Mobility for the Big 3 (Squat, Bench, Deadlift)
Mobility isn’t considered “cool” by exercise standards. In fact, it’s often considered rather dull, repetitive and boring. Some would even say it’s a complete waste of time distracting you from the key business of lifting heavier weights. However, this attitude is short sighted, better mobility in key areas can allow you to achieve better anatomical positions during the squat, bench and deadlift. Better body position gives greater mechanical advantage, meaning more weight on the bar. And strong is most definitely cool, and gains are serious business.
The squat involves almost every single muscle in the body, and movement over a substantial range of motion too. That’s why it’s such an excellent muscle and strength builder. However, in order to execute a sound squat you need good mobility in numerous joints that are often lacking such mobility; most notably the ankles, hips, t-spine, and shoulders.
Wall ankle mobs are a great way to increase ankle mobility.
Foam rolling the quads and IT band: Lie face down on the ground with the foam roller positioned under one of your quads. Complete 5 to 6 passes along the quad, from the very top of the thigh to just above the kneecap, before switching legs. Now turn so the side of your quad is on the foam roller and do 5 to 6 from just above the kneecap to just below the pelvis to hit the IT band.
T-spine extension on a foam roller: Begin at just above the belly button, with the foam roller in position do five crunch movements. You should feel the balls pushing the vertebrae slightly forward, in effect creating range of motion at that segment. A series of these crunches can be done all the way up to the shoulder blades.
Band shoulder dislocates target both t-spine mobility and shoulder flexibility required for the rack position. I prefer the band for this as the band can slacken in areas you are more mobile and stretch at points where you need a little extra help.
Band pull-aparts and scapular push-ups teach you proper scapular activation and positioning for pressing motions.
Static hip flexor stretches and hip adductor mobs (shown below) will help develop hip mobility. Why on earth is hip mobility needed for bench press? Hip mobility allows you to get a better arch when in set-up position on the bench and improve leg drive.
T-spine mobility, and specifically extension will allow you to create a greater arch, thus reducing range of motion required and allowing you to bench more weight. T-spine extension on a foam roller (as above) or wall slides are great ways to get this done.
Stand about a foot to a foot and a half away from wall. Make sure there is no space between the back and the wall, and the pelvis is neutral. Push arms into the wall with elbows bent below shoulders. Slowly slide hands up above head. Keep shoulders against the wall, abs engaged, and ribs pressed in towards the belly button. Try to reach hands all the way above head without allowing your back or any part of your arms to lift from the wall.
The Deadlift is all about the hips and the hip musculature. As such, your going to want to improve your hip flexibility. Good hip mobility will allow you to maintain a neutral spine, this is vital for anyone wishing to deadlift heavy weight or stay injury free. Given the way most of us spend our days (sitting hunched over in front of a desk, driving, sitting down watching television), our hips are constantly in flexion. This isn’t any good for anyone, and should be put straight in order to perform heavy deadlifts (or squats) safely.
Fire hydrants (popularized by Joe DeFranco) and 3-way hamstring mobilization are probably my favorite ways to open up the hips and mobilize the hamstrings and hip adductors
Note: If you still can’t maintain neutral spine during your deadlift t-spine mobility may also be a limiting factor.
The glutes obviously play a huge role in the deadlift. However, this musculature is often glossed over during soft tissue and mobility work, as such the glutes can often exhibit poor muscle fascia quality. Rolling a lacrosse ball across the glutes will significantly improve tissue quality in this vital area.
For best results integrate these movements into a well designed warm-up prior to strength training.
About the Author:
Nick Buchan is an AGMS Graduate, PGA level 2 golf coach and UKSCA associate member.
He is also the Owner of Stronger Golf, a company dedicated to strength, conditioning and mobility for golfers.