Why do you need improved mobility? The reasons vary. If you’ve ever felt a twinge touching your toes or loading a bag into an overhead locker, some basic hamstring and shoulder work might make all the difference over the next decade. If you’re lifting big, better mobility can help you train injury-free for longer, or get more range in moves like the squat, leading to improved gains. There’s more to it than just stretching, though: mobility is about being strong in your new range of motion, whether you’re doing a rock-bottom squat or the splits between two chairs (not recommended).
Sounds like a luxury? Good news: it’s easy to combine mobility work with another goal, like strength or fat loss, since throwing in some dynamic stretches before your session (or on non-training days) won’t mess with recovery too much. Alternatively, you can mix mobility moves with some bodyweight work and create your own routine, allowing you to work on strength and stability wherever you go. In this guide, we’ve combined the latest science on flexibility with targeted bang-for-your-buck moves that’ll fix your body whatever your starting point.
“The key for consistent mobility work is making it both quick and meaningful,” says Jarlo Ilano, managing director at Gold Medal Bodies. “The quick part is obvious – a 30-minute routine before your regular training session is simply too much. The meaningful aspect ties into this. Assess what two to four movements or stretches will give you the most bang for your buck. For instance, if you know your overhead reaching needs work, you should be doing a lat stretch and an upper back stretch as your two primary exercises.”
“Leading on from the first point, rotate through six to eight of your most restricted mobility movements throughout the week, with just two to three a session,” says Ilano. “This will give you focused and efficient work on your most crucial areas.” You’ll also be able to fit it into your lunch hour without cutting down on the rest of your workout.
“I recommend doing mobility work at the beginning of each training session so you don’t neglect it or rush through it at the end,” says Ilano. “Start at it when fresh and do it thoroughly but efficiently and you’ll get the most out of it.” Start your session with a minute or two of skipping, then go straight into your mobility movements. If you’re really trying to save time, do them during the “rests” between your warm-up sets.
Concentrate your efforts on the body parts that take the biggest battering from work and play, and you’ll see results fast. “Upper back work is essential for basically everyone,” says Ilano. “Everyone is hunched forwards during the hours they spend driving and doing computer work. Ideally you need to counteract that daily. Similarly, pretty much everyone needs to work on their hip extension – with all the sitting or slumping on the sofa we do, it’s an area that needs constant work. Finally, you should work on hip rotation: again, everyone needs it, and it has direct benefits for squatting and jumping.” This workout tackles all three areas.
Get on your stomach with your elbows underneath your shoulders and forearms on the floor. Bring your shoulders upwards gently, and when you get used to the stretch, straighten your arms. Hold the top position for 20-30 seconds. Repeat twice.
Get into a modified lunge position so your back instep and knee are on the floor. Shift your hips forwards to rock gently. To make it harder, bend your back knee and grab your foot. This will stretch your hip flexors.
This is modified from the full yoga version, which you don’t need if you haven’t got the flexibility. Bring one leg ahead of you with your shin parallel to your body, your back leg bent at a comfortable angle behind you. As you get better, work on straightening the back leg. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
Sit with your legs straight out in front of you, then put your hands behind you and your weight on your heels, bringing yourself forwards into a butterfly stretch – knees out to the sides. Repeat five to ten times.
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