What happens when you don’t work on your mobility?

Nothing.

At least for a while. You lift. You get stronger. You improve your diet a bit. You get leaner. You look good. Who needs to stretch?

Stretching is for yoga girls and geriatrics, bro.

Then you wake up one day and you have a slight pain in your lower back. Nothing major. “Damn,” you say, as you roll out of bed. You instinctively try to stretch it out. Maybe you lean over and touch your toes, which, coincidentally are very far from the tips of your fingers. It helps a bit, so you forget about it.

You keep training. In the weight room, you feel unstoppable. Other dudes whisper in the locker room about how animalistic you are. It feels good. But you start to notice that after sitting all day at work, your lower back is aching. You try to stretch it out. Maybe you put your hands on your lower back and do the old man, hips forward stretch with a bustling sigh. But…the pain lingers. Not the biggest deal though, because once you get warmed up at the gym, things feel A-okay. So you forget about it.

You keep lifting. You keep getting stronger. You can now squat a small automobile, which feels good.

Then it happens

One day you’re doing a deep squat and you feel something tweak in your lower back. It’s hard to get the weight racked.  “Damn it,” you say as ease out from under bar. That hurt. You don’t stretch it out this time because it’s hard to breathe. It feels like you need your spine popped back in place. Something’s wrong.

At this point, most guys credit this to an unlucky break. “Shit happens,” they might say. “Injury is a part of sport.” But, contrary to this brilliant guy wisdom, this could have been avoided.

So what happened here?

From a physiological point of view, the body continuously got tighter and stronger until it lost natural movement at the hips. Sitting all day reinforced tight hip flexors (namely, the iliacus and psoas) that pulled the pelvis into an anterior pelvic tilt. This caused initial back pain. But a slew of other muscles also tightened, including the calves, the hamstrings and the adductors which pulled the pelvis down with them during a deep squat. This is called a “butt wink” and it changes the curvature of the spine. Initially posture went to hell in a hand basket and eventually, under heavy load, the lumbar curve was non-existent which lead to a vertebral herniation.

It is a story that is unfolding all too often in the weight room because guys refuse to work on their mobility. Everything seems good, damn good, until it isn’t. And I get it.  ‘Cause mobility work is boring. But the fact remains, if you want to stay pain- and injury-free, having a strong body is only part of that battle. Having a mobile body is also essential.

Get Mobile

The best way to get mobility work into your routine is to take a yoga class once a week. I know. I know. “Yoga is for the birds.” Trust me, it’s worth it. An hour per week of mobility work will make a difference. As an added bonus, yoga classes are full of cute, open-minded, extremely flexible yoga girls. Plus, your presence in any yoga studio will be a welcomed dose of testosterone. I hope.

If adding another workout to your week is absolutely out of the question, I also like what I call Mobility/Intervals. Since interval training is already a part of your routine (it is, right?), use your recovery time (especially between series) to stretch your tightest joints. This helps to break up your mobility work into manageable pieces and allows you to utilize what would otherwise be simple passive recovery.

Your glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors are likely culprits for your lower body. Your thoracic spine and your lats are a good place to start up top.

The bottom line…in order to stay pain-free and continue your progress towards weight room domination, you need to address your mobility.

*Something sorta like this article was originally posted on MensFitness.com on Jan 18th, 2012.

 The Routine

High Intensity Interval Training + Mobility = HIITILITY

 

Dynamic warm-up:

World’s Greatest Stretch
Inch Worm
Mini band – side step
Marching & skipping
Easy jog – 2-3 minutes

Series 1

Treadmill Sprint – 30s on, 30s off x 5
Mobility Work – Pigeon (Glutes) – 90-second hold (per side)

Series 2

Incline Treadmill Sprint – 30s on, 30s off x 5
Mobility Work – Hamstring – 90-second hold (per side)

Series 3

Force Treadmill Sprint – 50 yards on, 30s off (x 5)
Mobility Work – Hip flexor – 90-second hold (per side)

Series 4

Fan Bike – 20s on, 40s off (x 5)
Mobility Work – Thoracic Extensions on the Foam Roller – 2 min.

Note: Make sure you’re good to go after your stretches. Sometimes a muscle needs to “wake up” a bit after an intense stretch to be ready for the subsequent interval series. A little marching, skipping or easy jogging will do the trick.

A warning – This is by no means a perfect or exhaustive approach to mobility work; it is the absolute minimum (any less than this and you might as well get on your knees and pray to gods of weightlifting for an injury.) But it’s a good way to take advantage of passive recovery time and make mobility happen.

LEMME KNOW WHATCHA THINK…

WHAT ARE SOME SOLUTIONS YOU’VE COME UP WITH TO ADDRESS MOBILITY?

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  • David Anekstein

    Was this an article of yours posted on Men’s Fitness, or someone elses? Great writing either way, it made me think twice about my stretching.

    • BandanaTraining

      Yes sir. I write for Men’s Fitness, among other places…this was an article originally posted there. Glad it got you stretching though – mission accomplished.

  • Ollie

    Hey Rob,

    Just curious, I thought that sitting in an office chair ‘slouch’ excessively, often leads people to move into an anterior pelvic tilt due to shortening of ‘overactive’ hip flexors, tight but lengthened hamstrings and lack of glute activation, therefore causing more load to be placed upon the lumbar spine?

    Have I got my wires crossed? would appreciate it if you could clarify for me.

    Thanks

    Ollie

    • BandanaTraining

      Sure. You’re absolutely correct. Sitting too much DOES often leads to an anterior pelvic tilt because of tight hip flexors and glute “amnesia”. However, even those same people will slip into a posterior pelvic tilt during a deep squat (usually called a “tuck under” position) because of the lack of hamstring mobility. Slouching will reinforce this because it allows the PSIS to be lower than the ASIS (and is usually accompanied by an increased kyphosis up top.) The article was primarily alluding to that – but that’s a smart clarification to make. Thank you.

