adequately challenges the thoracic spine, which is the key to unlocking shoulder mobility.  It also provides work for the lower body, specifically the hips, making it a multi-functional exercise for mobility.

Best Mobility Drills for Lower Body

3a. Squatting Butterfly Stretch

  1. Place your feet just outside of hip width, with your toes slightly pointed out (15-30 degrees).
  2. Keeping your heels flat on the floor, drop your hips down as low as you can, pushing your elbows into the inside of your knee to create a stretch along the groin.
  3. While pushing your elbows out, keep your chest out and up, to encourage a good spinal position throughout the movement.
  4. Accumulate about 2-3 minutes in the stretch.
  5. Progress by gradually trying to get lower into the squat.

3b. World’s Greatest

  1. Starting in push up position, bring one foot next to the same sided hand.
  2. Place that foot firmly on the ground next to the same sided hand, then remove that hand from the floor and reach the elbow down towards the instep of the foot.
  3. Next, bring that hand up towards the ceiling, rotating the upper back to follow it and watching the hand the whole time.
  4. Lastly, straighten the front leg, and lean backward to get a stretch in the hamstring of that leg.
  5. Switch sides every rep, doing 1 set of 5 on each leg.
  6. No progressions.

3c. Overhead squat

  1. Using a pvc pipe, weighted stick, or band, hold with a wide grip directly overhead.
  2. Slowly lower into a squat, keeping your heels on the ground and pushing your knees away from midline, but keeping them over the feet/toes.
  3. Go as low as you can keeping the pipe centered over your center of gravity.
  4. Return to standing.
  5. 3-5 sets of 5-10.
  6. Progress by slowly adding weight.

4a. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch Best Mobility Drills for Hips
  1. In lunge position, with your back knee resting on the ground, engage your glutes, by squeezing and tucking your tail (posterior pelvic tilt).  In other words, eliminate the arch in your back.
  2. If you don’t feel a stretch through the hip flexor of the leg with the knee on the ground, lean forward slightly, keeping your tail tucked.
  3. Hold for about 10-20 seconds, and accumulate 2-3 minutes of stretching.
  4. No progressions.

4b. Kneeling Hip Flexor + Quad Stretch (Couch Stretch)

  1. Start in kneeling hip flexor stretch position.
  2. Increase stretch and shift focus to quads by reaching back and holding foot of the stretched leg.
  3. Accumulate 2-3 minutes of stretch.
  4. No progressions.

4c. Natural Leg Extensions

  1. Start by resting tall with both knees flat on the ground.
  2. Engage a hollow position by tucking the tail and protracting the shoulders (pushing forward).
  3. Slowly lower back keeping a rigid hollow torso position until you cannot lower any further and still get back up (this might take some trial and error).
  4. Use an assist if needed (like a TRX or something else to hold onto and pull you back up) until you are strong enough to do it freestanding.

5a. Hamstring stretch

Hamstring Stretch
  1. With one leg propped up on a step, stool, or bench, stick chest out and flatten lower back.
  2. With leg straight, hold trunk position and lean the trunk forward until a stretch is felt along the backside of the straight leg.
  3. Hold for 10-20 seconds and accumulate 2-3 minutes of stretching.

5b. Inchworm

Inchworm
  1. Start in standing position.
  2. Place hands on the floor and walk them out slowly, keeping the legs as straight as possible.
  3. Stop walking out when you are in push up position.
  4. Begin walking legs up towards hands, with small steps and keeping the legs straight.
  5. Stand up once the legs have reached the hands.
  6. Repeat.

5c. RDL’s/Stiff-legged Deadlifts

RDL
  1. In standing position, hold the weight in front of the hips, “unlock” the knees by initiating a tiny bit of bend.
  2. Initiate the movement by reaching the hips as far backward as possible, letting the weight slide down the thighs, ideally keeping contact the entire time.
  3. Keep the knees as straight as possible/just unlocked for the entire movement.
  4. Go as low as you can and keep a flat back for the whole thing.  Stop before you start to see any rounding.
  5. You should feel a big stretch in the hamstrings.

6a. Calf Stretch

  1. Start in push up position.
  2. Raise the hips, keeping one of your heels on the ground.
  3. Feel the stretch in the calf.
  4. Switch sides every 3-5 seconds, performing 20 on each leg.

6b. Calf Raises

Calf Raises
  1. Standing on a ledge or step, position both feet with the balls of your feet on the ledge and your heels hanging off.  Hold onto a railing or support of some sort for balance.
  2. Drop the heels down off the ledge and create a stretch in the calf.
  3. Next, plantarflex the ankle by push the balls of the feet down and raising your entire body with your calves.
  4. Progress by holding weight or performing calf raises on one leg instead of both.

6c. Pistol Squat

Best Mobility Exercise - Pistol Squats

  1. Start in standing position and lift one leg off the ground, balancing on one leg.
  2. Perform a squat using only one leg.
  3. Focus on getting to full depth and keeping your balance side to side and front to back.
  4. Use a bench to stop you at halfway if you cannot perform the full pistol squat, or hold onto a support for the full movement.

**This is one of the best mobility drills for lots of joints  because it is so demanding on the ankles, knees, and hips.  This gives you a lot of bang for your buck.

7a. Side to Side Lunge

Side to Side Lunge
  1. With your feet just shy of their widest position (side splits), lunge side to side, keeping the heels on the ground and the knee over the foot.
  2. Feel a stretch in the groin of the straight leg.
  3. Hold each stretch position for 2-3 seconds before switching sides.
  4. Perform 10 lunges to each side.

7b. Standing Pancake Stretch

  1. Stand with your feet just shy of their widest stance (side splits).
  2. Initiate the movement by shifting your hips backwards until you feel a stretch in the groin.
  3. Hold for 2-3 seconds, and return to starting position.
  4. Repeat these slow and controlled movements for 20 reps.

7c. Cossack Squat

Cossack Squat
  1. Start with your feet just shy of their widest stance (side splits).
  2. Initiate a lunge to each side, going as low as possible.  Once in the bottom, keep your hips as low as possible and shift across to lunge on the other side.
  3. Keep your knees over your feet for the whole movements and both heels should never leave the ground.
  4. Progress by adding a weight.

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