Prioritize Your Mobility

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Today I have an excellent guest post by Boston based strength coach, Matthew Ibrahim. I love pointing people in the direction of coaches in the industry who are on the up and up, and Matthew definitely falls into that camp.

He’s someone who I feel provides a ton of great content and has a lot of great things to say. Today he discusses mobility, what it is (what it isn’t), and some new drills I think you’ll enjoy.

Craig: “Hey bro, I can’t wrap my right hand all the way around my back and grab my left arm.”

David: “Really? Everyone can do that. You definitely need some shoulder mobility to fix that.”

The word ‘need’ is quite subjective here.

Does Craig really need mobility in his right shoulder? Is that particular range of motion and pattern important enough to warrant this need? How much mobility is truly enough?

Think about these few questions. Let them marinade for a bit. We’ll jump back to them soon, but first let’s talk about the why, the where and the when.

WHY MOBILITY IS IMPORTANT

Everyone needs mobility, to a certain extent and in certain areas more than others.

It’s just a common thing to see in clients/athletes/patients: a lack of mobility in a joint.

Regardless of the reason, more often than not, that particular individual will benefit a great deal by incorporating more mobility drills in order to increase the overall range of motion for that joint to have access to. We see this both in the strength and conditioning world and in the physical therapy world.

Perfect example: if you can’t perform lunges properly due to hips that just don’t seem to function correctly, then a quick fix may be to perform a few hip mobility drills to open these areas up.

Most recently, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a big group of NFL Combine Prep college football players from Division I programs at Athletic Evolution in Woburn, MA.

One incredibly glaring thing I noticed right from the start: all of their hips were jacked up, so much so that each of their gait patterns were altered due to this imbalance, which was ultimately affecting their performance.

football mobility

I knew this problem needed to be fixed, especially if they had high hopes of making some noise in the next couple months during their Pro Day.

Luckily, I was given the task of creating and implementing a mobility program, specifically designed with their needs in mind.

In this case, mobility in their hips has been most important since it has helped a great deal in restoring their gait pattern, improving their posture, and most notably, optimizing their overall performance in the weight room and on the field.

Mobility is crucial to certain joints in your body that are either limited or don’t have full access to certain ranges. It’s important for you to find the areas of most need and to constantly address them through daily maintenance.

Note From TG: it IS important to note (and I know Matthew would agree) that sometimes lack of mobility at a certain joint is due to a stability/alignment issue.  We shouldn’t set our default to always thinking it’s a mobility issue.

WHERE AND WHEN TO APPLY MOBILITY

I see too many individuals performing mobility drills without actually having a legitimate reason. They just feel that they need to do it. It’s almost as if they truly believe that their entire body “needs” mobility.

Stop. Please, STOP!

Before you go any further, put the foam roller, the lacrosse ball and the stretching strap down for two minutes.

I’ll use the shoulders as an example. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Should you perform an excessive amount of mobility drills if your shoulders already have plenty of range without any limitations? No.
  • Should you perform a couple short mobility drills for your shoulders if they’re especially tight/naggy due to a recent workout, but typically have very few limitations? Yes, go for it, but keep it light.
  • Should you perform a handful of mobility drills for your shoulders if they’re especially tight/naggy due to a recent workout, but are usually limited in several areas? Yes, definitely: address what needs to be addressed.

My point: have a legitimate reason for performing mobility drills with a thoughtful goal in mind. Don’t just do it to do it; have a purpose.

Case in point: apply mobility where it is needed most at the time of most need.

Simple enough? Yes, but that’s the point!

For example: it wouldn’t make much sense for me to focus the mobility program solely on shoulder/thoracic spine drills for the aforementioned college football players. They wouldn’t benefit much since they aren’t really lacking in those areas.

football mobility II

Always make sure there is a reason as to why you are doing what you are doing when it comes to mobility.

Referring back to the introduction

Is it truly that important for Craig to wrap his right hand all the way around his back and grab his left arm?

Think about what we just went over.

With those items in mind, I’m not so sure it is that important. Plus, we haven’t even discussed anything about his overhead shoulder range of motion or shoulder external rotation range of motion.

These are the angles you need to start viewing mobility from. Be conscious of how much is enough, and also how much is needed in order to perform the exercise task (i.e., overhead shoulder press) and the daily task (i.e., grabbing a snack from the top cabinet).

CHOOSE AREAS OF PRIORITY

You’re not always going to need mobility everywhere in your body.

Note From TG: Read THIS (<— it will melt your face)

It’s important to be able pinpoint what areas may need the most attention.

I’ve created three short mobility sequences below, where the body has been divided up into three separate compartments: lower, middle and upper. Select the compartment that you need to focus on the most.

MY GO-TO MOBILITY SEQUENCES

1.) Lower Compartment

If you’re someone who has a tough time loosening up the areas of the calves, ankle and feet, then give this mobility drill series a try for 2-3 rounds:

 

  • Lacrosse Ball Rolling
  • Lacrosse Ball Pin and Extend/Flex
  • Tibial External/Internal Rotation Shifting
  • 1-Leg Ankle Rocking

2.) Middle Compartment

Do you find it challenging to get limber in the hips, glutes and posterior chain areas? Try out this sequence for 2-3 rounds:

 

  • Quadruped Rocking
  • Inchworm
  • Hip Series: Spiderman, External Hip Rotators, Lateral Lunge w/Toes Up

3.) Upper Compartment

Tight shoulders? Naggy thoracic spine? Give this series of mobility drills a shot for 2-3 rounds:

 

  • Overhead Floor Slides
  • Scap Push-Up
  • Lateral Crawl
  • Linear Crawl
  • Quadruped Thoracic Spine: 4-Way Reach w/1-Leg Abducted

Always remember: address what needs to be addressed, and always keep it simple.

Now, go get limber!

About the Author

Matthew Ibrahim is a Strength and Conditioning Coach and Physical Therapy Rehabilitation Aide with an evidence-based approach to human movement, biomechanics and injury-prevention, and is knowledgeable on how each area impacts performance in sports and life. He delivers training methods that are aimed at bridging the gap between rehabilitation and performance through proper movement education and basic human maintenance. Feel free to read more at www.mobility101blog.com and follow ‘Mobility 101’ on Facebook and Twitter.

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