  • Nick Ocho

    Learning this lesson the hard way while snatching last February. Yoga became a regular part of my routine and now snatch and squat numbers have sky rocketed! along with other things… good words my man

    • BandanaTraining

      Good stuff Nick. Yeaaaa…unfortunately, it usually takes an injury for dudes to make mobility work a priority. I’d like to see us get a little more proactive with our pigeon.

  • Alex

    Can you discuss dynamic warm-ups and mobility versus static stretching?

    • BandanaTraining

      Dynamic warm ups are about stretching through motion – great at priming the body for a workout. Static stretching is about holding the end-range of a stretch – It’s great at improving join mobility. Both have their place.

  • Alexander Fedigan

    You explained how if one doesn’t stretch it takes an injury to get them to realize they need to, but what happens if you’re already feeling the pain? Start a mobility workout right then or take time off and let it heal? What’s the best route to take?

    • BandanaTraining

      Awesome question. NO…if you’re feeling pain, the best thing you can do is take it easy. It isn’t until your start to feel (relatively) asymptomatic that you should start to tackle to issue.

  • ashish hablani

    Great article. Might i also suggest a few racquet sports too. That will get you a lot of mobility and a lot of fun. Win-win.

    • BandanaTraining

      Good stuff. (Plus you get to wear wrist bands…which are pretty cool in my book.)

  • Mike

    I slightly injured my right deltoid, and yoga stretches like the downward dog do not feel right. Should i stop attending yoga classes? Kick-ass article by the way.

    • BandanaTraining

      I’d keep going but notify the instructor before class. In my experience, they’re pretty solid about work-arounds.

  • Steve

    I’ve definitely noticed since taking a desk job (and getting older) that my hips are tighter while squatting. I do a dynamic stretch now that I got from Mike Geary

    • BandanaTraining

      Good stuff Steve (the dynamic stretching…not the getting old part/tight hips part.)

  • I find basic gymnastic training like straddles, levers, handstands and mana training both strengthen and stretch and I haven’t had any problems since I started doing this one or two days a week.

    • BandanaTraining

      Good call. Certain exercises force the body into a full range – which is another sneaky way of incorporating mobility work.

  • Matthew Arielly

    This was very eye-opening, and addresses issues I’m facing right now. Any suggestions for alleviating back pain and increasing mobility would be very helpful!

  • rob

    Amen to this article! I use to be super tight and not flexible at all.Then i started tweaking muscles here and there and said enough is enough. So i started doing full body stretches after every workout and feel better than ever! And my flexibility has skyrocketed.

    • BandanaTraining

      good stuff, Rob. (strong name, too.)

  • So, if there are no Yoga classes available for us at the moment, would you recommend a Yoga instructional video?? I dont typically like Home Workout Videos… but I feel like I need one for Yoga… I can’t reach my back when washing in the shower… this is a problem.. What to do, what to do..

    • BandanaTraining

      Yessir. How does the quote go? “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” I’m pretty sure Arnold said that. Arnold or Buddah…same difference.

  • Eddie Vazquez

    Great Article, I’ll look for Yoga classes, I start feeling that lil pain Thanks.

    • BandanaTraining

      Good stuff. And g’luck.

  • Jay McD

    Great article!.. What are your thoughts on directly stretching the same muscle you are working, during your rest periods? For example.. complete a set of wide grip pull ups then stretch lats during a 60 second rest and then hop back onto the bar? Is this helping or hurting? THANKS! you’re the “Mandana”

    • BandanaTraining

      Sometimes it feels awesome right? There’s concern about turning “off” a muscle with intense stretching right before a set. Bollocks, I say. As long as you give yourself a sec post-stretch to get amped again, you’re good to go. (Watch gymnast before they compete – they stretch for, like, an hour…then they do some really impressive shit.)

  • AMB

    I’ve long heard that stretching before a workout is unnecessary but should be done after a workout when the muscles have been working. The warm ups I use for stage combat classes now have very little stretching and mostly active games and running. Thanks for the science/knowledge to back it up!

    • BandanaTraining

      Good stuff AMB. As for pre-workout, some dynamic stretchy movements are great (full range of motion, um, motions) but I’d save the sit and hold stuff for the end.

  • Rob

    I *love* yoga! Nothing feels better than folding yourself ino a pretzel a few times a week. I have a repeating task reminding me to do some yoga every 3 or 4 days..

    • BandanaTraining

      Does it say….

      Dear Rob,

      Make like a pretzel and go to yoga.

      With love,
      Your Muscles

      …cause that would be dandy.

  • Help! I need the routine.

    • BandanaTraining

      Posting NOW amigo.

  • Noda

    Ok, So what happens when you already have those aches and pains in your back? What happens if you’ve just started to get back into fitness after some years of neglect and then you tweak your back? Generally it seems repairing a problem is a lot harder and more painful than avoiding it in the first place but now the damage is done.

    You can’t just give it rest because too much rest (laziness, work, kids, a.k.a. Life) is what go one to this point in the first place. Do you back off on the weight training and focus solely on yoga/stretching and cardio? Whats the best way to get back on track, avoid a recurring problem and make it to awesomeville?

    BTW Fantastic informative posts. Just discovered the site.

    • BandanaTraining

      Great question. The game becomes gradually and progressively increasing your intensity. If you do too little, you won’t make much progress. If you do too much and re-injure yourself you’ll have no choice but to rest. You’ve gotta Goldilocks it – just the right amount. Just the right intensity. Cool?