The 7 Best Mobility Exercises for Better Movement and Performance

Gain more range of motion in your joints with these seven movements.

Mobility is a relatively new fitness buzzword, but the concept of mobility is anything but new. Simply put, mobility is defined as your joint’s ability to move freely through a specific range of motion. Good mobility means that the range of motion is smooth and pain-free. Someone with solid mobility can better perform virtually any exercise with better form, and so it’s an important area of fitness to focus on.

As you get older and bigger, your mobility starts to fade. Fortunately, mobility responds well to training. In other words: If you don’t use it, you lose it. Below, we outline seven mobility-focused movements for you to work into your training and a more in-depth explanation of mobility training in general. 

Best Mobility Exercises

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Kettlebell Arm Bar 

The kettlebell arm bar is equal parts a stability and mobility exercise. Stability because it strengthens the entire shoulder girdle, especially the rotator cuff, and mobility because it helps unlock the thoracic spine. When the T-Spine lacks mobility, the lower back picks up the slack and you don’t want that, especially when deadlifting or squatting.

Benefits of the Kettlebell Arm Bar

  • Improves shoulder stability and mobility.
  • Improves your ability to get overhead with less compensation from the lower back.
  • A great injury prevention exercise.

 How to Do the Kettlebell Arm Bar

Lie on your right side with your knees bent close to 90 degrees and grab the kettlebell with two hands and roll to your left. Press the kettlebell up with two hands, then release your left hand to your side, about 30 to 60 degrees away from your body. Lift your right leg up and over to the left side of your body, keeping your right arm stable throughout the entire movement. With your right knee on the ground and bent at 90 degrees, raise your left arm overhead and rest your head in a neutral position on your left arm. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth as you drive your hips deeper into the ground and then lengthen and reach with your right arm.

Lateral Lunge

Lateral lunges help develop strength, stability, and balance in the frontal plane, which improves your ability to go from side to side. Athletically, this is a helpful skill if you need to evade opponents without slowing down. Plus, it improves your adductor mobility and strength, helping to prevent groin injuries and improving overall hip mobility.  

Benefits of the Lateral Lunge

  • Strengthens and lengthens your adductors, which improves hip mobility and prevents groin strains.
  • Improves your side to side movement, and your agility.
  • Strengthens and mobilizes the entire hip region.

How to Do the Lateral Lunge

Stand tall with your feet together, toes pointed forward, and take a big step to the side with your left leg. Hinge your left hip back, keeping your right leg straight with toes pointed forward. You should feel your right adductors lengthening. Push your left foot into the ground and return to the starting position. Repeat on both sides.

Half-Kneeling Arm Rotation

Your shoulder joint is one of the more mobile joints in the body. It can rotate about 180 degrees thanks to the ball and socket design. It’s also one of the more vulnerable joints. The half-kneeling arm rotation, done with a band, takes the shoulder through its full range of motion with some added resistance. As a result, you’re simultaneously improving your mobility and reinforcing that mobility by strengthening it. 

Benefits of the Half-Kneeling Elastic Arm Rotation

  • The kneeling position also helps with your hip and thoracic mobility.
  • Strengthens your upper back and stretches your chest, helping to improve posture.
  • A great pre-rehab exercise when coming back from a shoulder injury.

How to Do the Half-Kneeling Elastic Arm Rotation

Kneel on the leg (in a half-kneeling position) that’s farthest away from the resistance and use the outside hand to hold the band. Keep your elbow straight and think about taking your arm straight up as you rotate your arm up and behind you. Rotate your hips as your arms from a T and then return to the starting position.  

Walking Spiderman With Hip Lift and Overhead Reach

This is just about one of the best bang for your buck mobility exercises you can do. This one movement really encompasses many movements, and so you’re effectively warming-up and engaging your entire body. Walking spiderman with hip lift and overhead reach is a mobility exercise that targets the adductors, hip mobility, hamstring flexibility, hip flexor strength, and thoracic spine mobility. If you’re really tight on time and can only afford a few minutes to warm-up, this is the move you should do. 

Benefits of the Walking Spiderman with Hip Lift and Overhead Reach

  • This exercise is referred to as the ‘microwave’ because it warms you up in a hurry. Do just five reps on each side will have you ready to go.
  • Targets, ankle, hip, shoulder, and thoracic mobility.
  • It can de be done with no equipment and with minimal space, making it perfect for those who own a home gym

How to Do the Walking Spiderman with Hip Lift and Overhead Reach

Step into a forward lunge and bring both hands down inside the forward leg. Then straighten both legs while your hands are on the ground then come back down and get into a deep lunge. Reach and rotate the arm furthest away from the forward leg with your eyes following your hands. Return the hand back to the ground and stand up and step through to the other side and repeat.

Three-Way Ankle Mobilization

You probably don’t think about it often, but your ankles are what connect your feet to the rest of your body. Whenever a person squats, runs, or jumps, it’s the ankle that’s supporting and helping to stabilize the body. The muscles that stabilize the ankles are the gastrocnemius, soleus, posterior tibialis, flexor hallucis longus, and peroneal longis and brevis. You’ll want to help mobilize these muscles to grant you more ankle mobility. For this, we like the three-way ankle mobilization, which flexes your knee forward and over the ankle to work the joint in three directions.

