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Develop And Maintain Mobility

Today I’m blending a few questions together.

We had one in from the community asking for a simple mobility routine, and I’ve had a few appointments in Dungannon Clinic where shoulder mobility has been the focus of conversation.

So lets discuss mobility, and then I’ll give you a few links to easy to follow youtube videos.

Mobility, in my mind, is best described as the range of motion the body can control and move through.

The problem with this definition and almost every other definition out there is that it doesn’t acknowledge why mobility changes so easily, and permanent mobility is tricky thing to pin down.

In short, our central nervous system runs the show. It’s like the CPU in the computer, the driver of the car and so on.

The CNS looks for safety and efficiency. It’s also not particularly interested in party tricks, and is more interested in staying alive long enough to get home and pass on it’s genes.

It’s not great at long term planning, or considering how cool we look on social media

So if raising our arms overhead is a painful, or we lack the intramuscular control to feel secure in an arms overhead position, the CNS can simply say no thanks, lets bring our arms to just over shoulder height and do the rest by extending the lumbar spine.

On the table where a physio may test shoulder range of motion, the arms may come to the overhead position with ease.

But when we stand you back up, on your feet, with the effect of gravity, the arms stop and the low back takes over.

The difference?

Context for a start, lying face down with a person moving you, versus standing and you creating the movement.

Muscle recruitment, lying down versus standing offers two differing force vectors so loading is different.

Active versus passive, I do to you versus you do to yourself.

And then, we have to think about the positioning of the entire rest of the skeleton.

How is the spine moving?

What are the knee doing?

Where are the eyes going?

And so on and so forth.

It’s a lot to think about.

Not all of which you can make great in roads with on your own, unless you have extremely high levels of body awareness.

So what do we do?

My bias says we need to train.

We need to ensure the muscles are stimulated and strong, as well as all joints can experience their full ranges of motion.

If no injury is present, we can train freely.

For the upper body, ie shoulders, we need to ensure the rib cage can expand and contract, the upper back can flex and extend, the scapula can move in all directions and that we challenge the muscles involved in all these actions.

Rib cage movement = breathing mechanics.

Upper back flexion and extension = breathing and lifting through various ranges

Scapula movement = move them! And have a rib cage they can move over

We can train this most efficiently in my mind by looking at joint mobility, Bent arm strength and straight arm strength.

Joint mobility can be simply wiggling around, it can be basic joint mobility (link: ) it may “CARS” which is joint mobility done with a strained facial expression, or it may be the Anatomy in Motion inspired work you often see me doing in my instagram clips

Bent arm strength is what we generally think about in lifting, where the arms bend and straighten.

Think every type of press or row. There are gazillions of variations of presses and pulls in all directions. The issue that can occur with these is if we don’t have scapula or thoracic movement under control, we can load improperly and reinforce poor movement.

How many people feel pull ups in the elbow rather than the lats?

What about all those folk bench pressing and feeling shoulder pain?

The lifts aren’t bad, but they are potentially doing harm if the body creating the movement isn’t great.

Straight arm strength is less often thought about.

I first heard this term when looking into how gymnasts train, as they are, in my opinion, the gold standard of upper body strength.

Gymnasts to straight arm strength, which is the name suggests, is loading with the elbow remaining straight.

They have a stack of exercises they use, far more than I’ll go into here.

But in the WG-Fit methods it’s common to see Turkish Get Ups, Windmills, Scap Pulls (and pushes), Overhead carries and even crawling done with straight arms.

When we remove the option of using the elbow and the highly innervated elbow muscles, it makes us better use the shoulder, and load into the scapula.

So how can I make this immediately practical for you?

Light load bent arm - Arm circles, elbow circles, Indian Clubs, Press ups, Inverted & corkscrew rows.

Light Load Straight arm - Band pull aparts, scap push ups, straight arm scap inverted rows, some crawls

Heavier load bent arm - all standard strength drills

Heavier Straight Arm - Scap pull ups, Get Ups, Arm Bar, Carries (especially overhead), Windmill

The light load stuff warms you up and gets the movement nice and smooth

The heavier stuff makes you strong.

Doing either with less load allows volume for muscle building.

Full body mobility to ensure the chassis moves well enough to allow the free expression of mobility, I linked the basic joint mobility above. But also check out the “100 Rep” videos on the same YouTube channel, these are used in our Lunchtime sessions with great effect.

The key to all this, assuming there’s no injuries need taken care of, is routine.

Maybe not routine, but frequency of exposure.

If you want change, if you want genuine improvements in mobility, you have to think of it as a skill.

Imagine taking up tennis and trying to improve your serve.

If you only practiced the serve for 5 minutes on a Friday, you’ll not see much improvement.

But if you can get 5 minutes several times per week, that frequency will give the nervous system greater exposure and learning will happen much faster.

Mobility is a skill.

Find a way to ensure that spine moves, that rib cage expands and contracts, those scaps glide, and do it with high frequency.

Then in the gym, give the shoulders a high variety of stimuli to ensure the muscles and the nervous system experiences a lot of movement.

Ido Portal likes to say “Hips love load, Shoulders love variety” and I have to say, I can’t find fault in that statement.


Move frequently

Move in with variety

Move with load

Move without load

Do all that, and you’ll move well.

Simple. Not easy

Now, as always, I want your questions.

This is your newsletter, so hit reply and let me know what you'd like me to write about in future editions.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you!


Dave Hedges

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