Want to Move Better? Try These 5 Mobility Drills for Weightlifting
Weightlifting is about how you move. The better your movement, the more you can lift. The two main lifts (the snatch and the clean & jerk) are not just your average gym exercises. You have to use your full range of motion, from your neck to your ankles, which is part of what makes weightlifting so challenging.
Mobility is the ability to move freely and easily without the restriction of muscular tension. You use your mobility through dynamic, controlled muscle actions. Mobility for weightlifting goes beyond just being generally flexible. The sport requires specific positions such as the deep squat, front rack hold, and start positions, which all require their own unique mobilization drills.
Credit: Riley Stefan
To move well with the barbell, you have to start with just your body. Even as you become more experienced, mobility work remains important. These are the five best mobility exercises for weightlifters to include in their warm-up and/or cool-down.
Best Mobility Drills For Weightlifting
- 90/90 Hip Stretch
- Shoulder/Thoracic Opener
- Overhead Squat
- Half Kneeling Ankle Dorsiflexion
Your back is the frame that supports your power. When you lift, your back bears the load while changing positions, such as in pulling or squatting. Before you lift, your back should move comfortably through the hollow and arched positions to activate the muscles that control and guard this movement.
The cat/cow cycle is a yoga pose that’s become a staple in the warm-up and cool-down of many different athletes. It mobilizes your spine through its full range of motion to make sure you’re ready to brace against any weight.
Benefits of the Cat/Cow
- The movement warms your whole body such as your neck, shoulders, hips, etc.
- It engages your core through dynamic movement.
- It stretches and lengthens your back muscles.
How to Do the Cat/Cow
Start on all fours. Set up by placing your shoulders above your wrists with straight arms. Release your ankles and place the tops of your feet on the floor. First, tuck your chin to your chest and push the floor away through your shoulders to round your back. Tuck your hips at the same time.
Then, invert the movement by lifting your chin and and pulling your belly button down. Keep your arms straight while arching your back as hard as possible. Hold each pose several seconds. Flow through them several times while observing how your back is feeling.
Note: Match your breathing to the movement by inhaling on the "cow" portion, and exhaling on the "cat".
90/90 Hip Stretch
The best way to do this is by properly opening your hips in your squat. This mobility drill primes the outward rotation of your hip flexors for your best, most upright squat.
Benefits of the 90/90 Hip Stretch
- It warms up the your hips for the correct squat position.
- Your lower back is activated for an upright torso in your lifts.
- It mobilizes your glutes for keeping your knees out in your lifts.
How to Do the 90/90 Hip Stretch
Start with your right leg in front. Bend your right leg to a 90-degree angle so that the outside of your knee is on the floor. Then, bend your left leg to a 90-degree angle out to the side, with the inside of your knee on the ground. Your front foot and back knee should have space between them.
Perform the stretch by planting your feet and twisting from right to left while sitting up as tall as possible. Finish by pressing the outside of your left knee and ankle to the floor. Switch back to the right side to complete one rep. For an extra hip stretch, lower your chest and bring your opposite elbow to your front foot at each side.
Weightlifting requires bulletproof shoulders, especially in the front rack position. In the front rack, you bring your elbows through with an upright, which is much easier said than done if you’re a bit stiff or haven’t practiced holding a bar on your clavicles before.
Having a tight thoracic spine or lats is usually the cause of an awkward front rack position. Fortunately, there are some great methods for releasing your T-spine. This stretch is the best for targeting the exact shoulder mobility needed for weightlifting.
Benefits of the Shoulder/Thoracic Opener
- It releases your lats and upper back muscles.
- Holding the bar stretches your wrists.
- It opens your shoulders and chest for the front rack position.
How to Do the Shoulder/Thoracic Opener
For this stretch, grab a PVC pipe or dowel rod and a padded flat bench. Grip the rod with both palms facing up, about shoulder-width apart. Go to kneeling and place both elbows on the bench. Open your shoulders so that your head drops down between your biceps. Hold for 30-45 seconds, and repeat two to four times.
Overhead strength is a staple of the sport. Catching a heavy bar overhead in a squat is an everyday task when snatches are on your program. As such, your workouts will go a lot smoother if you’re comfortable doing a full overhead squat.
To some, the overhead squat may seem like a strength lift, but it comes as a mobility exercise first. It’s practiced everyday by weightlifters with and without weight. The overhead squat should be practiced in your warm up without weight so that your range of motion is primed for your lifts.
Benefits of the Overhead Squat
- It simultaneously trains balance, and mobility, and strength.
- It targets both upper body and lower body mobility.
- The positions are specific to the snatch.
How to Do the Overhead Squat
Start with a dowel rod or PVC pipe, and take it overhead in a snatch grip. Align the bar over your shoulders with straight arms behind your ears. Place your feet in your squat stance. Fix your gaze forward the whole time.
