You can program the best lifts in strength sports into your training regimen. But if you’re lacking a solid mobility routine, you’ll be leaving a lot of potential gains on the table.
Whether you weave mobility drills into a warm-up, between sets, or as standalone workouts, focusing on mobility can help you lift stronger and more sustainably. Even quick mobility routines scattered throughout your week can be helpful in improving your joint health and strength.
“Especially for bodybuilders, there is a need for joints to have workspace,” says Cristian Plascencia, the former Strength & Conditioning Lead at Onnit and current owner of The Durable Athlete. “Workspace means that the joint is actually able to articulate itself through the entire joint capsule through its designed ranges of motion — flexion, extension, internal and external rotation. Most people who lack mobility lack workspace; they have a build of dense/stagnant tissue that ends up taking space in our joint capsules so that when we go through our daily movement or workouts, those stagnant tissues keep our joint and therefore adjacent muscles from actually being able to activate and tense up all of the muscle fibers in that muscle unit.”
Instead of — or in addition to — setting aside the time for a full training session or long mobility routine, you can opt for five minutes of dedicated effort. This time can make all the difference when it comes to maintaining mobility or offsetting the stiffness of a particularly sedentary lifestyle. This article will outline the best five-minute mobility routines, explain the benefits of mobility routines, and fill you in on some of the best mobility tools out there.
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The Best Five-Minute Mobility Routines
- Five-Minute Mobility Routine for Beginners
- Five-Minute Mobility Routine Bodybuilders
- Five-Minute Mobility Routine Powerlifters
- At-Home Five-Minute Routine Workout
- Five-Minute Mobility Routine While Commuting
As a beginner, you need access to wide ranges of motion and planes of movement. The best way to guarantee long-term progress is to develop and maintain a broad range of motion. You’ll want to choose big movement patterns or stretches that mimic the positions you’re going to need early in training. Another important consideration is to use tempo or pauses to properly mobilize your joints and teach you good movement quality. Don’t forget to take steady breaths during each position.
A quick and efficient mobility routine can make use of body weight and a couple of dumbbells to accomplish your goals. A handful of exercises and a yoga pose can get the job done in less than five minutes.
- Paused Goblet Squat: 1 x 10
- Deficit Reverse Lunge: 1 x 8 per leg
- Tempo Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 1 x 6 (tempo: 3-2-1-1)
- Paused Deficit Push-up: 1 x 10
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Row: 1 x 8 per arm
- Malasana Pose: 1 x 10 deep breaths
A major challenge for bodybuilders is that as the muscles grow, one’s range of motion can reduce. To combat this decrease in mobility, incorporate familiar exercises into a quick mobility routine. But don’t worry — more mobility work won’t weaken the body. Increasing a joints’ range of motion can help with muscle growth by improving the quality of the workout itself.
Choosing exercises that mobilize the shoulders and hips, in particular, can be quite effective at improving your range of motion in big-ticket muscle-builders. Using a modest load can help you maintain active ranges of motion, especially with exercises that stretch your muscles.
- Tempo Pec Fly Machine: 1 x 10 (tempo: 3-1-1-1)
- Paused Dumbbell Pullover: 1 x 10
- Seated Cable Row with Protraction: 1 x 10
- Paused Bulgarian Split Squat: 1 x 10 per leg
- B-Stance Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 1 x 10 per leg
- RKC Plank: 1 x 20 seconds
Powerlifters strive to lift the maximum amount of weight possible in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. While relentlessly pursuing heavier one-rep maxes, a lifter is often predisposed as a powerlifter to just training movements related to your big three. But this can limit your mobility and ultimately lead to plateaus in your main lifts.
Mobility routines can help you avoid these limitations. But while pursuing maximal strength, be careful not to add too much extra work to your training. You don’t want to add fatigue to an already challenging program. This is where five-minute mobility routines can be very powerful. They can help you maintain a healthy degree of mobility without fatiguing you too much.
Mobilizing the shoulders, hips, ankles, and upper back is very important in keeping lifters safe during major barbell exercises. Particularly when you’re training with maximal loads, using weighted stretching can help maximize your mobility routine.
- Tempo Straight-Arm Pulldown: 1 x 10 (tempo: 2-1-1-1)
- Incline Cable Biceps Curl: 1 x 15
- Kettlebell Windmill: 1 x 10 per arm
- Walking Lunge: 1 x 12 per leg
- Tempo Barbell Romanian Deadlift: 1 x 10 (tempo: 3-2-1-1)
- Paused Calf / Toe Raise: 1 x 10 per direction
At-home mobility routines can arguably be the most challenging to complete. Working out without equipment can be hard to pump yourself up for because it might be unfamiliar or feel uninspiring. When the motivation for an upcoming workout isn’t there, you need to have a five-minute at-home routine that’s as simple as possible.
