Whether you’re a strength athlete or bodybuilder, the goal is to increase training intensity and/or volume to gain more power and muscle growth. However, long-term progress and longevity both depend on prioritising two key factors: mobility training and recovery. If mobility isn’t one of your strength training goals, movements can become hindered by ROM limitations, pain, or compensatory patterns. Your progress will then plateau at best or, more likely, knock you down with injuries. Also, skipping recovery in favour of hard training days, can make you more vulnerable to physical, mental, and emotional consequences of under-recovery and overtraining.
Effective and targeted warm-up techniques and mobility exercises can improve your alignment and ROM, promote tissue health, prevent injuries, and enjoy active recovery. We’ll help you understand why mobility training is especially relevant for strength training athletes, and learn how to boost your results with essential mobility work in your training and recovery plan.
How does Mobility Training help build strength?
When you lift, are you focused on “muscle” or “musculoskeletal system”? If we’re honest, many of us focus on the appearance, size, and capacity of our muscles instead of how our muscles, bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissue are all linked. (Not to mention the rest of our bodily systems, which are all interlinked). Complimentary training – like mobility work – is essential for maintaining systemic health and function. An unbalanced training plan that doesn’t have combine moderate and high-intensity strength training with low-intensity recovery training is a quick path to less development.
Every form of exercise you do influences your physiological and psychological systems, which your body and mind adapts to. To promote systemic adaptability and to avoid progress plateaus, try these mobility exercises for key areas of your body.
From barbell back squats to Roman deadlifts, the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes are the muscle-group stars of your lower body work. But if your hips have mobility restrictions or you don’t train your hips in all directions, compensatory patterns are likely to emerge and you may experience pain or discomfort downstream (like your knees) or upstream (like your lower back). Combined, your efforts to build your lower body will never progress to where you want it to.
The hip joint is a ball-and-socket synovial joint that is capable of flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, lateral rotation, and medial rotation. To prevent injury, overcome compensatory patterns, and develop neuromuscular control, it’s important to explore exercises that mobilise your hips in all directions.
Hip Mobility Exercise: Bear Catches Fish (5 Animal Qigong)
In addition to promoting balance and core stability, Bear Catches Fish develops hip mobility in flexion, extension, and lateral rotation. Practice before legwork and on leg recovery days.
Thoracic spine mobility is essential for rotational movements and overhead lifting and pulling. Limited mobility in the thoracic spine can lead to compensatory patterns, pain, and injury in the joints below and above: the vertebrae of the lumbar spine, scapula, and cervical spine (neck). Ignoring thoracic spine mobility can derail your training plan and hold you back from achieving your potential.
Articulating with the ribs, the thoracic spine is the middle segment of your vertebral column. Your thoracic spine is capable of flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation. Combined with hip and shoulder mobilisation, exercises to restore thoracic extension and rotation can help you safely and effectively achieve new gains.
Thoracic Spine Mobility Exercise: The Dragon (5 Element Qigong)
In addition to developing hip and ankle mobility, The Dragon simultaneously promotes flexibility in the latissimus dorsi and pectoralis group, which can inhibit thoracic mobility when mechanically limited. For the most benefit, practice before every workout and on active recovery days.
Maintaining shoulder mobility is essential for everyday functioning and for performing numerous strength training exercises. Between occupational stress (like sitting at a desk all day), poor posture, and improper form on exercises like the shoulder press, many of us present with shoulder misalignment, pain, and mobility limitations.
With the greatest range of motion in the human body, the shoulder complex consists of three joints (the glenohumeral joint, the acromioclavicular joint, and the sternoclavicular joint), which work in tandem with the scapulothoracic joint to produce flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, lateral rotation, medial rotation. As the intricate design of the shoulder complex makes it vulnerable to dysfunction and instability, maintaining and reseting the shoulders are essential to pain-free longevity.
Shoulder Mobility Exercise: Crane Takes Flight (5 Animal Qigong)
Moving the shoulder through flexion, lateral rotation, abduction, adduction, internal rotation, and extension, Crane Takes Flight is an ideal exercise for promoting functional shoulder mobility. Use as a dynamic shoulder warm-up and for active recovery following a shoulder-heavy day.
Your musculoskeletal system isn’t the only part of you that needs dedicated attention. Your autonomic nervous system (ANS) also needs dedicated time to rest and reset. Governing your body’s vital functions (like heart rate and digestion), your ANS consists of two branches: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Also known as your “fight-or-flight” response, your SNS gets you ready for action at work and at the gym. On the other hand, your PNS (also known as your “rest-and-digest” response) chills you out, encourages recovery, and allows you to process nutrients and experiences.
Thanks to this system of checks and balances, your body is designed to respond and adapt to acute stress. However, if stress is left unchecked and becomes chronic, your training can take a nosedive into a sea of health consequences. By combining mobility training with deep breathing, you can improve your body’s overall adaptability, mobility, and strength.
Systemic Mobility Exercise: Crane Spreads Its Wings (5 Animal Qigong)
In addition to promoting ankle, hip, shoulder and thoracic spine mobility, the expansive movements of Crane Takes Flight facilitates deep breathing, which stimulates the vagus nerve, improves oxygen transport, and encourages greater adaptation to stress symptoms.
If you would like to try this exercise yourself:
Start with your arms crossed in front of you. Step out with one foot, and rotate it at a 90 degree angle.
Breathe out as you step down with your foot, rotate your body until you are facing the same direction as your pivoted foot.
Begin to sink deep into the stance, but ensure that your back knee never touches the ground. If you find you start to hunch over, raise yourself from the ground more to regain your balance and posture.
Once you have crouched into your stance, breathe in slowly and deeply as you extend your arms. As you do this, feel the tension release in your wrists. Extend your arms while breathing out, pulling your elbows back and away from you. Then breathe in deeply as you come up, finishing the exercise.
Qigong for Flexibility and Recovery
Through dynamic, whole-body mobility exercises and an emphasis on proper breathing mechanics, Qigong is the perfect compliment to any strength training plan. Once you’ve learned a few techniques from 5 Element Qigong, 5 Animal Qigong, or our online courses, you can practice Qigong to prevent mobility limitations and address the restrictions that inevitably develop with heavy lifting. To increase your mobility intelligence, follow our blog or sign up to our newsletter at the bottom of the page to receive regular updates on new blog posts, upcoming events, and White Tiger Qigong courses.