General How-To For Fixing Mobility Problems

How do I fix my bad mobility?

This is an incredibly vague question. There is a strong association with the terms flexibility and mobility. Like if I increase my range of motion, then that means I also increased my mobility. 

That is not how it works.

Mobility and Flexibility are different words and they refer to different things. 

Flexibility is just simply how far you can move around a joint. When you see yoga people stretching for the sake of getting deeper and deeper into a position, even though that position has nothing to do with anything, they are working on increasing their flexibility. They are just trying to lengthen their muscles as much as possible. And that just isn’t useful. Unless your goal is to be able to just stretch out a muscle as far as possible. But there is never any real reason beyond that.

There. I said it. It is NOT useful to stretch muscles out as far as they can possibly go. In fact, it is downright stupid. 

However, if I am moving my body in such a way that I am increasing my capability to display full range of motion positions, such as a full squat, deadlift, or the overhead position, and then work on utilising that position in order to more safely, and more powerfully, accomplish work, THEN I am working on mobility.

Do you understand?

Just simply being able to bend a joint really far isn’t the point of anything. And furthermore, for some positions, some people may actually dislocate their own hip or shoulder in order to get their leg or arm to move further. This is silly. Just being able to go as far as possible is not useful. And it WILL hurt you eventually. Either then when you are going to ridiculous lengths, or down the road after you have practiced it long enough. You will hurt yourself in ways that will follow you for years. Needlessly.

When you feel like you are stiff, tight, or just cannot move with as much range of motion and strength as you want, that is when you make the decision to start doing mobility work. The first thing to do here is to review the archetypes. That may be a new word. Archetype just simply means a model used to display things we should emulate. I use this term because I think it sounds cool. But also because these archetypes are positions that display full, useful range of motion and are positions needed for everyday life. In terms of exercise, we have a few archetypal positions. You can review them in my blog post located here: https://www.ehmobility.com/blog/2017/7/15/archetypes-the-models-to-understand-how-much-flexibility-you-need

In that post, you can see all the major positions that are actually necessary for everyday life and sport, and they also display what is full range of motion. In other words, how far your joints should be able to go. Any further, and things may get sketchy. Continuing to go further, and you may start to develop problems. For example, the deadlift position displays full hip flexion. This is the amount of hip flexion that you actually need to accomplish work. Full range for the deadlift means, with the knees slightly bent, you should be able to reach down and pick something up off the floor with a completely neutral spine. Being able to go a little bit farther is nice. Being able to go a lot farther is pointless. What this means in relation to real life is that you should be able to reach down to pick something up off the ground without threatening your spine with injury. There is no purpose behind being able to put your elbows to the ground from a standing position. Again, things like are just silly and ridiculous and should probably be avoided.

So first and foremost: Go through these archetype positions. That is the squat, lunge, deadlift, overhead, front rack, hang, pistol, press, and abdominal vacuum. Find one you have difficulty with. You can go through all of them and find that all of them suck for you. That’s fine. Pick one to start with. I recommend finding the one that feels tightest and is also most painful for you. That is how you are going to spend the next four weeks. Working on that one position. Every day.

Regardless of which position you need to work on, there are some simple guidelines and tools you can use to make it better, stronger and more pain-free. The purpose of this article is to give you as high-quality, cookie-cutter help as possible. 


  1. Always test and re-test position. For example, test out your squat. Get a reminder for how to squat optimally in the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J55rwXKJ8h4
    When you squat, try to analyze your body for which part gets stuck first. Where are you feeling pain the soonest? Which joint seems to just stop moving first?
    Take that as your focal point for the general area you need to work on. So work on and around that area and then squat again. Better? Same? Worse? You can find more videos and examples of the other archetypes across YouTube. 

HOWEVER
Do not work just at the specific point of pain or stiffness. Instead, do what we call perimetering the area. In other words, work around it. Examine what is above, below, and beside the specific spot of restriction you took note of and work there. 

  1. Grab your sturdy fitness band, and pull the nearest two joints around. You can learn a bit about using a band for this purpose here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvxGhQEAt_8
    If your knee is hurting you, pull on your knee, but also your hip and your ankle. If it is your shoulder you feel is stuck, also work on your neck and your elbow. And pull the joints around in as many directions as you possibly can.
    If you are going to be pulling on your hip, place the band high up on your thigh, as high as is possible and comfortable, anchor the other end onto something really sturdy, and pull your thigh forward, to the inside, to the outside, and pull it backwards. And then also pull it at every angle between all those sides. Same thing with a wrist, a shoulder, an ankle...every joint.
    NOTE: If you want to pull your neck around, don’t put the band around the front of your neck and pull it back. Be sensible. 

  2. Next bit is to grab your soft self-massage tool (not a lacrosse ball because those things are just too dang hard and are too inclined to bruising people but if that is all you have then you use that. Just be gentle with yourself). So just like how you used your band to pull on the joints around the area of restriction, you are going to use your soft massage ball or foam roller or whatever it is that you have (Yoga Tune Up® balls are the best tools out there for this: https://www.tuneupfitness.com/shop/self-massage-therapy-balls) and you are going to roll around on everything AROUND the painful area. You do not have to go directly onto the painful spot. That might aggravate things and make your body very defensive, which will just make things overall more tight. Start farther away and work your way in slowly over time. For example, if your shoulder is feeling tight and painful, maybe start by massaging around your elbow and also your jaw and neck. This will help to create slack that will reduce the tension in your shoulder as everything around the elbow and the neck and jaw connect into the shoulder. You could also work on your upper back. Just get rolling. Roll around, be gentle, and focus on creating motion in the tissues. Motion is lotion.

  3. If you have swelling, and if you absolutely, 100%, unhesitatingly believe that there is no problem with using it, grab your voodoo floss and get to flossing. I have a video here to help you learn to use it if that is something new to you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CW7prPkvJSE
    Flossing is an absolutely amazing tool but it takes some getting used to. And it is always a max of two minutes of use at a time. Typical prescription is two minutes on, two minutes off. 10 rounds.

  4. Going back to number one on this list, re-test your position after each mobilization. The point of all of this is to restore position, to restore function and performance. Pain and stiffness subtract from performance. So each time you spend two minutes massaging your thighs, get back into a squat. If there was a change and you can squat better, awesome! Keep doing that every day. If there was not any change, either do more or move on. Don’t waste your time if doing the same thing is not doing anything for you that is observable, measurable, and repeatable. If it is not those things, it is not useful. 

Consistency is what makes this all work. EVERY SINGLE DAY. That is how often mobility work needs to be done. 

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