My philosophy towards mobility comes from both resources, like Quinn Henoch’s book and working with clients in the weight room to progressively improve their mobility over time. Improving mobility for everyday life is a pretty simple process of consistently moving through positions while in conjunction building strength in them. Luckily most of these adaptations can place by doing resistance training with correct movement. Here I will provide three barbell exercises you can use to improve mobility and a framework for approaching this endeavour.
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The main benefit of using barbell mobility exercises is that you will be able to increase strength and muscle mass while simultaneously improving mobility. This, therefore, means you double the type of adaptation while saving time from skipping the foam roller.
Another key benefit of using a barbell, that creates multiple types of adaptation, is adherence to the behaviour, if we are using an away-from-body straight leg deadlift to improve the functional range of your hamstrings, whilst also making your hamstrings stronger so we can improve your deadlift, it is a lot more motivating than do static stretching for 10-20 minutes. Most of the time my clients are not even aware that I am trying to improve their mobility through my exercise selection. This is why it can easily be maintained over a long period of time, allowing people to see very successful results.
Resistance training, when performed and programmed correctly, has been shown to improve flexibility as well as strength at a similar rate to static stretching. This is very important because if flexibility is gained through strength training then inherently strength (muscle contraction ability) is also built into this adaptation. It’s very common for people to be very flexible but not be able to lift weights safely through this range of motion, gaining a new range of motion whilst building strength is the best way to approach improved mobility. This is why gymnasts are so mobile, they build functional range, not just flexibility.
People have different mobility restrictions and therefore prescribing barbell exercises to improve mobility in blanket terms is very difficult. For some performing a front squat will help improve wrist mobility while for others it might help improve hip mobility. The key is to know your mobility restrictions and find what exercises work best for you to make yourself more mobile. From this perspective, all barbell exercises can be mobility exercises depending on the person and there mobility restriction.
Using barbell exercises to increase mobility should be done with a programme where this is one of the objectives based on the individuals needs. Using the B-Stance Squat as an example, I may give this to an individual who has good lunge technique but has some hip mobility restrictions. As these restrictions will make the exercise challenging without much load I would start very light and put emphasis on movement quality. Once the control and functional range increase I will start to add load over a period of 3-8 weeks. This will allow me to increase the single leg strength and functional range (mobility) of the individual.
The 45-Degree Lunge is an excellent barbell exercise that can help build hip mobility, especially for those who are constantly moving through the bi-lateral squat and never adding new or novel ranges of motion into the squat movement pattern. This is also a great exercise as a bridge or deload between single leg strength cycles for a drop in intensity whilst maintaining movement capacity and strength.
The Away From Body Barbell Straight Leg Deadlift is one of the most technical hinge variations that can be used to increase both strength and functional range of the hamstrings. It should only be attempted by those who have great hinge techniques.
The B-Stance Squat is an excellent and novel single leg squat variation that can help build both strength and mobility in the single leg movement pattern, including the hip. It needs a lot of concentration to perform correctly as it requires a lot of discipline to ensure you’re not using both legs.
Complete 3 rounds
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.