Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
26 May

Filling in the Gaps: How to Incorporate Joint Mobility Drills

By now, I hope the importance of joint mobility is clear, and the benefits myriad. It isn’t the sexiest topic around to be sure. “The Importance of Shoulder Mobility” certainly isn’t as attention-grabbing as “How to Lose 10 lbs in 10 days!,” but it’s one of those often overlooked aspects of fitness that with just a little attention could save you years of pain, frustration, rehab and maybe even surgery – not to mention a boatload of cash in doctor bills. Incorporating just a few minutes of mobility drills a few times each week is a great way to round out an otherwise complete routine. If you’ve missed any of the articles I’ve written over the last few weeks you can catch up here:

The Importance of Mobility: The Hips

How to Regain and Maintain Hip Mobility

The Importance of Thoracic Spine Mobility

How to Improve Thoracic Spine Mobility

The Importance of Wrist and Ankle Mobility

How to Improve Wrist and Ankle Mobility

The Importance of Shoulder Mobility and Scapular Stability

How to Maintain Shoulder Mobility and Scapular Stability

Before I get to how to incorporate the mobility drills into your regular physical activities, a recap of why joint mobility is so important:

By engaging every joint in your body the correct way you drastically decrease your chance of injury. With full joint mobility, there is very little of the “out of position” awkwardness that’s at the heart of many injuries. Too often, injuries occur because we make sudden movements along incorrect joints – twisting with the lumbar spine instead of the thoracic spine, for example – due to lack of joint mobility.

It increases the efficiency of your movement. Learning how to move your joints along their predetermined pathways means smooth, clean, unimpeded movement. When you pick up something heavy with your hips instead of your lower back, your only impediment is the weight itself; there are no structural deficiencies getting in your way and making it even harder and the risk of injury even higher. You still have to work against the load, but your efficiency is no longer hamstrung by the use of the wrong joints in the wrong places.

It increases your performance. Understanding the proper role of each joint and muscle group – and how to engage and activate them in your movements – results in massive performance gains. Your bench press will soar once you grasp the importance of the shoulder blade retraction; your vertical leap will jump once you learn to start extending your hips. And besides, you can’t expect to perform on any level if you’re sidelined with a mobility-related injury or if your movements are grossly inefficient.

It will increase your range of motion – your active flexibility. Static flexibility has its place, but for an athlete (or anyone moderately active, really), mobility is far more important. It’s similar to the question of isolation exercises versus compound exercises. Which are more applicable to the real world? Which more effectively mimic the movements you’ll make in your daily life? Static stretches are a bit like isolation exercises, while mobility prepares you for the rigors of real movement.

Application

If you failed, or came close to failing, the joint mobility tests mentioned in my previous posts, plan on incorporating joint mobility drills into your daily schedule. Off-days, on-days, sick days, vacation – no matter what you’re doing or whom you’re doing it with, make sure you perform a targeted joint mobility session every single day. Mobility must come before everything else. It must precede strength, sports, and even just protracted sessions of sitting. It’s the foundation. Mobility prepares you for life, and unless you plan on leading a completely sedentary existence (complete with sedan chair manned by indentured servants), you’re going to be moving throughout it. On consecutive days, do the drills I mentioned for each particular joint, or complete the suggested programs listed in each article. So, Monday will be hips, Tuesday thoracic spine, and so on. Repeat the cycle once you reach the end. Follow this schedule until you’re mobile or until you can complete the tests easily and move around without stiffness. Then, pick just one or two movements for each joint and incorporate them into your workout warm-ups. They should be quick and easy, but with focus on proper form. This should be enough to maintain mobility.

If you’re an athlete with good “subconscious” mobility, but who’s never really given thought to the issue, work the drills into your warm-ups. Natural, raw athleticism can appear to overcome any mobility deficiencies, but that only works for a while. It may even work for years. Eventually, though, lack of mobility will creep up on you. And when it does, when it finally manifests in the natural athlete, the results will be staggering. New, mysterious pains, long in the making, will appear, seemingly out of the blue. You most likely won’t be struck by an acute injury, but rather by wear and tear from years of improper movement obscured by natural talent. It’s better to address the potential problem before it appears. Do two weeks of intensive joint mobility drills, following the movements outlined in the articles, and then draw it down to warm-ups only. Choose one or two movements for each joint in your warm-up, paying attention to the composition of your impending workout to determine focus. Squat and deadlift days get hip mobility, while pressing days get thoracic spine and shoulder drills, and so on. The initial “shock” of full-on mobility training should cement the pathways in your brain and get the neurons firing, while the warm-up drills will maintain them. Never be content to rest on the laurels provided by natural athleticism.