Half-Kneeling Ankle Dorsiflexion
Your ankles play a major role in your squat. They determine how low you can go with an upright torso. If you’re not blessed with stellar ankle dorsiflexion, your squat is limited by how far you can bring your knees past your toes with your heels down.
This ankle mobility drill narrows in on exactly that. It’s a static hold where you apply pressure to your ankle joint with your knee far past your toes. In this deep stretch, you give care and attention to each ankle one at a time. If your ankles are on the stiff side, include this stretch in your warm-up or cool-down every day.
Benefits of the Half-Kneeling Ankle Dorsiflexion
- It directly combats ankle stiffness.
- It helps you find better upright alignment in your squat.
- Staying upright in your squat allows you to better access your glutes.
How to Do the Half-Kneeling Ankle Dorsiflexion
Kneel on one knee. Keep the other leg out in a bend and plant your front foot. Draw your knee well past your toes until you feel a deep stretch in your ankle. Apply your body weight to the top of your front knee to put pressure on your ankle joint. Hold this pose for 30-45 seconds, or move through the range of motion five to eight times. For more intensity, apply a weight plate to your front knee.
Benefits of Mobility Drills for Weightlifting
Mobility work goes a long way in your training. Understanding why it’s important will motivate you to always make time for it.
Deeper Ranges of Motion
Your movement is (obviously) limited to your range of motion. Since muscle has elastic properties, your flexibility alters depending how much you access a given range.
If you don’t use your full range of motion regularly, you’re leaving gains on the table or, worse yet, restricting your joints even further. You should regularly train mobility to maintain and increase the depths of your movements, such as your deep squat or overhead reach.
Bodily control goes hand-in-hand with unrestricted movement. Further, unweighted drills and practice movements can familiarize you with how you should be working during the lifts themselves. The more you practice without weight, the more in-tune you’ll feel with your movement under heavy weight.
More Muscle Activation
Mobility work is the best way to activate your body’s potential. When you’re not training, your muscles tend to shorten and tighten, disabling their contractile potential. You want to make sure that your muscles are ready for use when it’s time to lift.
Movement is how to warm your muscles and get your blood flowing to the ones that have to work. For example, your glutes do more work in your lifting than in regular daily activity. Mobilizing your hips engages your glutes so that they’re ready to go in your squats.
Who Should Use Mobility Drills
Just about everyone should work on their mobility, but different types of lifters benefit in different ways.
Beginners have to work their mobility because the positions of weightlifting are highly specific. Unless you’ve practiced other strength sports before, the extreme postures of weightlifting probably feel quite strange.
Mobility work helps beginners access the positions of weightlifting so they can build a foundation of respectable technique.
Improving your mobility is not easy and takes plenty of time, but all high-level weightlifters make time for it in both their warm-up and cool-down.
Those Returning to Sport
If you’ve been on a lifting break for a while, it’s a safe bet that you don’t presently have the same level of joint mobility that you did while you were training full-time.
Fortunately, you can get that movement quality back much faster than it took you to acquire it originally. Rediscovering your flexibility isn’t difficult, all you need to do is prioritize active stretching and other drills a bit more than usual to help yourself find your groove once again.
Mobility Tips and Tricks
Not all mobility work is created equal. Here are a few ways to make your time on the mats more effective.
Just like your heavy training, your mobility work should be goal-oriented. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to mobility. Once you know what yours are, set goals that are purposeful to your training goals.
For example, if you have a goal to do overhead squats comfortably, working your shoulder and ankle mobility is what will get you there. Make a plan for how and when you’ll practice your mobility work.
Improvements in your mobility are made little by little. To access a better range of motion, you have to spend extensive time focusing on that area, and do it more than a few times in a row. Stay consistent with the same exercises or drills to achieve your goals faster.
Credit: Dmytro Zinkevych / Shutterstock
If you make a habit of skipping your mobilization, you’ll probably end up noticing a lower quality of movement in your workout overall. Regardless of how tempting it may be to sideline your warm-up or cool-down drills, you should always take the time to properly mobilize before training.
Even though mobility work is low-intensity, it can still be just as mentally challenging as your heavy lifting. Moving without weight still requires focus and commitment. When you do your drills, follow your breathing, and don’t rush through your ranges. Give your body the time it needs to "open up" before moving on.
Mobility combines flexibility with stability. In weightlifting, moving well is the answer to finding success. Your body has to move in different and more challenging ways as you add weight to the bar over time — snatching 40 kilograms and 140 kilograms are two different beasts, after all.
While there are certainly plenty of passing fads in strength sports, mobility work actually is everything it’s cracked up to be. It deserves as much attention as you can afford — the benefits to being diligent about your movement quality go far beyond what you can do with the barbell.
Featured Image: Riley Stefan