Using one’s body weight and a little bit of creativity can make at-home mobility routines highly effective. The main goal is to hit the whole body with as little added effort as possible, minimizing equipment and space needs.
- Paused Step-Up: 1 x 10 per leg (2 stairs at a time)
- Deficit Push-Up: 1 x 10
- Inchworm: 1 x 5
- Bear Plank: 1 x 10 breaths
- Cossack Squat: 1 x 10 per side
Commuting poses a lot of mobility challenges — mainly that you’re in the same position for extended periods of time. Performing a simple movement routine can help correct some of the issues that accumulate during commutes. Whether a bus or a bike, being stuck in these static positions often tighten your hips, back, or traps.
When standing or sitting for extended periods, it’s normal to relax and lean into structural stability (reliance on joints) rather than constantly engaging muscles. It’s easy to assume the classic rounded posture, leaning, or rest more weight on one leg. The remedy is to actively engage these muscle groups and relax the ones that have had to compensate. Try performing this as a circuit.
- Neck Rolls: 2 x 10 per direction
- Scapular Retractions: 2 x 15
- Deep Bodyweight Squat: 2 x 10 breaths
- Standing Isometric March: 2 x 5 per leg
- Lateral Lunge: 2 x 5 per leg
The Benefits of Mobility Routines
Active mobility can be a moving target. Certain ranges of motion are inaccessible without a quick routine to loosen up. As a result of sitting or standing in the same position for so long, you might lock yourself into certain limited positions. Still, you don’t need to drop everything and only spend time on your yoga mat because committing to short mobility routines can help prevent compensation patterns. These routines can also help with injury risk management and make your warm-ups faster.
Preventing Compensation Patterns
Compensation patterns often emerge slowly over the course of months or years of training. The snail’s pace makes it difficult to realize until it’s too late and sticking points or movement restrictions have been fully engrained.
Injury Risk Management
If you can’t move freely through the full range of motion of an exercise, you may be at risk of injury. For example, a deadlift will always pull you straight down, regardless of whether you can keep your back neutral. A squat will always push straight through your body, even if your hips round aggressively in the hole. Staying mobile for the demands of your workout is a way to control one major variable of injury risk.
Warm-ups can be an arduous experience if you don’t like them. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid them. With a quick and easy mobility maintenance routine, you can substantially cut down on the full warm-up. Instead of half an hour, a few quick drills before starting warm-up sets can get you going. As with most fitness goals, it’s much easier to maintain than it is to gain mobility.
Useful Mobility Tools
Loaded stretches and light exercise comprise some of the most effective mobility routines. But there are also many popular standalone tools that can help in their own right. These mobility tools can be excellent for those hard-to-reach spots and are frequently used together to speed up the end result.
While many of these tools are very popular, they aren’t magic. Oftentimes, they are a passive means of achieving the same goal as active mobility routines. If you constantly feel the need for mobility tools, chances are you need to up the ante of your mobility drills to prevent stiffness or soreness.
A foam roller is a hard cylinder (usually a PVC pipe) with varying degrees of foam layered on the outside. Foam rollers can be used to improve thoracic spine (mid-to-upper back) mobility by flexing and extending your torso while arching over the roller.
These tools are also often used during a general warm-up, helping to provide improved mobility pre-workout as a massage tool. Target a specific muscle and roll across it for many repetitions or a predetermined amount of time. Similar to a physical massage, the rhythmic pressure can help reduce perceived stiffness for a short period of time to improve performance.(1)
A massage ball performs a similar function as a foam roller but in a much more targeted way. Massage balls are normally no larger than a tennis ball. Therefore, they can place deep pressure on the hips and back in areas that a foam roller may be too large to effectively target.
Massage guns have become increasingly popular over the last few years. Similar to massage balls and foam rollers, the massage gun has the potential to help relax muscles. They produce vibrations that rapidly and repeatedly strike the tissue.
Bands and Dowels
Resistance bands and dowels are tried and tested mobility tools that help manipulate the limbs for more effective stretching. Especially with particularly large movement restrictions, bands and dowels can become essential for safely assisting the body in the desired position.
You don’t have to spend endless amounts of time doing mobility work. Mini mobility sessions can be extremely effective at helping you stay limber. Prioritizing full mobility routines within the grander scheme of a training program works, too. Still, nothing beats the efficiency of quick five-minute mobility routines.
- Cheatham SW, Kolber MJ, Cain M, Lee M. (2015). The Effects Of Self-Myofascial Release Using A Foam Roll Or Roller Massager On Joint Range Of Motion, Muscle Recovery, And Performance: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy; 10(6):827-838.
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