The 15 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

Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.

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 the 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 

How to Do 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.

Prying Squat

Squat depth may be a touchy subject — but having solid hip mobility is pretty much always a good idea. The prying squat opens up your adductors, which can inhibit your hip abductors from engaging and from getting deep into your squat.

This drill trains your legs to stabilize your squat. It does so by actively driving your knees away from your elbows for deeper squat form and hip mobility.

Benefits of the Prying Squat

  • This move encourages a squat technique that allows you to get deeper, safer.
  • The prying squat improves adductor mobility for better overall hip mobility.
  • It may help to prevent groin strains due to better adductor mobility. 

How to Do the Prying Squat

Hold a light dumbbell or kettlebell goblet-style. Set your feet in your preferred squat position. Keep an upright torso. Slowly squat down until your elbows come to the insides of your knees. Keeping your chest up and shoulders down, actively press your elbows into your knees. Rock from side to side. Hold for time. Stand back up.

Mini Band Overhead Reach

When you’re going overhead — with or without weight — it pays to avoid compensating with flared ribs or hyperextending your low back. The mini band overhead reach trains shoulder horizontal abduction, scapular protraction, retraction, and upward and downward rotation.

These actions are all crucial for safely lifting overhead. Plus, it’s a great exercise to engage your serratus anterior, which is important for shoulder health because it helps stabilize your shoulder and maintain your overhead range of motion.

Benefits of the Mini Band Overhead Reach

  • This move prepares your muscles and shoulder joints to lift safely overhead.
  • You’ll train the serratus anterior, which is an important muscle for shoulder movement and health.
  • The mini band overhead reach is an excellent low-impact warm-up or recovery exercise for overhead athletes.

How to Do the Mini Band Overhead Reach

Wrap a mini band around both wrists with your arms by your sides. Keep your hands shoulder-width apart. Lock your ribcage down, engage your glutes, and press forward like you’re doing a bench press. Slowly raise your arms above your head. Avoid flaring your rib cage or hyperextending your lower back. Reverse the movement. Reset and repeat.

Passive Leg Lowering

The passive leg lowering places one hip in flexion while your hamstring is stretched. Your opposite leg goes into flexion and extension while your core remains stable. Making your hips and legs do separate work is great for improving your hip mobility.

It also trains hip separation, where one hip flexes while the other extends. This is the basis of everyday locomotion and most single-leg exercises. This is why it’s a great warm-up drill on your lower body day.

Benefits of the Passive Leg Lowering

  • This move boosts hip mobility and core stability at the same time.
  • Passive leg lowering provides a resisted stretch of your hamstrings to help improve flexibility.
  • You’ll train hip separation here, which is important for running and single-leg exercises.

How to Do the Passive Leg Lowering

Lie in a supine position. Kook a resistance band around the middle of one foot. Flex both hips to 90 degrees. Hold the band in each hand. Pull the band down enough to engage your core. Lower your free leg to the ground slowly. Keep your banded leg stable. Lower your heel almost to the floor while keeping a neutral lower back. Return your banded leg to starting position. Repeat for reps. Switch sides.

Mini Band Prone Floor Slide

Performing prone floor slides with a mini band helps target your serratus anterior. Your serratus is an important muscle for shoulder health and for getting your arms overhead without pain.

Unlike the mini band overhead reach, being on the floor will provide you with feedback from the floor to ensure that you’re training the correct muscles.

Benefits of the Mini Band Prone Floor Slide

  • This move improves shoulder stability and mobility at the same time.
  • You’ll train scapular protraction and retraction unilaterally to reduce imbalances between sides — this can translate into stronger lifts and reduced injury risk.
  • By targeting your serratus and increasing its activation with the mini band, you’ll improve your ability to go overhead without compensations

How to Do The Mini Band Prone Floor Slide

Lie down prone on your elbows. Wrap a mini band around both wrists. Place your elbows underneath your shoulders. Keep your head and chest up. Press your non-working elbow into the ground. Slowly slide your working arm forward until you reach a stopping point. Return to the starting position. Alternate reps on both sides.

Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

The half-kneeling position is a go-to for opening your hip flexors. When performed correctly — by properly engaging your glutes — you’ll feel the hip flexor magic.

This stretch will mobilize your hips and strengthen them unilaterally. In doing so, it can help strengthen your posture. Plus, you’ll get accustomed to this position as a core-centric, stability-boosting position to perform lifts from.

Benefits of the Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

  • This position improves hip flexor length and strength.
  • You’ll improve your core stability and teach yourself to specifically activate your glutes unilaterally.
  • You can perform this move between sets of squats and deadlifts to keep yourself mobile and ready to lift heavy.

How to Do the Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Kneel with your toes planted. Bring one leg forward, making sure your ankle is directly underneath your knee. Place your other knee directly underneath your hip. Squeeze your glute to bring your pelvis forward. Get ‘tall’ with your torso. Hold for the designated time. Repeat on the other side.

Tall-Kneeling Shoulder Controlled Articular Rotation

The tall-kneeling shoulder controlled articular rotation (CAR) involves actively moving your shoulder joint through its greatest rotational range of motion. Moving through this range of motion has many benefits.

You’ll lubricate your shoulder joints before lifting, promote healthy tissue re-modeling, and train your shoulder stabilizers at the outer limits of its range of motion. All of this translates into healthier shoulders and more pressing power. Plus, being in the tall kneeling position has core stability and hip mobility benefits and will increase your kinesthetic awareness of when you’re using which muscle groups.

