Mobility for Lifters

What is mobility?
Injuries, tweaks, muscle pulls, and slight irritations are a part of a strength and conditioning program. Knowing how to deal with them is beneficial, but doing all you can to prevent them — known as “prehab” — is more important. Of the three components of fitness — strength, mobility, and endurance — I lump prehab into the mobility portion. Mobility is the ability to change directions, maneuver through an environment, and react to changing demands accordingly. Relevant metrics to mobility are flexibility (ROM), balance, coordination, and agility. Range of motion concerns are most relevant to prehab, and it’s what will be the focus here.

Regardless of what you want to call it — flexibility, limberness, range of motion — improving these qualities will improve mobility, and that’s why they are often summed up as “mobility training”. The most notable contributor to this area of training is Dr. Kelly Starrett (KStar). KStar posts a video every day on his Mobility WOD that will improve flexibility, joint positioning, or postural positioning so that when you train, you aren’t exacerbating any existing problems.

This basically aims to improve the pliability of soft tissue to allow for proper positioning. Mike Hom likes to think of it as a buffer between being able to do things that will or will not injure you (he’s also going to write up a post to share more info). Having this improved “mobility” helps you do the things that you want and need to do as well as protect you against potential injurous trauma.

What Lifters Need To Do
Now that you have a basic understanding of the prehab version of mobility, I want to briefly explain what lifters need to focus on with some examples. If you are lifting hard on a regular basis, specifically if you are gaining lots of strength on a novice progression and are gaining lots of weight, you will probably run into some soft tissue problems. The problem areas include musculature in the entire hip region and the sacral/lumbar region. It makes sense as to why; the external rotators of the hip are always contracting to shove the knees out in squatting, cleaning, snatching, and deadlifting while the lower back is always contracting to maintain proper extension. These structures need to stay pliable, and they can’t if they don’t ever get stretched amongst all the contracting.

Here are some basic stretches that I think are necessary for lifters who are training hard. Note that you don’t need any special equipment to do these (foam roller, lacrosse balls, bands, etc.), yet those tools are necessary to do the more advanced stuff.
Kelly Starrett has already posted videos with the stretches, so here they are.

Low Back
At :40s Kelly talks about how the reverse hyper is an excellent tool. Then around 1:00 he shows a lumbar spinal decompression stretch. You can do the same thing by hanging from a bar, but you have to let your hips sink down by not contracting with your abdominals. There’s also another method at :50s of this video.

External Rotators of the Hips
This is a standard stretch that appears often throughout KStar’s videos. You can do it on the floor with the same principles (there’s a video for the floor version, but I couldn’t find it after searching for 2 seconds), but in this video they do it on a box. Stretch starts at :47ish, but the intro is still good.

Hip flexor
This is a standard stretch that is an important lesson for most people. The largest hip flexor is the rectus femoris, and it’s also one of the quadriceps. So it flexes the hip and extends the knee. In order to stretch this long muscle, you’ll have to do the opposite at each joints (the hip and knee are proximal and distal attachments respectively); extend the hip and flex the knee. Kelly shows you how in this video. The stretch starts at 2:17ish, but I recommend watching the beginning. You’ll see why.

There you have it: three basic stretches that are very easy to do without equipment or a partner. These could even be preparatory stretches that you do before lifting to get loosened up. I used to do a method of all three with some light foam rolling to help get loosened up, but I think most of you could use them on a daily basis. I KNOW you guys aren’t doing any mobility work, so start with these simple exercises.

16 thoughts on “Mobility for Lifters

  1. Found this blog a few months ago and it is beyond explanation how much it helps. Im glad it’s being spotlighted because I think it could probably help alot of the readers here. Check it out it’s pretty awesome, but like anything else you have to ease into it or you’ll hurt yourself. That hip flexor stretch is as good as crack but it’s a doozy when you do it for your first couple of times. Enjoy.

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  3. You need a good pic for this article so that when I link it on my FB page there is an amusing thumbnail to entice everyone to click.

    I’ll keep that in mind.


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  6. Why are there no hamstring stretches?

    If you squat correctly, you essentially get a PNF stretch on your hamstrings. Plus they are literally the easiest thing to stretch. None of my lifters/trainees have had hamstring issues, though.


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  8. Justin,
    but when my back rounds when I´m squatting, I´m actually unable to squat correctly thus not able to stretch the hamstrings, so this is an cause and effect issue…

    I don’t remember the original issue, but I’ve never had anyone have trouble getting into a correct squatting position when they shove their knees out.


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