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Category: Mobility

5 Best Upper Body Mobilizations

I am going to break upper body mobility into three areas.

  • Thoracic
  • Tight Shoulders/Chest
  • Tight Forearms/Wrists

I have found that these three areas are the most prone to being immobile and lead to injuries ranging from low back and neck pain, to torn pecs, rotator cuff problems, carpal tunnel and more.  Unfortunately this is due to the ’rounded desk posture’ of our modern society (sitting, typing, writing, texting) resulting in poor posture.  The resulting ‘C’ shape with a rounded upper back, hunched over shoulders, and forward jutting neck compromise stability and force transfer for nearly any movement.  On top of that, the poor positioning leads to improper muscle recruitment patterns in a variety of exercises, heck it will even make breathing more difficult.

In other words these positions are terrible to default to, and merely going to the gym and working out will not address the problem – in fact it will more than likely lead to significant injury.

 

5 Best Upper Body Mobilizations:

 

1) Myofascial Release:

Items Needed: A ‘Peanut’ which is two lacrosse balls taped together.  You can make your own or grab one off Amazon, the cheapest I found is this one.

 

Purpose: Restore the gliding surfaces of the various layers of tissue.  Make sure to breath in deeply and work out any sore/tight areas.  Also keep your abs tight and strive to keep your lower back on the ground throughout the movement.

 

Modifications:  There isn’t much you can do to make this easier.  A more advanced version or for bigger people (like myself) would be to get a weight of some sort like a kettle bell and hold it on your chest.  This will give you some extra weight to really dig into that T-spine.

 

Aim for: A minute or two of maintenance once all the knots are cleared out.  Whenever a knot comes up, spend a minute or two on just that area and try to loosen it up.

 


2) Wall Slides:

Items Needed: A wall! Or any flat vertical surface.

 

Purpose:  Activate the low trap, external rotators, and rhomboid.  Stretch out the pecs and internal rotators.  It’ll also help to teach you to not engage your upper traps (by shrugging).

Keep your shoulder blades back and down throughout the movement.

Hands, wrist, forearms pressed into the wall the entire time.

 

Modifications: If you can’t do this perfectly the first time, don’t worry about it.  It can take some time to restore movement that hasn’t been addressed in years.  Only go to the point of discomfort, no need to push through any pain.

 

Aim for:  Spend a minute or two doing this.

 


3) Cat-Cow:

Items Needed: Nothing!

 

Purpose:  Restore T-spine mobility.  Try to breath out on the way up, and in on the way down.

 

Modifications: This is a very gentle stretch,  push as hard as you’d like at the top and bottom.

 

Aim for: 15-20 repetitions.  Shouldn’t take more than a minute.

 


4) Wrist/Forearms:

Items Needed: None!

 

Purpose: Warm up and mobilize the fingers, wrists and forearm muscles.

 

Modifications: Several are covered in the video! Just put as much weight as you’d like into your hands.

 

Aim for:  2-5 minutes before any activity involving the hands.

 


5) Shoulder/ chest:

Items Needed: Resistance band, like these.

 

Purpose: Stretch out the shoulders and pecs.  Reposition the shoulder into an anatomically correct position.

 

Modifications: Can perform without a band although it will be less effective.  Just grab a doorway and step through.

 

Aim for:  2-4 minutes per side.

 


Conclusion: 

These drills are easy to perform, can be personalized to your needs, and shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.  I highly suggest using these as part of your warmup routine to allow for better positioning and safety during your workout.  Additionally, working out immediately after mobilizing will help to cement your changes by teaching your Central Nervous System new motor and muscle recruitment patterns.

 

Try these drills for a week or two and see if you notice an improvement, if not change up the timing, range of motion you explore or try out some new mobilizations.  Stick with what works!

 

 

Want to learn the 5 Best Lower Body Mobilizations? Click here.

Another article I found on some more thoracic mobility and a quick way to address it here.


5 Best Lower Body Mobilizations

If you are completely unfamiliar with the term mobility, check out my overview article on it here.