Benefits of the Tall-Kneeling Shoulder Controlled Articular Rotation

  • This move will lubricate your shoulder joint before hitting the weights.
  • You’ll improve your shoulder strength at the outer edges of your range of motion.
  • The tall kneeling position helps you perform these moves with better form because you’ll fall out of position if you’re using any other part of your body besides your shoulders to perform this movement.

How to Do the Tall-Kneeling Shoulder Controlled Articular Rotation

Get into a tall kneeling position. Engage your glutes and flatten your ribcage. With your working arm in a hang position, slowly perform a shoulder circle backwards. Concentrate on feeling every part of the movement. Perform a shoulder circle forwards. Reset and repeat on the other side. 

Assisted Quadruped Thoracic Rotation

Assisted quadruped thoracic rotations help you learn to move your thoracic spine without moving your lower back. Being able to extend and rotate your upper back allows you to pin a barbell to your back, throw anything with power, and lift overhead without pain.

Having good thoracic mobility can help save your shoulders and lower back from a world of hurt. This thoracic mobility move uses a band to load the movement lightly and to cement your mobility gains with strength at your end ranges of motion.

Benefits of the Assisted Quadruped Thoracic Rotation

  • This move helps improve thoracic mobility, which helps you rotate and extend your upper back — and translates into stronger lifts across the board.
  • Performing this move with a band helps load the movement and cement your mobility gains.
  • This variation locks in your lower back to ensure the movement comes from the thoracic spine — this helps ensure that you’re doing the exercise properly to maximize your improvement.

How to Do the Assisted Quadruped Thoracic Rotation

Get into a quadruped position with your knees under your hips. Attach a light looped band on a squat rack. Loop the other end of the band on your shoulder that is away from the anchor point. Put your non-working elbow (closest to the anchor point) on the ground. Put your other hand behind your head. Slowly rotate this arm with your eyes following your elbow. Keep your hips square to make sure the movement is not coming from your lower back. Go back and forth for reps. Repeat on the other side.

Rocking Ankle Mobilization

Dynamic stretches like the rocking ankle mobilization are great for prepping your joints for barbell lifts. Without paying attention to ankle mobility, your ankle’s ability to dorsiflex — pulling your toes up — often suffers during day-to-day activities. Certain footwear and even sitting in certain positions contributes to this issue.

Reduced ankle flexibility can impact your squat depth and make your knees very unhappy. Addressing and improving your ankle mobility with this simple-to-perform exercise will have a big impact on your gym performance.

Benefits of the Rocking Ankle Mobilization

  • This move improves your ankle mobility, which can improve knee health and your big lower body lifts.
  • You’ll target ankle dorsiflexion, which is needed for proper squats and deadlifts.
  • Better ankle mobility goes a long way toward keeping your knees healthy.

How To Perform the Rocking Ankle Mobilization

Get into a push-up position. Hike up your hips. Walk your feet a little bit in toward your hands. Position your left foot behind your right ankle. Rise up on your toes. Lean forward with your hands on the ground. Begin slowly rocking back so your right foot ends flat on the ground. Keep your right leg straight. Return to the starting position. Repeat for reps.

Benefits of Mobility Training

If you’ve ever experienced the crush of stiff muscles, you’ll love the primary benefit of mobility training — it helps you move in a greater range of motion without muscle stiffness. This helps improve your overall exercise performance by ensuring that your body can handle what you’re putting it through in training.

Become a Better Athlete

The ability to change direction quickly without sacrificing speed and quickness is important for a lot of sports and daily life activities. When your muscles are less stiff, your movements are easier and smoother. This translates into better movement mechanics on and off the platform. And the more efficiently you can move, the more effective your workouts will become.

Injury Prevention

Whether you’re running, lifting, jumping, or changing directions in daily life, 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.

When your body has mobility restrictions, it will compensate and find a way to get the movement done. This leads to muscles and joints up and down the kinetic chain trying to do the work of your restricted joint. Over time, this leads to injuries and pain

man stretching shoulders
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For example, if you lack the thoracic spine strength and mobility you need to deadlift, your lower back will help by rounding to support the weight. Excessive rounding can cause unnecessary pain and even injury to your spine.

Better Strength And Hypertrophy

Having good joint mobility ensures that you’re able to move as efficiently as possible during your lifts. You won’t be improperly compensating for small ranges of motion, so you’ll be able to channel the forces you need to lift most effectively. 

When you do that, you’ll be able to move heavier loads. This ability leads to more strength and therefore better muscle-building potential. For example, if your hip mobility is limiting your squat or deadlift, you’re not strengthening all parts of the movement and leaving gains on the table. Improving mobility is therefore a great way to get stronger without weights.

Mobility Sets and Reps

Mobility training is not meant to exhaust you. Rather, it should prepare you for the work ahead. So, challenge yourself during your mobility sessions, especially if you’re working through an active recovery session. But if you’re warming up to lift weights, it’s not the time to push yourself to a trembling failure.

One way to get a regular dose of mobility work is to include mobility exercises 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.

  • Passive Leg Lowering: 10 reps per side.
  • Mini Band Prone Floor Slides: 10 reps per side.
  • Rocking Ankle Mobilization: 10 reps per side.
  • Walking Spiderman with Hip Lift and Overhead Reach: 5 reps per side.
  • Back-to-the-Wall Shoulder Flexion: 8 reps.
  • Repeat circuit twice.

You can also 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, it would be smart to pair the half-kneeling arm rotation with overhead presses or the three-way ankle mobilization with squats.

How Much Mobility Work Do You Need?

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

If your mobility is in pretty good shape, you’ll still need to work to keep it there. Try warming up with five to 10 minutes of mobility exercises before lifting to prepare your body 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