Mobility training has exploded in recent years — first as simple foam rolling and lacrosse ball work before expanding into lengthy pre-training rituals. Although it is important to prepare the body for exercise, maintaining or improving your mobility is a moving target.
As your career in the gym develops, what you needed before may not be relevant now. Conversely, how you prepare to lift heavy weights will probably need to change over time, depending on your lifting avenue of choice and other lifestyle factors.
The utility of mobility training also comes not just from increases in range of motion, but through the stabilization and drilling of key movement patterns. With that in mind, here are the five best mobility workouts.
Best Mobility Workouts
- Best Mobility Workout for Beginners
- Best Mobility Workout for The Office
- Best Mobility Workout for Home
- Best Mobility Workout for Powerlifting
- Best Mobility Workout for Weightlifting
Beginners of any variety — bodybuilding, powerlifting, weightlifting, or general fitness — all should look to normalize their range of motion in exercise such that they can safely execute foundational exercises.
Hinges, squats, lunges, pushes, and pulls utilize planes of motion that can be harnessed in early training phases to simultaneously improve mobility through loaded stretching and reinforce the proper technique of these key exercises. Add tempo or pauses in order to increase time in the loaded stretched positions.
Using bodyweight variations is often the go-to for lifters with a younger training age; however, adding some light weights can help your muscles adjust to new ranges of motion. Match the prescribed set and repetition scheme with an appropriate load for moderate challenge to maximize results.
- Paused Goblet Squat: 3 x 6
- Tempo Front-Foot Elevated Split Squat: 2 x 8 per leg
- Tempo Romanian Deadlift: 2 x 10
- Underhand Lat Pulldown: 3 x 10
- Paused Machine Pec Fly: 2 x 10
Mobility workouts can be structured around offsetting the potential restrictions a sedentary office job may leave you stuck with. A seated position and rounded shoulders are common ailments for those working in an office, so you should target those parts of the body with versatile exercises that can be accomplished in any environment.
Calisthenics and unilateral movements are high value at-work exercises for improving mobility. Loading will be extremely limited here and you may not want to work up a sweat, therefore these exercises can be either broken up throughout the day or repeated more than once as needed.
- Deficit Push-Up: 3 x 10
- Paused Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat: 2 x 10 per leg
- Assisted Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift: 2 x 10 per leg
- Bodyweight Windmill: 3 x 6 per side
- Front Plank: 3 x 30 seconds
Mobility training at home offers a bit more variability than at the office. While you may be fortunate enough to have access to a solid home gym, many will not. Adapting to the environment can still provide excellent complimentary mobility training.
In the age of video calls and work-from-home, there is likely a ton of overlap between the needs of an office mobility workout and that of an at-home workout. Thankfully, at-home mobility workouts can kill multiple birds with the same stone — simultaneously pursuing bigger goals than just offsetting a sedentary lifestyle.
Using common fixtures such as stairs and unfinished basement ceilings and basic equipment provides a ton of options for getting limber. The availability of equipment is useful, but not essential with adaptable exercises such as extended range-of-motion calisthenics.
- Paused Step-Up: 2 x 10 per leg
- Deficit Reverse Lunge: 2 x 10 per leg
- Dead-Hang Band Lat Pulldown: 3 x 10
- Paused Pullover: 2 x 10
- Incline Push-Up: 2 x 10
Powerlifting is a sport of the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Designing mobility workouts around improving these key lifts or offsetting any loss of mobility from consistently training the same movement patterns is extremely beneficial when trying to stay healthy during the long haul of a competition season.
Using movement variations, unilateral work, and planes of motion not typically seen in powerlifting competitions can help maintain just the right mix of mobility to achieve the goal of maximal strength.
An important variable when designing mobility training routines for powerlifting is the necessity for load. In many other contexts, bodyweight exercises can still be effective at improving mobility, but under maximal strength training conditions such as powerlifting it’s unlikely that just bodyweight would cut it. As strength goes up, often too does your necessity for increased loading for effective mobility workouts.
- Contralateral-Load Lateral Lunge: 3 x 10 per side
- Paused Cable Pullover: 2 x 12
- Half-Kneeling Single-Arm Cable Pulldown: 2 x 12 per side
- Landmine Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift: 2 x 10 per side
- Ab Rollout: 3 x 10
While powerlifting mobility workouts have a very precise range of motion goal, weightlifting is much more dynamic. There are overhead positions, extreme squat depth, and explosive coordinated movements to account for. Limitations in mobility are extremely detrimental to being able to optimally excel at weightlifting, and may expose you to increased risk of injury due to the unforgiving nature of explosive movements like the snatch and clean.
