I decided to expand my usually Monday Mobility snippet and dedicate an entire post to it today. Outside of the strength and conditioning world, mobility is such an overlooked part of the general population’s “fitness” programs and is quite underrated. Most people don’t even stretch. Heck, most people don’t even do anything that doesn’t involve a treadmill or a thigh master.
Most new clients probably think I’m pretty whack for having them contort into foreign positions prior to their workout (even after explaining the benefits of mobility drills and a dynamic warm up)…until they feel like a million bucks, can move like the oiled up tin man and that cranky old hip/lower back/knee pain has eased up after a few weeks.
Let’s back it up for a minute.
When I say mobility, I’m referring to the ability to move a joint through its full range of motion – with control. Joints are referred to as “compromised” when they are unable to move through their full range. When one joint becomes “compromised” the closest surrounding joints tend to compensate or pick up the slack. This can lead to imbalances, pain, dysfunction and overall extra stress. This stress can extend through the body’s connective tissue and fascia and cause pain or stiffness in (what may seem as) unrelated areas. Knee pain? Could be caused by gunked up or locked up hips. Gunked is a very scientific word by the way, my apologies if you can’t handle such professional terms ;)
It’s a no-brainer that there’s a direct correlation involving the invention of the chair and the decrease in general mobility. Although, sitting and being sedentary aren’t the only inhibitors of our mobility..sometimes our own physical or leisure activities can cause issues. For example, running can lead to shortened hip flexors and hamstrings and baseball players can experience shoulder and hip issues based on what side they throw from.
What does this mean for your strength or resistance training program? Well if you’re frequently performing short range of motion movements with loads or heavy weight, you’re basically building upon and adding strength to dysfunction. Eventually you’ll end up injured, jacked up and so tight you’ll be walking like you’re 95 years old. Remember, just because it doesn’t hurt now or hurt when you’re doing it, it doesn’t mean it’s not causing you harm or isn’t going to give you grief later on.
Your body functions like a boss as an integrated unit. If somewhere in that unit certain joints become locked up or isolated, it basically throws a wrench in the kinetic chain (the relationship between your muscles, bones and nerves) causing less efficiency and not allowing your body to work as a unit. This also inhibits you from producing your maximal power output and reaching your full potential, which will slow down and halt your progress.
Simply put, improving your mobility will decrease your risk of injury, improve your performance (strength, power, speed) and have you moving like a newborn again. Getting injured or being weak in general both really suck. If performing 5-10 minutes of simple mobility drills or a dynamic warm-up daily/before your training sessions can prevent either of those, then you’re crazy not to.
So let’s get into today’s Monday Mobility: Improving thoracic spine mobility and shoulder health.
Improving range of motion through the thoracic spine can directly improve range of motion through the gleno-humeral, or shoulder, joint. Try this: Stand up, hunch your shoulders over (think “hunchback”) and try to lift your arms straight up over your head. You didn’t get very far did you? Now “un-hunch” your shoulders, get tall and try again. BAM.
That first “hunched” position is basically, although possibly a bit exaggerated, how the general population is positioned these days. If you come into the weight room and try to perform lifts like that..you’re going to have a bad time and your body will not be pleased with you.
Here’s a quick test to assess your own upper body mobility and shoulder flexion.
Stand tall with your butt, shoulder blades and back of your head against a wall, hands at your sides with palms facing the wall. Note the amount of space between your lower back and the wall. Keeping your arms straight, reach up and try to touch your knuckles to the wall overhead…without moving through your lower back as shown below:
If that space between your lumbar and the wall increases or your rib cage flares up, you’re compensating. Yikes!
No worries though, here are some simple drills to help you improve your upper body mobility.
1) Foam Roller Thoracic Extension
Position the foam roller just below your shoulder blades with your knees at 90 degrees. Place your hands behind your head, keep your elbows together and tuck your chin in. While keeping your middle tight, butt on the ground and chin tucked, extend your upper back over the roller without moving your lower back (not as easy as it sounds!).
2) Bent Over T-Spine Rotation
Perform a “hip hinge” movement so that you are parallel with the ground with a neutral spine, chest up and arms hanging towards the ground. With your thumbs facing outwards/palms forward (unlike me in the video – forgive me, I was hungry at the time) raise one arm straight up, following it with your head. Make sure to brace your stomach and again make sure you are moving through your upper back and your lower back is still.
3) Quadruped Extension-Rotation
In the quadruped position (down on “4s” – knees underneath hips and palms under shoulders) place one hand behind your head. Imagine a glass of water on your lower back and bring that elbow towards your opposite knee, without spilling your glass of water, and back up – following your elbow with your head. Again, make sure the movement is coming from your upper back and not your lower back.
4) Squat To Stand With Reach
With this one, we kill two birds with one stone: Thoracic extension and rotation plus hip mobility. Bring yourself into a deep squat position with your elbows inside of your knees, keep a neutral spine and stay tall. While holding onto your right foot with your right hand, reach the left hand up and follow it with your head – keeping your chest tall and lower back still. Repeat with opposite arm.
Include those four simple drills into your warm-up and rest day activities and you will see and feel improvements. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me!
On a side note, Sweat and Dirt is now HurstStrength.com! A little gift to myself :) I’ll be making changes to the site here and there over the next few weeks and I also removed the majority of my former posts in an attempt to make my blog a bit more professional. So, my apologies if anything starts looking funky! (And if anyone can figure out why my titles are all italicized..that would be great..)