Benefits of the three-Way Ankle Mobilization

  • Restores mobility to stiff ankles.
  • Improved dorsiflexion leads to a deeper squat and better position in the deadlift.
  • Improving ankle movement helps prevent ankle injuries.

How to Do three-Way Ankle Mobilization

Start in the half-kneeling position and hold a stick in front of you to take the balance out of the equation. Do all three directions separately (straight ahead, inside, and outside), driving your knee forward without your heel coming off the ground. Make sure to do this slowly and with control.

Seated 90/90 Hip IR/ER with Reach

The seated 90/90 with IR/ER trains an important component of hip mobility — internal and external rotation. Without proper hip rotation, it’s difficult to balance and walk, let alone squat and deadlift.  A lack of hip internal rotation makes sports and activities like squats that need deep hip flexion difficult. The body will compensate for a lack of hip rotation, leading to injuries like possible hip injuries over time.

Benefits of the Seated 90/90 Hip IR/ER with Reach

  • Improvements in hip internal and external rotation lead to better movement and hip function.
  • The ability to rotate efficiently at the hip joint is crucial for hip health and helps prevent injury.

How to Do the Seated 90/90 Hip IR/ER with Reach

Get into a seated 90/90 hip position, hold your hands together, and form a double chin to look at the ground. Bring your leg off the ground and straighten your knee as you bring it around in front of you. Reach this leg forward and then rotate it behind you with knee bent and off the ground and repeat. If this is too difficult, practice sitting comfortably in the 90/90 position first. 

Back-to-the-Wall Shoulder Flexion

The back to wall shoulder flexion trains the shoulder blades to move around the ribcage without help from the lower back. This trains posterior pelvic tilt, a neutral neck position, and core stability while lifting your arms overhead. Think of this exercise as a test. If you have compensations or you’re unable to touch your thumbs to the wall, you have no business overhead pressing. 

Benefits of the Back-to-Wall Shoulder Flexion 

  • Improves your ability to train overhead without compensations. 
  • When performed regularly and with good form, this improves your overhead shoulder mobility.
  • It helps to determine if you’re ready for overhead movements like presses and overhead squats.

How to Perform the Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion

Setup with your back against a wall and your feet roughly six to eight inches away from the base of the wall. Make sure your back is flat, and thumbs are pointed forward. Exhale and slowly raise the arms overhead as you try to touch your thumbs to the wall without compensations from your lower back. Then return to the starting position and repeat.  

Why Mobility Matters

There are a few reasons why mobility is important in and outside the gym. Being able to move unrestricted helps you feel pain-free, more efficiently, and build slabs of muscle.

man stretching shoulders
baranq/Shutterstock

When the body has mobility restrictions, the body will compensate and find a way to get the movement done. This leads to muscles and joints up and down the kinetic chain to do the work of the restricted joint, which over time leads to injuries and pain. For example, if you lack the thoracic spine strength and mobility to deadlift, your lower back will help by rounding to get support the weight. That lower back rounding can cause undue pain in your spine. This is not good. 

Plus, being mobile leads to more strength. For example, if your hip mobility is limiting the squat or deadlift, you’re not strengthening all parts of the movement and leaving gains on the table.

The Benefits of Mobility Training

The main benefit of mobility training is it helps you move in a greater range of motion without muscle stiffness. This helps improve your overall exercise performance. In a very macro sense, more mobility can also mean you burn more fat, build more muscle, and gain more strength. Here are a few other benefits of improved mobility.

Improves your agility: The ability to change direction quickly without sacrificing speed and quickness is a quality needed in a lot of sports. When the muscle is less stiff, your movement is easier and smoother. 

Injury prevention: When you’re running, lifting, jumping, and changing direction, you’re putting a lot of stress on your joints and muscles. When a joint moves through its full ROM, it improves its ability to absorb force. Therefore, a more mobile joint is generally a safer joint.

Mobility Programming, Sets, and Reps Suggestions

Mobility training is not meant to exhaust you but to prepare you for the work ahead. So, keeping the reps low, between five to eight per movement, is recommended.

There are two ways to incorporate mobility training into your routine. First, include it in your warm-up. Do five to eight exercises performed as a circuit to prime your body for action. Typically, two sets will suffice. Again, these movements are meant to prime the muscles, not fatigue them.

Secondly, perform mobility exercises as a filler or recovery exercise between sets of a strength exercise. It’s best to pick a mobility exercise that assists your strength exercise. So, pairing the half-kneeling arm rotations with overhead presses or the three-way ankle mobilization with squats would be smart pairings.

How Much Mobility Work Do You Need?

Like most things in life, it depends. If you move like an ironing board, it will benefit you to spend 10-20 minutes daily on mobility work to improve movement and to decrease muscle stiffness.

If you have little or no movement restrictions, more mobility outside of the warm-up is of no benefit. Instead, you can warm up with five to 10 minutes of mobility exercises before lifting to prepare you for the work ahead.

More Mobility Training Tips

Now that you have a handle on the best mobility exercises to move and feel better, you can also check out these other helpful training articles for strength, power, and fitness athletes. 

Featured image: baranq/Shutterstock