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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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May 26, 2010

Filling in the Gaps: How to Incorporate Joint Mobility Drills

By Mark Sisson
72 Comments

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!

TAGS:  mobility

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72 Comments on "Filling in the Gaps: How to Incorporate Joint Mobility Drills"

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Michael Dyer
6 years 4 months ago

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.

Primal Toad
6 years 4 months ago

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!

soso
soso
5 years 11 months ago

you are welcom

John Sifferman
6 years 4 months ago
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… Read more »
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Jack
Jack
6 years 4 months ago

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

Robert Gioia
Robert Gioia
6 years 4 months ago

Great article Mark! Definitely the key to injury prevention.

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BenK
6 years 4 months ago

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.

JohnC
JohnC
6 years 4 months ago
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… Read more »
Kelda
6 years 4 months ago

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

Mike Cheliak
6 years 4 months ago

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!

Mary
Mary
6 years 4 months ago

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.

JohnC
JohnC
6 years 4 months ago

Squats actually are absolutely the best thing for your knees if done correctly.

Mary
Mary
6 years 4 months ago

Unfortunately, not for mine. I used to do them for years – and correctly – but since the OA, it makes my knee worse.

JohnC
JohnC
6 years 4 months ago

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.

David
David
6 years 4 months ago

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

Organic Gabe
6 years 4 months ago

I have to improve my joint mobility, too. Great series indeed.
Thanks.

Richard Huntley
6 years 4 months ago

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

Griffin
Griffin
6 years 4 months ago

My thoracic spine mobility has already increased since your post on it! Feels great.

Victor Rodriguez
Victor Rodriguez
6 years 4 months ago

Hi Mark, could I do all the drills everyday if I have the time?

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6 years 4 months ago

[…] Filling in the Gap: How to incorporate joint mobility drills – MDA […]

Jay
6 years 4 months ago

Hey Mark,

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

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[…] by visiting the Primal Blueprint 101 page. Thanks for visiting!I got a ton of feedback from my series on joint mobility. As comprehensive as I tried to be in my joint mobility series, I couldn’t possibly address every […]

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[…] Go to article « Eating Ourselves To Death You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. […]

casey
casey
6 years 4 months ago

thank you for these posts mark. very timely for me indeed!

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[…] Joint Mobility Drills | Mark's Daily Apple […]

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[…] Mark’s Daily Apple has lots of information on checking and improving your joint mobility and stability. […]

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5 years 1 month ago

[…] soles. You’ve now got a new sensory front to consider. Eventually, this will give you greater mobility, stability, and control over your body, but it can also throw you off and lead to missteps, or even […]

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[…] out my series on joint mobility and be sure to spend some time on Kelly Starrett’s Mobility WOD blog. (And come to […]

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[…] would like to read more articles on the topic of joint mobility I highly recommend you check out Mark’s Daily Apple. He has some really good articles […]

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[…] Other animal skin is high in animal fat, plus collagen and gelatin, which are excellent for joints, nails, hair, and skin while providing a nice counterbalance to a regular intake of muscle meat. As […]

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[…] Other animal skin is high in animal fat, plus collagen and gelatin, which are excellent for joints, nails, hair, and skin while providing a nice counterbalance to a regular intake of muscle meat. As […]

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[…] Other animal skin is high in animal fat, plus collagen and gelatin, which are excellent for joints, nails, hair, and skin while providing a nice counterbalance to a regular intake of muscle meat. As […]

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[…] an intense workout, involuntary attention is the low-intensity active recovery, the walking, the mobility work, the cool down. We need both to be whole and healthy and attentive. If we spend all our time […]

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