Mobility workouts for weightlifting should account for ankle, hip, shoulder and thoracic spine mobility. This involves exercises that train the overhead shoulder position, deep hip and knee flexion, and should take advantage of subtle rotational exposure to maximize your results.
- Cossack Squat: 2 x 10 per side
- Tempo Overhead Squat: 2 x 10
- Kettlebell Windmill: 3 x 5 per side
- Lateral Raise: 3 x 15
- Contralateral Landmine Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift: 2 x 12 per side
Benefits of Mobility Workouts
Mobility workouts are a fantastic way to drill key movement patterns for all forms of training. An enormous component of mobility workouts is the gain, retention, and control of all your necessary ranges of motion.
Control of Range of Motion
The most obvious benefit of mobility training is the gain of additional range of motion. Safely exercising, especially under certain rulesets such as in powerlifting or weightlifting, demands access to certain ranges of motion.
The right mobility workouts include exercises that improve range of motion at key joints. Once you establish a prerequisite level of mobility, many full mobility workouts can be folded into efficient warm-up routines on a more as-needed basis. For example, a lightweight set of Romanian deadlifts can serve as a mobility tool while simultaneously reinforcing the hinge technique for subsequent deadlifts.
Injury Risk Management
Lack of mobility can be a risk factor for injury during exercise if you’re ever forced into a position your body isn’t used to. In fact, new sticking points or poor motor control may start to limit your potential in the gym in ways that were once fine for you.
If you develop issues executing the exercises in your program safely, you may put yourself needlessly at risk for an accident or injury. Fortunately, the right mobility exercises performed in a full range of motion make for an effective precautionary measure.
Most training styles specialize in certain ranges or planes of motion. For example, the movements in powerlifting are mostly executed in the front-to-back sagittal plane. While getting strong in these ranges is critical if you want to be a good powerlifter, it may predispose you to limitations elsewhere in your fitness.
Mobility workouts allow you to expose yourself to new ranges of motion and planes of exercise outside your regularly scheduled programming. This will ensure that you, at minimum, can enjoy the full breadth of human movement.
Active vs. Passive Mobility
Passive mobility is how much range of motion a joint can pass through when controlled by external manipulation (for example, a partner-assisted stretch), whereas active mobility is using muscular contraction and specific exercises to improve the range of motion at a joint.
The key difference is that active mobility training as it is easily combined with normal exercise. Active mobility is the use of load or tension to improve range of motion, stability, or both. The benefit lies in the development of control within the new range of motion which immediately makes it applicable for exercise. On the contrary, passive mobility is not always necessarily beneficial for training, as that same stability or control cannot be immediately relied upon when you load up your barbell.
When You Should Do Mobility Workouts
Mobility workouts are often prioritized differently depending on training age and the mobility demands of your exercises. Novice, intermediate, and competitive trainees will need different doses of mobility work in their training.
As a Novice
If you’re a novice lifter, you can find some success by prioritizing mobility workouts as your first block of training. Taking a few weeks to establish strong, stable ranges of motion while working on your technique can pay huge dividends. Novice mobility workouts also tend to blend foundational movement patterns with exercises that increase flexibility overall.
As an Intermediate
It’s common for lifters with some gym experience to pick up mobility training as a form of “training triage” when they experience performance dips. However, if you keep some level of mobility work in your training program at all times, you can be more proactive about staying limber.
Your goal should be to expedite your flexibility gains to a place where it simply requires a bit of regular maintenance to keep up with. In practical terms, this tends to look like picking smart warm-up drills at the start of your session that prepare you for the harder training ahead.
As a High-Performer
If you’re a high-level strength competitor, you may have developed compensations in your movement as a byproduct of training for so long. It’s a natural consequence of specificity that other, more general qualities take a back seat over time.
With that in mind, it isn’t always necessary for advanced lifters to regain anything they’ve lost. If you compete in powerlifting, you need the requisite mobility for powerlifting and little else. Instead of taking lots of extra time away from your normal training to try and regain flexibility that you may not need, practice small daily regimens that can help you feel better overall and keep your body in fighting shape.
The big difference — and silver lining — between mobility training and other types of activity is that the better you get, the less you should need to do. The best mobility workouts, like the ones above, are designed to establish a solid threshold of mobility for your particular style of exercise.
Where resistance training relies on progressive overload, mobility work should come with progressive efficiency. Mobility work is worth the up-front investment, but remember to not handcuff yourself to an endlessly laborious routine. Over time, your body should work for you, not against you, and you might find yourself needing less time on the yoga mat to lift more on the deadlift platform.
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