Don’t get lazy. It’s easy to say “Oh, I’ll skip the mobility drill today,” but don’t do it. If it’s easy to skip, it’s just as easy to take a few minutes out of your life to actually do the drill and reduce your chances of injury. Inconsequentiality goes both ways; what’s easy to shrug off and dismiss is just as easy to address and commit to. Do the drills.

Finally, be mindful of your movements. Picking up a coin off the ground? Use your hips. Twisting to see someone calling your name on the street? Rotate along the thoracic spine. In these situations, you could just lapse into the old, lazy ways and get away with it, but you’d be reinforcing incorrect movement for the times when it really matters. What you do in your daily life will set the tone for the rest of your life. Lazy, incorrect joint movements outside of the weight room or athletic field will establish lazy, incorrect joint movements in the weight room and on the field.

Proper joint movements may feel strange. For a lot of people, mobility training forces their bodies to move in totally new, seemingly unnatural ways. We’ve been moving and sitting and standing so awkwardly and so incorrectly for so many years that natural movement patterns seem unnatural. It’s insane, really, how far we’ve gotten from our natures. Diet gets the brunt of the attention around here, but straying from the body’s natural joint movement pathways has powerful consequences, too.

Have you tried any of the joint mobility drills? Experiences? Results? Thank you for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I like the idea of doing drills for each body part day by day, a way to cover all of your bases without it being time consuming.

    Good post.

    Michael Dyer wrote on May 26th, 2010
    • Ditto!

      Mark,

      Thank you for taking the time to touch on a subject that no one else enjoys covering. It is incredibly important but not at all as attractive as learning how to lose weight.

      As I sit here, my neck is a little soar. I will have to incorporate some drills sooner rather than later. You make life easy not only in this area but all areas. Thanks again for all that you do!

      Primal Toad wrote on May 26th, 2010
      • you are welcom

        soso wrote on October 22nd, 2010
  2. This has been a great series, Mark, and I’m glad the value of joint mobility is getting out there.

    I’ve found that the more you neglect your bodies mobility, the harder it is to get it back – even over the course of just a few weeks. I’ll echo your advice to stick to a rigid schedule with your mobility work – daily, if possible.

    It’s also important to know that all of our joints require mobility – not just the ones that are commonly labeled “mobile” as opposed to stable. Each joint has both a normal range of motion (mobility) and also requires stability/integrity. For instance, even though the lower back is often referred to as a stabilizer, it still has mobility needs, and if you fail to move it through its full range of motion regularly, then deterioration will start to take place.

    Again, great series – would love to have you keep mobility on the back burner for future topics.

    John Sifferman wrote on May 26th, 2010
  3. Mark – Thanks for writing this great series. I’ve just started to do mobility work only because now I have to. I have no choice; too many injuries and reckless training.

    Again, thanks alot. My bones and joints really appreciate you!

    Jack

    Quick question: When doing rotation work like woodchoppers or even punching, should we twist at our core and upper spine? thanks

    Jack wrote on May 26th, 2010
  4. Great article Mark! Definitely the key to injury prevention.

    Robert Gioia wrote on May 26th, 2010
  5. Holy crap, I just got my cookbook today. What a great day.
    I definately failed the modbility tests which definately called into question my ‘real’ fitness level. I will be adding these drills to my daily routine for sure.

    BenK wrote on May 26th, 2010
  6. It should be noted that employing functional full body full range of motion movements in your workouts is also a great way to ensure joint mobility.

    Functional in that they employ multiple joints and muscle groups, improve balance, posture, co-ordination, endurance, strength.

    Things like lunges, squats, free weight olympic style lifting, burpees, bear crawls etc.

