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Are Mobility Drills Helping or Hurting?

It’s been a LOOOOONNNG week as I’ve been hunkered down at the gym and my “mobile office” hashing out the details to a few different projects I got coming out here soon.

All for the betterment of your training and results! 

Ill share more on those later, but for now I wanted to share a guest blog post with you.

One of the things that I’ve paid a ton more attention to the last few years and especially the last 6 months or so is mobility.  My buddy Anthony Mychal was kind enough to do a guest blog post for me on this subject and I know you’ll find the info below powerful and extremely helpful.

Make sure you leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

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We’re living in the age of mobility mayhem. If you can’t squat, you’re told to do “x,” “y,” and “z” mobility drill. Never mind that neither x, y, or z resembles a squat. We just hope it carries over. But mobility, like strength, is movement specific. Working on ankle mobility from a split stance doesn’t guarantee translation to a squat or deadlift.

Experienced guys and gals don’t have mobility restrictions. They just don’t. They may do some mobility work as a warm-up to get the juices flowing but they don’t need it. Nevertheless there are both athletes and clients that just can’t seem to hit certain positions, and I’ve been left scratching my head a number of times. I’m amazed at how some can squat perfectly and then deadlift atrociously, even though—for all intents and purposes—the deadlift is much easier from a mobility standpoint.

That’s because, most times, mobility isn’t the issue. We put mobility on a pedestal. But we often mistake mobility for skill. Squatting deep and hitting good deadlift positions are both skills. And the only way better skills is with specific practice. It’s like learning cursive writing and struggling with the capital letter “D.” It’s not the fine motor control (mobility) that’s lacking. It’s the conceptualization (skill). And writing A’s, Z’s, E’s, and F’s isn’t specific enough practice. The only way to learn the cursive D is to practice writing the cursive D.

TEACHING IN REVERSE ORDER

Skills, unlike mobility drills, are difficult to teach. Conventional wisdom says to start at the beginning. So when teaching someone how to throw, start with stepping with the opposite leg. But, in my opinion, teaching skills in reverse order is more effective in most circumstances.

When it comes to barbell lifts, think reverse. Trouble squatting? Find out how to get in the bottom position and start there. Trouble deadlifting? Start at the lockout and learn how to lower the bar. This isn’t anything new. Most unconsciously use this technique to learn the power clean. They start from the hang, then go from the knees, and finish from the floor.

So instead of consuming the mass of mobility exercises, note that everything is a skill that requires specific practice. And specific practice is well served when teaching in reverse order.

SQUATS IN REVERSE ORDER

If you can’t squat down with good form, the only way to get to the bottom is to use assistance. And the best assistance is a plain old door. Use the handles to help you hit the bottom position. Search around for your own troublesome areas and just try to spend time down there.

After that, pancake the very bottom of the door between your hands and use it for balance and to set your back—stick your chest up like superman. When you’re settled, release your pancake on the door and try to maintain the position. If you lose balance or have difficulty, just pancake the door again.

Once you can hold the position for twenty seconds without assistance, move your hands up the door, repeating the process, until eventually going overhead. The overhead position taxes the thoracic spine and is a great pre-front squat drill.

 After this progression, if you still have trouble, follow this sequence: 1) get into a squat stance, 2) Bend over and touch your toes, 3) squat down. Touching the toes first makes squatting down easier.

The theory as a whole here is that if the bottom position is easy and familiar, the entire movement will be easy and familiar.

DEADLIFTS IN REVERSE ORDER

Most people that have trouble with the conventional deadlift start positon don’t have extensible hamstrings. But instead doing random drills, we’re going to develop it through specific practice: the romanian deadlift (RDL). The RDL is practically the top half of a conventional deadlift. If you have the extensibility to do a correct RDL, you can pull from the floor with ease.

Stand upright with the bar in your hands and push your hips back in space (think about touching your butt to the wall behind you), while keeping the bar in contact with your body. It doesn’t matter how far you can go at first, just be sure to keep good spinal position. What matters is striving to increase the stretch over time.

Once you can get the bar below the base of the kneecap, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to pull from the floor. And if you can’t the answer is probably in your technique, not mobility.

CONCLUSION

No one becomes a good squatter unless they squat. And most common mobility drills simply aren’t specific enough to hit all of the major demands of the body as they are called for during an integrated movement.   Improving ankle mobility is nice, but it has to work synergistically with the thoracic spine, hip, and knee. Often times, this doesn’t happen. So if you’re having “mobility” issue, maybe you just having “skill” issues. Get out there and find a way to work on your problems in ways that are specific and watch your gains skyrocket.

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So there you have it!  A unique and unconventional way to look at improving mobility.

If you know me you know I like unconventional….

Either way, Anthony is full of great knowledge, so make sure to stop by his blog HERE and check out some of the other stuff he’s got going on over there as well.

Also, I get a lot of questions all the time about KNEE PAIN and I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m no guru when it comes to most injuries so I typically outsource those types questions.

I’m more about preventing injuries and helping athletes enhance their performance by focusing in on getting and staying strong and through that, hopefully never getting injured in the first place…

Anthony is the same way, but he’s got some GREAT knowledge about how to deal with injuries.

If you’re someone that has issues with your knees or you’re struggling with knee pain, I would highly suggest you check out Anthony’s book, An Athlete’s Guide To Chronic Knee Pain.  I know you’ll find the info within it to be very good and extremely helpful.

ALSO – If you have questions for Anthony, post them up in the comments below!

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