Yes yes everybody, welcome back to what is my first post in a while. I’m currently preparing for a white collar boxing match so most of my time is spent training myself and coaching others (on and offline, see here for details).
Anyway, I’m back, and I plan to post alot more consistently from here on.
Today’s article is about mobility – an often neglected but very important topic.
(Note: In my time working as a coach thus far, I’ve noticed that men generally have much worse mobility than women. Women are biologically designed to be more flexible for a number of reasons. Therefore this post is going to be of much more interest to the guys).
So first off, what is mobility?
Mobility is how we move through a given range of motion.
For example, being able to move in a controlled, fluid manner through a movement, such as the squat means you probably have good hip mobility.
If on the other hand, you try to get into a deep squat position and find it difficult, there’s a good chance your hip mobility is the culprit (due to tight muscle tissue, joint problems etc).
Now this is often considered a boring topic and I understand why. It’s not as fun as sprinting, squatting, playing sports etc. I get it.
But in life, we sometimes have to do things we don’t particularly like doing. Mobility work is one of those things.
Improving your mobility is one of the first steps to unlocking your athletic potential.
Talking with a couple of friends who compete in mixed martial arts, they described how better hip mobility translates into faster and more powerful kicks. Makes sense. If your hip range of motion is poor, you won’t be able to kick in the most efficient way needed to land on an opponent.
I know all about poor mobility. I have possibly the tightest hips known to man, tighter than a ………. (insert your own word here, I’m not involved). I can barely get into a parallel squat position unless I mobilise first.
A few months ago a friend and I embarked on a quest to become faster sprinters. We began hitting the track regularly and soon noticed just how locked up our hips were. To be fast, you need good hip mobility. This was insight A.
(After carving out the his own mobilisation routine, my friend has seen his sprint times improve exponentially in a very short space of time. I have also seen an improvement in speed although haven’t been as consistent with the training).
Insight B came during a heavy squat day. For probably the first time ever, I went thorough a 20 minute mobilisation routine before even getting under the bar.
The effects were immediate – my squat increased a good 10 kg in one session!
Within a month or two my max had shot up by 20 kg and I was handling weight that just a few sessions previously I could barely bust through.
It wasn’t necessarily because I had gotten stronger – but I was now able to fully express the strength I had within me (sounds like a Tony Robbins quote).
So without further ado, here’s what I do before pretty much every lower body session (with some variations). I can almost guarantee that spending 15 – 20 minutes doing this routine will result in a better squat, faster sprint etc.
Click on the links below for a video demo of each technique.
Self myofascial release (foam roller, lacrosse/tennis ball, kettlebell)
Start the mobilisation process with self myofascial release to soften and loosen tight muscle groups.
Deep breathing is important during these movements. Go slowly and don’t rush it. If you find a painful spot, stay on it and hang there for a few seconds.
You need a minimum of 2 minutes on each muscle group to effect a change, according to Kelly Starrett in Becoming A Supple Leopard (an excellent book).
Put the ball on the side of the glute where it feels like there’s dip.
In that position, start to flex and extend the knee to restore normal range of motion.
Sit on a box/bench of some kind, and roll on the ball, where the hamstring and glutes meet.
This may raise eyebrows from innocent bystanders at the gym, but ignore them. It’s not public indecency unless you take your clothes off.
It’s somewhat difficult to describe but I’ll try my best here.
Angle the kettlebell handle so it points inwards towards the middle of your body (like this: \) and put it on the right side of your body, so it digs just underneath your iliac crest (the bony part at the front of your hip).
(Do not put the kettlebell handle on the bone itself unless you want serious bruising.)
This technique can be quite uncomfortable but it hits the deep muscles of the psoas and hip flexors in a way which foam rollers can’t.. so get to it.
Glute stretch – 2-3 sets x 20-30 seconds each leg.
Try and drive your hips into the ground and get your front leg as straight as possible across your body.
TRX Squats – 1 set x 10 reps (3-5 second hold at bottom)
Use this movement to reinforce good squat mechanics. In the bottom of the squat, get your chest up and push your knees out wide as you can (without moving feet).
Glute bridge x 10 reps
This is hugely important as most people have under-active glutes, which play a huge role in activities such as squatting and sprinting.
Therefore, ‘waking them up’ before a session will contribute to better overall performance.
Frog Rocks – 10 reps (3-5 seconds at the bottom)
Push the legs out wide and get far back in to the stretch as you can. These are excellent for hitting the abductors on the outside of the hips, and mimics the squat position in a way.
Fire hydrants – 2 sets x 10 reps each leg
Raise the bent knee up to hip level without excessively tilting your body.
(Notice how I can barely raise my knee to the level of my hip – super tight. After a few more sets it becomes much easier for me.)
Banded hip flexor stretch – 2-3 sets x 5 slow rocks in & out on each leg
You can do this without a band but the band makes it even more effective, as it pulls the joint into a better position.
Slowly rock in and out of the stretch, moving from the hips. Don’t lean back too much.
Banded lateral squats – 10 reps on each side
Again you can do this without the band. The adductor muscles (groin) are important in the squat, and the lateral squat is a great way to improve this (without the most pointless machine ever.. the inner and outer thigh machine).
Band hip external rotations – 2 x 5 on each side
Leg swings (forward and backward) – 10 on each side (as many times as you need)
Lateral leg swings – 10 on each side (as many as you need)
Really try to ‘open’ the leg up behind the body as it swings outward.
Light Romanian Deadlifts – 1-2 sets x 10 reps
These warm up the hamstrings.
Kettlebell swings – 2 sets x 5 reps
Low reps to activate the glutes and get the nervous system firing.
You can continue doing many of these drills throughout the session until you feel loose. Beware not to tire yourself out though – too much can be a bad thing.
Please remember that you don’t have to do this exactly as written, but if you’re just learning how to mobilise, I suggest you follow this format. Over time you can cut out stuff that doesn’t work for you and add stuff that does.
Try to do this 1-2 times a week initially at least. I’ve made good progress in my baseline mobility in a short space of time (but still have a loong way to go), and huge improvements in performance.