Everyone and their grandma is obsessed with mobility drills recently. But let’s be honest – we all wanna do the fun stuff: lifting weights, practicing bodyweight skills, … you know, the stuff that makes girls (or boys) wanna hang out with you. What if there was a quick and effective way to work your mobility?
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I can be impatient. I like to get to the point and cut away any excess time consumers. This is also true for warm-ups.
A good warm-up should provide the following:
- Activation of muscle groups that are mostly passive during the day (glutes and core)
- Short-term and long-term mobility improvement
- Elevating heart rate and body temperature
The first two points will improve your overall movement quality and motor control. You will be less likely to injure yourself and you will perform better during training.
Elevated heart rate and body temperature gets your nervous system fired up (your brain now knows that you’re about to do physically demanding stuff). Blood supply to your muscles is increased.
The warm-up is the standard way to turn on BEAST MODE.
In a typical gym, the most common warm-ups I see people performing are:
- Hopping on some type of cardio machine* for 15-20 minutes
- Endless static stretching (the classic standing-on-one-leg-while-grabbing-one-foot)
- Humping the foam roller like there’s no tomorrow
*(Have you seen these new “Stair Steppers”? It’s ridiculous. Take the freaking stairs!)
While these options are not inherently bad themselves, they’re inefficient. You could do much better.
Enter mobility drills with added weight.
My warm-up is 10 minutes of mobility drills with a light kettlebell (16kg). What’s the advantage of using a weight, you ask?
Added weight allows you to get into deeper positions (added stretch) and it teaches motor control.
You’re handling a weight while moving through multiple planes of motion. That means you need to effectively stabilize the weight. Additionally, you’re signaling your body that it’s safe to stay at an end-range of motion even under load. That gives you usable mobility.
With Loaded Yoga, you can get all the benefits of a good warm-up, but more effectively in a more compressed time window.
This kind of movement practice is especially helpful if you already have above average mobility. Putting weight on can take it to the next level.
Before we dive into specific drills, some general recommendations:
Use a kettlebell that feels light. Don’t go macho here, heavier is not better. You should not have to swing it in order to get it up and grab it by the horns. If you don’t have access to kettlebells (maybe you should get one 😉 ), most of these moves work with dumbbells.
The KB should also be heavy enough that you actually notice a difference to not using a weight at all.
For me, 16kg (35lbs) is heavy enough to feel the added weight, but light enough so that this doesn’t escalate into work sets.
Most importantly: Be safe. Don’t use added weight if you’re not ready for it and make sure you can control your movement with the weight.
This is the mother of Loaded Yoga. Doing solely TGUs has so many benefits. If you do nothing but this as your warm-up, you’re still doing pretty darn good.
Done correctly, it taps into
- Core stability
- Shoulder mobility
- Shoulder stability
- Spinal rotation and thoracic spine mobility
- Motor control
- Glute activation
Because the TGU is such a standard move in the RKC curriculum, I’m not gonna explain it again. Here’s an excellent intro by the wonderful Keira Newton (owner of dkb Fitness):
This move takes one focused session to learn, but a lifetime to achieve perfection. There is always some small thing in your TGU that you can debug.
Do yourself a favor and take a video of yourself every so often performing the TGU. Look closely if you can find any movement noise. Ask yourself:
- Does this look like a stable position?
- Does it look easy/pretty?
- Are arms and shoulder in line?
- Do I have to use momentum or is this movement fully in control?
One particularly effective way I found to debug my TGU is checking my neck. Rotate your head (carefully) left and right in each position. In order to be able to rotate, there mustn’t be any tension in your neck muscles.
Another sign that you’re not in an optimal position: Rotating your head makes it difficult to hold the position. Being able to comfortably hold the position while rotating your head left and right is a good indicator that your position is stable and your shoulders are in an advantageous position.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume the KB is in your right hand. Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Hold the KB overhead with a straight arm (elbow locked). Rotate both feed to the left (to about 45 degrees). While keeping the right leg completely straight (knee locked), hinge to the left.
Your left leg may have a bend. Slide your left arm along the inside of your left leg to help guide the movement. Keep the right arm with the KB vertical throughout the movement. Ideally, you can touch the ground with your flat left hand.
Repeat on both sides.
Like the TGU, windmills require your shoulder joint to rotate and stabilize the KB through multiple plains of motion (shoulder stability and mobility win-win).
You should get a nice stretch in your hamstrings, some spinal rotation (which, under control, is a good thing) and practice to stabilize your core under weird angles.
When you get good at TGUs and windmills, you can combine them: Perform a TGU. In the standing position of the TGU, perform 2-3 windmills. Then do the second half of the TGU (getting to the ground again). Switch sides and repeat.
Goblet Squat with Prying
Grab the KB by the horns, hold it close to your chest, and squat down. If you have enough mobility to squat ATG (ass to the grass), don’t go all the way down. Stop when there is still tension in your quads (for me this is slightly below parallel).
Now pry under your foot as if you wanted to check if there is chewing gum on your soles.
Side note: This goes for strength training in general, but is even more important here: Do this with minimal, flat shoes (OK), in socks (better) or barefooted (optimal).
You should feel a stretch in your inner thighs and the ankle of the standing foot. You can focus on different aspects by changing where you place your elbows.
Rest your elbows on your knees to focus on ankle mobility. Press them against your inner thighs to work on hip mobility. Hold the weight without resting your elbows anywhere to focus on core engagement.
When I ask my shoulders about this drill, I always get a “HOORAY”.
Halos are great to loosen up the shoulders. It’s also a good drill for motor control. The deal is to move the KB around your head by only moving your arms.
This means you don’t move your head and your torso stays rigid. You will notice that this requires a bit of core tension.
I prefer kneeling, because it cancels out the legs to “correct” any movement noise. You have to use your core more consciously and engage your glutes, too.
Cossack Squat Hover
These open up my hips like nothing else. Grab the KB goblet squat style (by the horns, in front of your chest). Drop down into a cossack squat as far as you can.
The neat thing here is that you can usually go even lower than you would without a KB. The KB acts as a counterweight that you can use for balance. Additionally, it gives you more overall weight to get into the bottom position.
When you are at the bottom, hold it for a second or two. Slow and under control, hover to the other side. Keep your butt as low as you can when doing the hover.
Cossack Squat + Deep Lunge with Press
This is an awesome combination that I stole from Max Shank. Hold the KB in a rack position. Then drop down into a cossack squat (towards to the side of the KB). Transition to a deep lunge. The straight leg from the cossack squat becomes your front leg of the deep lunge. When in position (don’t touch the ground with your back knee), press the KB up until you lock your elbow. Reverse the movement and repeat on the other side.
This taps into so many aspects of athleticism and feels fantastic. It requires strength, coordination, balance and mobility.
I get a really good stretch in my hip flexor when doing the lunge and press up. Having to maintain stability while in this end-range position gives you usable flexibility that translates into other movements.
I challenge you to include at least one of these movements into your warm-up. Spend 5-10 minutes to play around with the KB before every workout. I can basically guarantee you’ll feel better and move better and safer than ever before.