6 Exercises for Maximum Mobility

Why a Bay Area gym has ­become a destination for the world’s top athletes

Upward mobility

Upward mobility     Photo: Illustrations by Chris Philpot

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Kayaker Brad Ludden, pro cyclist Levi Leipheimer, Olympic rower Erin Cafaro—they’re not coming to CrossFit San Francisco for traditional coaching. They’re seeking out Kelly Starrett, a doctor of physical therapy, to glean his tips on natural mobility. Starrett preaches that joint range of motion matters beyond just injury prevention or rehab. The real benefit of mobility, he says, is the mechanical advantage: ideal positioning allows for optimal power output. Until you’ve got proper range in all your joints, you simply haven’t discovered your body’s real potential. “The typical athlete is brutally inefficient,” says Starrett. “Improving mechanics by resolving problems with tissue restriction and positioning is like taking the emergency brake off a Ferrari.” Running? Let’s see what you’ve got when a tight hip capsule isn’t ruining your extension. Rowing? Healthy dorsiflexion means you move more water. 

For the past year, Starrett has posted daily mobility workouts on his MobilityWOD.com website, and the videos have become a viral sensation in the CrossFit community. Here he offers six exercises to increase mobility for specific sports—everything from running to climbing. Spend just two minutes a day on each move—the 10-minute squat requires more time, of course—and make sure to contract and relax in each position. Also, test your range of motion before and after: you should notice improvements almost immediately.

1. Posterior hip mobilization
On all fours, position a stretching band around one quad, then place that foot in front of the opposite knee. Oscillate your hip against the band’s pull. GOOD FOR: Loosening up a stiff hip capsule or making you more efficient on a bike, in a kayak, or whenever you are in hip flexion.

2. Shoulder extension, external rotation
Place your hand through a stretching band and rotate your palm up. Grip the band and lean back, stretching your arm above your head and engaging the lat muscle. GOOD FOR: Opening up shoulder joints, which are particularly tight among swimmers and climbers. 

3. Anterior hip mobilization
Place the stretching band around one quad’s hip crease and stretch that leg back, placing the knee on the ground and slowly rotating the hip forward. GOOD FOR: Loosening up tight hip flexors, common among runners, cyclists, and rowers.

4. Ankle dorsiflexion
Standing up, place stretching band just above the ankle and step forward with that leg. Move knee forward and oscillate outward. Repeat facing the other direction. GOOD FOR: Ankle flexibility, which helps save runners tremendous energy.

5. 10-minute deep-squat test
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and lower your hips to your ankles, making sure to keep your feet flat on the ground. Remain in that position for 10 minutes, moving slightly to stimulate circulation. GOOD FOR: Increasing mobility in the ankles, knees, and hips.

6. Couch stretch
Start on all fours with your feet against the wall. Raise one leg so the shin and foot lie flat against the wall, then step the other leg forward, foot beneath you. Engage glutes, quads, and hip flexors by arching and relaxing your back. GOOD FOR: Opening up the entire anterior muscle chain, allowing you to fully extend your hips, knees, and ankles.

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