 

Before we begin, I’m sure you understand the importance of attaining some basic mobility, if not I will be writing a future article the ‘3 Biggest movement dysfunctions’.  It will go in depth to describe the 3 biggest mobility problems facing people today, and why it needs to be addressed ASAP.

 

Alright.  Now that we are on the same page about needing mobility (especially lower body), here’s my Top 5 best lower body mobilizations.

 

1) Runners pose

Lower Body Mobilizations - Runner's Pose

Photo credit.

Purpose: Primarily stretch out your hip flexors (super important for anyone who sits … so everyone)

Modifications: Can be easily modified by the extent you push your hips forward.  Remember to tighten your butt cheek of the leg with the knee on the ground, and not to lean your upper body away, stay vertical.

Note: Video begins at the 4:00 minute mark.

 

Take it one level further with a banded distraction pulling your hip forward. 

Note: Video begins at the 9:45 minute mark.

 

Aim for:  Around 2 minutes per side.  If you find any problem areas, feel free to spend longer working those out.

 

2) Squat Hold

Lower Body Mobilizations - Squat Hold

Photo Credit.

Purpose: Deep stretch in your hamstrings and pelvic floor muscles, adductors, and calves.  This is one of the primal positions humans are designed to be comfortable holding.  Even if you can easily eat dinner in this position, which I bet most people are not, some time should be spent maintaining that ability.

 

Modifications:

Easier: Holding onto something (chair)

Lower Body Mobilizations - Chair Hold

Photo Credit.

Medium: Holding onto a kettle bell.  It really helps you get a deep stretch in all the muscles

 

Aim for:  Work up to increasingly longer holds.  Start off with 30 seconds and see if you can get to 2, 5, even 10 minutes.

 

3) Pigeon Pose

Lower Body Mobilizations - Pigeon Stretch

Photo Credit.

Purpose: Primarily stretch out the glutes and hip flexors, also can stretch the hamstrings depending on your forward leg position.

Modifications: You can add pillows underneath your glutes to reduce the depth of the stretch.  Holding onto anything nearby can also help.

Note: Video begins at the 5:00 minute mark.

 

Aim for:  Around 2 minutes per side.  Again if you find any trouble areas, work those out.  Play around with your leg positioning.

 

4) Myofascial Release

Lacrosse ball smash the quadriceps & gluteal fold

Lower Body Mobilizations - Lacrosse Ball Rolling

Photo Credit.

Purpose: Break up any adhesions in your quadriceps and the insertion of your hamstring into the glutes.  

Modifications: An easier way to do it would be to use a foam roller, since the surface area is greater.

For the quadriceps, begin just above the knee and slowly work all the way up to the flexors.  If you find any tight spots along the way, pause for a minute and let it work itself out.

The easiest way to get the gluteal fold is to sit on a hard surface and place the lacrosse ball at the insertion of the hamstrings into the glutes, right before your sits bones.  Make sure to have your pelvis directly underneath you.  It may help to sit up as straight as you can  to put your pelvis in the most advantageous position for this mobilization.

 

Aim for:  Around 2 minutes per side.  As with the previous stretches, if you find any areas that you’d like to explore go ahead and camp out there for a while.

5) Internal Hip Rotations

Lower Body Mobilizations - Internal Hip Rotation

Photo Credit.

Purpose:  Restore internal rotation of the hips.  This is essential in creating torque from external rotation, which helps to stabilize the hip joint during squatting movements.  It may sound counterintuitive, but if you think about it the more internal rotation you can achieve, the earlier ‘starting point’ you will have to begin the external rotation = more torque = stability = performance.

Modifications:  Let your legs fall as much as you’d like, further and you will have a greater stretch.

To perform, lay on your back and bring your feet out wide.  Let your knees fall inward toward the opposite leg.  Try one at a time, or two, whichever your prefer.  Be really conscious of keeping your hips on the ground and trying to feel the stretch in the hip joint.

Aim for:  Around 2 minutes per side.

