Muscles, when exerted consistently, get tight. Between a build-up of lactic acid and an emphasis on a specific, abbreviated range of motion, a worked muscle becomes sore and contracted. Without intervention, the next work out becomes even more arduous, the results less and less impressive. That’s where mobility exercises come in—to relax and restore range of motion.
The ur-text of this type of body work is Kelly Starrett’s “Becoming a Supple Leopard,” which advocates approaching all movement—from sitting in a chair to lifting a barbell—with mindfulness. It’s so common to see this book at CrossFit and weightlifting gyms that it’s easy to take for granted. But if you perform any actions from any pages for just five minutes a day, I promise you will soon see a more flexible (and better performing) you.
I begin every training day with at least thirty minutes of mobility work. There some I do daily no matter what—I always foam roll my shoulders and IT bands, and perform over/under shoulder dislocates (but I use a metal pipe instead of PVC), and Olympic wall squats, for example; others I tailor to whatever work is on deck for that day. If I am doing gymnastics, I mobilize shoulders; weightlifting, hips; running, hams, quads and ankles. I use props: a foam roller, lacrosse ball, 2” elastic band (6’ diameter), and a 6’ length of steel pipe. Mobility is not to be confused with a warm-up, which spikes the heart rate, preps the central nervous system and usually works up a sweat; with these mobility exercises, I’m preparing my muscles and joints for the hard work ahead.
After working out, I often mobilize again, about an hour later. Some days, I’m just too tired to lift my own limbs, and I head to a new spot in Venice called Stretch Lab, which provides one-on-one stretching with a flexologist. And at least once a week, Jessica and I turn to our local best-kept-secret Thai massage spot, where traditionally trained therapists rhythmically press and stretch the entire body using their hands, arms, feet, and body weight (by standing on you), a treatment I liken to passive yoga. It’s amazing.
But like everything in life, moderation is key. Too-loose joints can lead to torn muscles or tendons. I was recently alerted to the importance of maintaining tension for top performance, too. If, for example, your hips are “too limber,” you’ll have problems getting the bounce at the bottom that you need to lift heavy weight to standing. So I’m always looking for that sweet spot: limber and relaxed, strong and stable.