Its 2020 and mobility is a hotter topic than ever. Everyone has their own opinion and there's lot of stuff out there. (By the way, before you read this article read- A Joint by Joint Approach to Training)
If you have already read A Joint by Joint Approach to Training this is a 2020 update on a piece I originally called “The Essential Eight." (see link below) The initial version was about eight simple things that everyone can and should do to warm-up. This version will simply update that idea, with a few notable changes.
The nice thing about these exercises is that anyone can do them. Everyone may not be able to do them well but, they can do them. The people who can't do them well obviously need them the most. Don't let people talk you out of mobility. I like to hide mobility under the heading of “warm-up” or “stretching” . It's like hiding a pill in peanut butter for a dog. It makes it much easier to swallow.
Some people will call these mobility drills, another will call them activation drills and someone might just call it part of the dynamic warm-up. I like to think D-All of the above!
Number 1- Thoracic Spine Mobility. The mobility of the thoracic spine is one of the least understood areas of the body and was previously the realm of physical therapists. Physical Therapist Sue Falsone, might be single-handedly responsible for introducing the athletic world to the concept of thoracic mobility and more importantly for showing many of us in the world of strength and conditioning some simple ways to develop it. The nice thing about t-spine mobility is that almost no one has enough and it's pretty hard to get too much. We encourage our athletes to do thoracic mobility work every day. To perform our number one thoracic mobility drill all you need is one of the new Rollga foam rollers.
By the way, I think the new Rollga's are going to make the regular foam roller obsolete. The Rollga has grooves and ridges so the bone ( in the t-spine case the spine or more specifically the spinous process) has a void to go into. This allows greater penetration into the soft tissue.
What you basically do is roll the thoracic spine beginning with the roller at the thoraco-lumbar junction and working up to about C7. Do a bit in flexion with the hands behind the head and the chin to chest and, some in extension with hands overhead. The Rollga Rollers allow the spinous processes to fall into the groove and effectively provides an anterior-posterior mobilization of the vertebrae with every roll. Work from the thoraco-lumbar junction up to the beginning of the cervical spine. Take some time to breath on each rep.
( A note on breathing. I have to admit that I was very wrong about the effect of breath on mobility and core training. Really wrong. I used to make fun of yoga practitioners and, anyone else who brought up breathing. In fact, I had a standard line. I'd tell everyone “ all my current clients are breathing”. Pretty funny! Actually, really dumb. There is big difference between breathing and breathing correctly. We want to inhale through the nose ( nasal inhalation) and exhale through the mouth.)
This drill is actually done as part of our foam rolling sequence. The rest of our mobility work is done after we put the rollers away.
Number 2 – Neck Mobility- the idea of neck mobility sounds really bad. I get it. You hear “neck mobility” and think about scenes from the old horror movie The Exorcist where the possessed girl's head spins in circles. This drill might be better referred to as “slow and controlled cervical spine range of motion” but, that makes for a lousy headline. This is actually an idea stolen from the Original Strength guys and is simply quadruped head turns and nods. These are gentle! You aren't trying to push for more range of motion. You are simply getting the neck moving.
BIG TIP here from my friend Anna Hartmann. Do your neck ROM while trying to look at your nose. Yes, look at your nose. Looking at your nose creates the chin tuck we are looking for.
Five turns right and left ( 10 total) and 10 nods up and down, all the while looking at your nose.
Number 3- V-Stance T-Spine- the Rollga roller gives us the anterior/ posterior t-spine mobility work, while the V-Stance T-Spine works on rotation. I have to admit that I discovered this technique by accident.
In this drill we are combining a stretch ( V-Stance Split Stretch) with a t-spine rotary mobility exercise. The key is simply to reach and exhale as you reach. The V-Stance really locks down the pelvis and forces the rotation to come from higher in the t-spine.
Number 4-Double Leg Bridge – I mentioned breathing above as an area that I've really changed my mind on. I don't want to make this a core training article so I'll try to be brief. Hard exhales (from the mouth) recruit the deep abdominal muscles. When we do any core exercise we cue a forceful five second exhale on the concentric contraction. In fact instead of counting reps, we count exhales.
Yes, I know it ends up the same but, the emphasis is entirely different. Instead of saying do a set of five second isometric holds, we cue “ I want five reps of 5 second exhales”. We tell our athletes to blow out as they bridge like they are blowing out birthday candles.
Number 5- Single Leg Bridge- we follow up our double leg bridge with single leg bridges. The key here is to drive the heel into the ground and the knee to the chest at the same time. We want co-contraction of the hip flexors on one side and the hip extensors on the other. The same “ 5 sec exhale” idea applies. For time efficiency we do 3 “reps” of five second exhales on each leg.
Number 6- Leg Lowers- leg lowers are another great warm-up that checks the three boxes of mobility, activation and core training. Many view leg lowers as a hamstring stretch but in reality they are a neuromuscular hamstring stretch, an activation exercise for the hip flexors and a great core stability exercise. Again the 5 sec exhale idea is used. The cue I like is to pretend to "blow your leg down". Once again, three five second lowers/ exhales are used.
Number 7- Floor Slides with Breathing- I have to tell you, I love floor slides. Talk about bang for the buck. Floor slides
- Activate low trap, rhomboid, and external rotators.
- Stretch the pecs and internal rotators.
- Decrease the contributions of the upper traps.
Try them you will be amazed. One thing that might amaze you is that you can't even get into the position. This is not unusual. Another thing that will surprise you is the asymmetry of your shoulders. A third surprise might occur when you try to slide overhead. Many people will immediately shrug. This is the dominance of the upper trap. The keys to the floor slide
- Scapula are retracted and depressed
- Hands and wrists flat against the floor ( hopefully the back of both hands can touch the floor)
- As you slide up think about pressing into the floor with the forearms
- Only go to the point of discomfort. You will notice that the anterior shoulder will release and ROM will increase. Don't force it.
The big key is a hard exhalation on the way up. I like to tell our athletes to think about blowing their hands up
Number 8 Mini Band Walks-. The idea from the original article was to add an upper body component to mini-band walks and have the band in the hands. The only problem was that many people did not retract the scapula, instead they shrugged so we activated the wrong stuff.
So, instead we simply went back to the old mini-bands. You can use regular mini-bands but, we have gone with a more heavy duty version ( also sold by Perfrom Better and made by Slastics) that last for years.
We do a series of double leg abduction/ external rotation, single leg abduction and external rotation, and the old stand-by, lateral walks.
OK, I did it. I answered the often-asked question "What do I do to warmup?" I hope you're happy. Give these a try. It will take 5-10 minutes and not only will you look better, you'll feel better.
Michael Boyle is one of the leaders in the field of performance enhancement and owner and content editor at www.strengthcoach.com a website developed specifically for athletes and coaches. This article is just a sample of the new content added weekly.