Mobility is the ability to move freely and easily. In lifting terms, mobility is otherwise known as being able to go through the proper range of motion for a lift without any issues impeding the motion. Some people have issues squatting to depth due to tight hip flexors, they can’t pull sumo for deadlifts because their hips won’t open up enough, or they have bad ankle dorsiflexion, which causes heels to rise during a squat.
Whatever the case is, mobility work is essential for anyone and everyone who wants healthy joints and increased flexibility, but especially for those who lift and are constantly loading their bodies with heavy weight.
Mobility Work Is Not Just Stretching
It must be noted that mobility work isn’t just sitting on the floor doing a static stretch. Mobility work usually involves a bit of work, hence the name. One of the go-to exercises for mobility work is foam rolling. Foam rolling is awesome – awesomely painful! It’s a “self-myofascial release” technique, which basically means self-massage. When foam rolling, one should roll over the area until a tender spot is found, and then hold said position for 30-60 seconds to allow the muscle to relax.
Some of my favorite places to foam roll are: top and bottom of the calf, hamstrings, IT band, glutes, low back, hip flexor, and upper back/traps. Usually my IT band is the tightest muscle and foam rolling it hurts – a lot – but always feels great after.
Targeted Myofascial Release
Another thing you can do is use a tennis or lacrosse ball to target the same muscles when foam rolling, but in a more intense way. If I ever have a knot in my back that doesn’t get better from foam rolling, I’ll grab a tennis ball and put it between my back and the wall, and move my back around on the ball til I find the tender spot and hold it there for 30-60 seconds. I have found that this method helps get the knot out a bit better than it would lying on the floor foam rolling, because I can apply force directly onto the area thanks to the wall and my upright position. A lot of my friends use lacrosse balls/tennis balls to loosen up the glutes and IT band, as they usually give people the most trouble.
Aside from foam rolling, deep stretches can be done before a specific activity, such as hip opening exercises before squatting or deadlifting. A lot of the stretches I see fellow powerlifters doing are stretches I was taught in yoga. So, for the sake of being able to search these stretches online, I’ll give the yoga names: pigeon, frog, and lizard pose are awesome for opening the hips.
They can be quite difficult to do depending on your flexibility, but they pay off in the long run. Increased hip mobility means you can squat deeper, open your hips more for a sumo deadlift, and be able to use better leg drive when arching your back for bench.
When To Do Mobility Work
Typically mobility work is done before and/or after a workout, or often times even during a workout. If you’re a competitive powerlifter, then you’re probably doing some sort of mobility work at home each night as well. Mobility work will help your lifting in a multitude of ways – most importantly it will improve your ability to complete the full range of motion for a lift, which will increase the efficiency of your training, which will consequently (and hopefully) reduce your risk of injury.
For example, if you have bad ankle mobility and do mobility work to improve dorsiflexion, then there’s less chance your heels will rise during a squat, less chance your trunk will unnecessarily lean forwards, less chance you will lose your balance, less chance you will lose your ability to drive upwards to finish the squat, and less chance you will injure yourself.
All in all, mobility work is a must for joint and muscle health, especially when lifting heavy. Set aside some time everyday to foam roll or do some of the aforementioned yoga stretches, and you won’t regret it!