    This is an important distinction that people who work out really need to understand. Doing isolated exercises (often with a machine) to work on an isolated group of muscles is similarly damaging if not worse than sitting hunched over in one position all day.

    Overusing muscles and joints in a very isolated limited range of motion is dangerous and very un-grok-like. :)

    Finally, functional exercises result in real world applicable levels of strength, agility, endurance, co-ordination, balance that you can use in your daily life which you just can’t get from “glamour” workouts.

    JohnC wrote on May 26th, 2010
  7. Thank you so much for the round up, I’ve been meaning to sit down and go through them all and make a plan, you’ve just a) reinforced that I should be doing it and b) made it much easier.

    Looking forward to my cookbook too :-) guess it’ll take a few days more to travel the Atlantic!

    There is a growing movement over here (UK), your piece the other day saying you aimed to get to 10 million people, well I reckon you must easily have done that with the network effect – aiming for global Grok and world domination LOL!

    Kelda

    Kelda wrote on May 26th, 2010
  8. Fantastic! I have a TRX Suspension Trainer at home and have adapted a number of the shoulder routines for it. It’s a great idea to point out areas that we often avoid or “under appreciate”.

    Thanks Mark!

    Mike Cheliak wrote on May 26th, 2010
  9. Mark, how about knees? I didn’t see knees listed here, or are then on another page/post? But I suppose it may not help me as my rt already as OA and not good – stiffness, tightness, locks at times, pain some swelling, etc. Any suggestion for such knees? Lunges and squats are out for me.

    Mary wrote on May 26th, 2010
    • Squats actually are absolutely the best thing for your knees if done correctly.

      JohnC wrote on May 26th, 2010
      • Unfortunately, not for mine. I used to do them for years – and correctly – but since the OA, it makes my knee worse.

        Mary wrote on May 26th, 2010
        • That’s unusual and unfortunate, there are quite a few people in the Crossfit community with bad knees who had little to nothing left on them and they report that they benefit tremendously from squats which is backed up by experts in the field such as Kelly Starrett.

          JohnC wrote on May 26th, 2010
  10. HI MARK:

    GREAT SERIES! THREE MINUTES TO A PAIN FREE LIFE BY DR. JOSEPH WEISBERG AND HEIDI SHINK HAS BEEN ENORMOUSLY HELPFUL TO ME IN RECOVERING FROM TORN MENISCI AND SEVERE OSTEOARTHRITIS IN MY RIGHT KNEE (NO SURGERY OR DRUGS). I HAVE BEEN DOING ELEVEN THERAPEUTIC MOVEMENTS(DESIGNED TO MOVE ALL YOUR JOINTS AND MUSCLES THROUGH A FULL RANGE OF MOTION FULLY LUBRICATING THE JOINTS AND OVER TIME BRINGING YOUR MUSCLES TO THEIR OPTIMAL LENGTH) DAILY FOR THE LAST THREE YEARS.

    I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THE BOOK.

    REGARDS,

    DAVID

    David wrote on May 26th, 2010
  11. I have to improve my joint mobility, too. Great series indeed.
    Thanks.

    Organic Gabe wrote on May 26th, 2010
  12. Nice post Mark.

    Great points you make here, i use my martial art experience with the fitness side which helps in the alot of the areas you cover in this post.

    It’s great for joint mobility and i have developed lots of drills to do over the years of training.

    Take Care,

    Richard

    Richard Huntley wrote on May 26th, 2010
  13. My thoracic spine mobility has already increased since your post on it! Feels great.

    Griffin wrote on May 26th, 2010
  14. Hi Mark, could I do all the drills everyday if I have the time?

    Victor Rodriguez wrote on May 26th, 2010
  15. Hey Mark,

    I wanted to thank you especially for these posts on mobility. Especially yours on thoracic mobility was an eye-opener.

    Jay wrote on May 27th, 2010
  16. thank you for these posts mark. very timely for me indeed!

    casey wrote on May 27th, 2010
  17. Mark, you have a great blog here, my friend. Of course, because your philosophy on true health & fitness jibes so well with my own, I will be tweeting & sharing your blog posts!!!

    Excellent work.

    Best,

    Ronnie

    Ronnie Brown wrote on July 12th, 2012

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2014 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!