If your body has constant aches and pains, at least some of your problem might be due to mobility issues.
“Most people are lacking mobility in sufficient areas due to a lack of movement combined with the funky positions we put our bodies in throughout the day,” says Jeremy Ethier, kinesiologist, fitness trainer, and founder of Built with Science.
Ethier says that researchers Gray Cook and Mike Boyle have identified four main problem areas where people tend to lack mobility the most via their Joint-By-Joint Approach methodology: the shoulders, thoracic spine, hips, and ankles. Here, Ethier shares a mobility test for each body part, and specific exercise moves that will help improve mobility if you are indeed lacking.
Problem Area 1: Shoulders
“To determine your shoulder mobility it, simply reach one arm up and over your shoulder and your other arm up your back as far as possible,” says Ethier. “To pass, ideally you’ll want those fingers to touch but aim to at least get your arm to reach the top of your shoulder blade and your bottom arm can reach the bottom of your shoulder blade.”
This is called Apley’s scratch test. You should do the test on both sides and see how you do. Failing with the top arm means that you’re likely missing proper external rotation and abduction, while missing with your bottom arm is the opposite, and you have issues with your internal rotation and adduction.
If you ‘fail’ the test and need to work on your shoulder mobility, the drill that’ll help you is to grab a cloth or towel, and hold it in each hand using the test position with both hands behind your back. Then, perform reps of gently pulling down on the towel while actively reaching downward with your top arm.
“To mobilize the bottom arm, perform reps of pulling the towel up while actively reaching up with your bottom arm each rep,” says Ethier. Do 5 to 10 reps per failed arm, only focusing on the arms that failed.
Problem Area 2: Thoracic Spine
Problems here might be caused by excessive sitting and technology use.
“One of the best mobility tests for this area is to take a picture sideways in the mirror with your body relaxed… If your mid to upper back seems to round, then it could use some mobility work,” says Ethier.
To do this, you will need to work on some thoracic extensions. Place your elbows on a bench or couch with your hands together. Sit your hips back into your heels as you drop your chest towards the floor, Ethier says. Hold for a few seconds, then repeat this motion for 5 to 10 reps. Follow this up with cat cows, with 6 reps each way.
Problem Area 3: Hips
To test your hip mobility, all you need to do is perform a bodyweight squat.
“If your feet turn out excessively on the way down, or your hips just seem to lock at a certain depth and you can’t go below parallel, or your hips tend to shift to one side during your squat, then your hips could use some more mobility work,” says Ethier.
If they do, then you’ll want to do the 90/90 drill. To perform it, bend both legs to 90 degrees. Then, while keeping your torso stacked over your hips, simply transition from one side to another by opening up your hips. Do this drill for 5 to 10 reps on each side.
Problem Area 4: Ankles
To test your ankle mobility, all you need to do is perform a bodyweight squat and see how deep you can go without rising up off your heels or leaning forward excessively. Repeat this again, but this time with weight plates or a book under each heel, and see if your squat improves in terms of depth and form. If it does, then you’d likely benefit from the next ankle mobility drill.
“Simply find an elevated platform like a bench, couch, or even your stairs, and place one foot on top of it. Then, using your arms under your bench or couch, pull yourself forward to drive your knee directly over your toe while keeping your heel planted. Hold the end position for a few seconds, then repeat for more reps before switching sides,” says Ethier.
Do 5 to 10 reps on each leg.
If you’re looking to tie all of your mobility moves together, you should add a weighted goblet squat to the end of our mobility routine, according to Ethier. To do this, hold any weighted object like a backpack stuffed with books or weight plate out in front of you, then sit into a deep squat.
“Hold this position while keeping your chest up and rocking side to side to transfer the weight and stretch to one ankle at a time,” says Ethier. “This is a great way to further mobilize your ankles, hips, and mid-back in a functional position.”
Do this for 30 to 60 seconds.
Ethier recommends using the tests to determine your biggest problem areas, and which moves you should implement into your daily routine to see improvements. You can perform these exercises (or the whole routine, if you’re having lots of issues) two to three times a day, or as a warmup before your workouts. Regardless of whether you plan to implement this program, Ethier says that the key to avoiding stiffness and pain is to do your best to stay active.
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