Mobility has blown up.
5 years ago, the word was barely uttered in the fitness world. Now, it’s everywhere.
Years back, I was consumed with it. I thought it was the missing link in fitness. I thought everyone should be doing loads of mobility work. I eventually eased up on this concept.
I realized mobility was only a piece of the puzzle. Important, but just a piece. I learned that the 80/20 was to check for basic mobility in a few key areas, do some basic mobility if needed and get on with training.
In this post I cover the following:
- Why you need to test your mobility
- What areas or joints do you need to test
- How to perform a mobility test
- What to do with your test results
Why You Need A Mobility Test
Mobility sits at the base of everything. Without mobility, you can’t have stability. Without mobility and stability, you can’t move well. If you can’t move well, strength and endurance are difficult to train. I really hammer home this concept and discuss mobility a bit in this piece.
The reason you need to test mobility is that it sits at the base of everything. It’s the first piece of the fitness puzzle. Understanding what mobility issues you have will tell you
- What areas of the body you should be focused on in your mobility work
- What exercises to avoid in your training
- What exercises are ideal for your training
What Areas or Joints Do You Need to Test
There is a great number of mobility tests that you could perform. Every joint needs some mobility, often in different planes of motion.
But we are keeping things simple. There are 3 joints that are usually the major bottlenecks in mobility. The hips, shoulders/upper back, and ankle.
If you want to understand the why behind this, I suggest reading the joint by joint approach from Mike Boyle and Gray Cook. It’s a bit beyond the scope of this article. The quick and dirty explanation is if you look at basic movement patterns we perform; squatting, hinging (deadlift), pushing (push-up), and pulling (pull-up) you’ll see that they primarily demand mobility in those 3 areas.
- Squatting – Hips and Ankles
- Hinging – Hips
- Pushing – Shoulders/Upper back
- Pulling – Shoulders
Because mobility is most often needed at these joints, those are the joints we want to test!
How to Perform A Mobility Test
There are countless ways to test mobility. And I’m not saying the tests here are the end all be all. In fact, I often use the functional movement screen when trying to determine mobility restrictions. These tests were chosen for the simplicity. I wanted something you could do at home, on your own, with minimal equipment and expertise.
- Lie on your back
- Put your feet together with your toes pulled back towards your body
- Using a towel or band, wrap it around the foot of the leg you are testing
- Using the band, slowly pull that foot as high as you can. Keep both the leg you are moving and the down leg straight. Keep the down leg and your back on the floor (don’t arch). If either come off, stop the movement at that point.
- Getting the up leg to 90 degrees is ideal hip mobility. Test both sides
Shoulder/Upper Back Test
- Lie on your back with your knees bent at 90 degrees and your feet on the floor
- Raise both arms perpendicular to the floor
- Slowly lower the arm you are testing straight overhead as far as you can. Keep the moving arm straight and the lower back on the floor (don’t arch).
- Getting that hand to the floor is ideal shoulder/upper back mobility. Test both sides
- Start in half kneeling with test leg as the lead leg. Position a target (pole, wall) 3 inches away from the toes of your lead foot
- Keep the heel down and ensure that your foot isn’t inverted or everted (rolling in or out)
- Drive the knee over the middle of the foot and try to touch the target. If you lose the foot position, stop the movement
- Touching the wall or getting the knee 3 inches (or more) past the toe is ideal ankle mobility. Test both sides
What To Do with Your Test Results
There are two things to look for in these tests
- Do you have the ideal mobility at that joint?
- Is there an imbalance between your right and left sides?
If there answer is yes to either of these, you’ll want to incorporate some extra mobility work into your programming. If there is an imbalance, you may want to focus more on the side that is lacking.
Specific recommendations are beyond the scope of this article. Using this methodology is a good starting point though.
If the answer is no to both of these questions, you just need to maintain the mobility that you have. An easy way to do this, ensure you are moving through these ranges in your training by choosing exercises that use your hip, shoulder and ankle mobility. With any good training program, you should already be doing this!
Mobility is not the end all be all. It’s only a piece of the puzzle.
To determine if it’s a problem area for you, test the 3 major bottlenecks at the ankle, hip, and upper back/shoulder areas.
Determine if you meet the basic requirements and if there is an imbalance from side to side. Adjust your program accordingly.
If you have any questions, feedback or suggestions, drop me a line in the comments below. I promise I’ll get back to you.