 

Conclusion:

The beautiful thing about all of these mobilizations is that you can personalize them to fit you.  If you feel a particular range of motion or side of the movement is tighter/stickier, spend some more time there and really dig into it.  Kelly Starrett is a big proponent of ‘hunting’ for those tight areas and really working them out.  The greatest changes in your physiology and performance come directly from working out those problem areas.  Also another note,  test your movement positioning before and after each mobilization.  See if you end up making changes.  If you don’t experience any changes, try a different variation of it or experiment with holding it longer.

 

5 Best Upper Body Mobilizations here!

Anyone in Limerick, Ireland?  Be sure to check out Colm at his gym, and blog. He’s a physiotherapist who understands the mobility and stability requirements of anyone, especially athletes.

 

If you’re interested in a  great video for a lower body warmup, Matt Ogus has a great one here.

 

Need a lacrosse ball or foam roller?  Amazon has several great options, here are my favorite:

Foam Roller

Lacrosse Ball

Be sure to check out my Voodoo Floss Band review if you want to take your lower body mobility even further!

What is Mobility? Lets Break it Down!

Mobility is “the ability to move in one’s environment with ease and without restriction.”  In terms of human movement, mobility is the ability to put one’s body into the correct position for various movements such as a squat, deadlift, overhead press etc.

 

Dr.Kelly Starrett of San Francisco Crossfit and mobilitywod  have been the main sources behind this term becoming more popular.  Kelly says that mobility is “a movement-based integrated full-body approach that addresses all the elements that limit movement and performance including short and tight muscles, soft tissue restriction, joint capsule restriction, motor control problems, joint range of motion dysfunction, and neural dynamic issues. In short, mobilization is a tool to globally address movement and performance problems.”  In other words mobility is super important when we are talking about fitness, and even just general everyday life.  Having mobility means having the ability to move the way our bodies were designed, that is the correctly and safely.  Incidentally having this mobility will also allow for greater performance through higher force and therefore power production.

 

While you can break down mobility into many subcategories, as Dr. Kelly did above, I believe the three most pertinent categories are as follows:

  • Soft tissue restrictions
  • Tissue elasticity
  • Joint Range of motion

 

The majority of improvements in mobility will more than likely come from these areas.  Additionally they are all easy to work on individually which is very important for those of us who cannot afford a personal masseuse or chiropractor.

 

Soft tissue restrictions

Think scar tissue and matted down old tissue that hasn’t been required to move in a long time (ie you haven’t done a full squat in decades).  All those adhesions serve to tack down and restrict the movement of different layers of tissue.  The goal here is to break up those adhesions and restore the sliding surfaces of the various layers of tissue.

The main tools used here are self-myofascial release tools, such as foam rollers and lacrosse balls.  If you’re unsure how to use either I’ll be making an article on the both of them and  the importance of myofascial release soon.

Mobility - Lacrosse Ball Rolling

Photo Credit.

Lacrosse ball smashing the quadriceps.

 

Tissue elasticity

Think stretching.  A shorter tissue will have a decreased range of motion when compared to a longer tissue.  If you have yet to attain the maximum range of motion this is an excellent place to put some work in.  Kelly is a big proponent of Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF).  PNF is essentially stretching a muscle, isometrically contracting it, then stretching it further.  Commonly you will perform multiple cycles of it.  Couple PNF with prolonged static stretching (I prefer up to two minutes) and you’ll see noticeable changes in your mobility.

Mobility - Runners Pose

Runner’s pose.

 

Mobility - Pigeon Stretch

Pigeon Stretch.

Joint range of motion

Lastly the range of motion of your joints needs to be addressed.  This is usually done through the use of banded distractions.  Here’s an excellent video of Starrett demonstrating some banded distractions.  The main idea is that the band applies pressure to put the joint back in the correct position, then you can move around a bit and stretch out the end ranges of motion.

 

Some things to note here are that mobilization is not the same as a warmup (although it should be incorporated into a warm up).  Generally a warm up is designed to increase your heart rate a bit and get more blood flowing.  Mobilizing during your warm up will serve to put you in better positions during your workouts, thus making you stronger and less likely to get injured.

 

Some of my favorite movements are the runners pose (first stretch she demonstrates), deep squat hold, and pigeon pose  all of which address both tissue elasticity; and, when coupled with a band, joint range of motion.

 

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