5 Mobility Must Haves

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While it seems that the majority of the strength and conditioning world, basically all of the CrossFit world, and every single parent who “used to work out 3, sometimes even 4, days per week, are completely consumed by the idea that they are tight. They just aren’t flexible. One of my favorites “well I have never been flexible, so I think that he just inherited it.”

Sure, I believe that there is a time and a place for all of that stretching. When I have been training hard and am getting stiff, it is perfect, but, I can assure you that if you are doing that sort of intense stretching every single day, and you feel like you need to do that every single day in your warmup, then you are doing it wrong.  If you are stretching properly, and then using that range of motion with your lifting, you shouldn’t need to do it all the time. However, if you are lacking stability, and everyday you go in and stretch something that is only tight because it is protecting something that is weak (think hamstrings/low back), you will never actually maintain the range of motion that you gain with the stretching, and you will greatly increase your likelihood of injury.

Leopards have great stability as well. Watch when they jump off of a big ass  rock and land. Controlling it perfectly. Gaining control is the key to good movement. When I am teaching people I like to have them close their eyes. It is not only about achieving a good position, but about how you achieved that position. I want people to close their eyes and focus on what all of these movements feel like. There are some really wild ass “through the wormhole” type shit going on between your brain and your muscles that I am not nearly qualified to try and explain. Just trust me in the fact that if you really focus and relax and breath, you can gain control of your more intrinsic muscles, allow your “prime movers” or overactive/overtoned muscles to relax, and solve 90% of your mobility problems.

Instead of stretching and smashing things every single day, I would encourage you to master these 5 mobility must haves:

1. Breathing- new article, same story. For those of you who don’t know, breathing is the very first functional movement that you ever perform. It is the way that we brace our torso before every single big lift. If you aren’t doing it right, then every single thing that you do all day long is wrong. It isn’t just about being able to do it. It is about training the pattern enough that it becomes the default pattern. When we were filming the un-named Juggernaut football manual Chad kept writing on the white board “talk about why breathing is important” Breathing is so important that I start explaining how without any thought or consideration as to why I make everyone start with it. Here are a few reasons:
-You breath roughly 20k times per day. That is a whole lot of reps pulling you into a bad position.
-Poor breathing patterns are linked with anxiety, depression and other bad stuff
-The process in which the diaphragm pulls air into the lungs is crucial in creating trunk stability, and trunk stability is crucial in generating force at the hip or shoulder and translating it into the ground/barbell/person/etc
-proper breathing help lower resting heart rate, which helps you live longer (also good for CrossFit)
-a proper breathing pattern maintains posture. How you get there matters just as much as the position you are in. Most of the people concerned with their posture are actually compensating with the extensors in their spine, this crushes the spine down and isn’t that awesome for it. Your body should be able to support itself with out so much effort. You shouldn’t need to sqeeze your ass real hard and pull your shoulders back to maintain your posture. If you are doing it right, you should just be there, not force it there.

2. Lateral/posterior hip activation– You are probably going to notice a trend that most of the 5 must have end up in every single warmup that I write. The vast majority of people aren’t doing a great job of using their glutes, but you can’t have one without the other. People don’t use their glutes becuase they are breathing incorrectly and that puts the glute into a poor position. Shit just falls apart from there. There are many glute activation drills and I am not going to go through all of them. I will just talk for a minute about some important points to consider when selecting your exercise and the details of the movements that I see going wrong.
-always start in the easiest position possible. remember that with these movements it is about motor learning more than strength or hypertrophy. Yes, that is an element, but it is far more important with any warm up/corrective drills that you focus on the details and doing things perfectly. Starting in the easiest position possible enable you to feel the correct way to activate that muscle, then as you progress into more difficult positions you will have a reference for the correct pattern, rather than slinking into the position/pattern that is easier.
-focus on the foot – Too many people roll to the lateral edge of the foot, or let their toes come off of the ground when doing glute bridges and what not. Initiate the movement by lifting your toes off of the floor and spreading them out. Make sure that your can move that little toe as well. Then grip the floor with your big toe and little toe, then drive through your heel. You should be able to maintain 3 points of contact the entire time.
– Hold the position and complete a couple of full breathing cycles- many times, people will compensate with the low back, if that is the case it will be very difficult to get big full breaths. You should be able to hold all these positions and breath as much as as when you are flat on your back in the 90/90 breathing drill that we teach everyone in the beginning

3. Apical Lung Expansion– This goes with the breathing, but I am going to use it here for the best shoulder mobility drill that I have seen. Along with our poor breathing patterns come the inability to drive air to the very top of our lungs. These causes the ribs to collapse down a little and wrecks shoulder mobility. If you have been to the seminar or watched the breathing video I did with Chad you can see how we forced air into the apex of the lung, caused the ribs to expand and instantly gained shoulder internal rotation. One thing that I have noticed is that we see this even more in lifters who have been told to “breath into their belly” and call that diaphramtic breathing. Even when you breath with your diaphragm, your lungs are in your chest.
What do we do with it?
-start in the 90/90 breathing postion, this is going to help you maintain a neutral spine. Then take a few breaths, when you first start these drills you may not be strong enough to even cause your ribs to expand at the top, just keep doing the drills and you will build the strength.
-KEEP YOUR RIBS DOWN, most everyone will allow their ribs to flare up at the bottom rather than expanding at the top. You may even need a pal to hold them down for you to help for your ribs to move
– focus on forcing as much air in as possible, think about stretching from the inside.
-once you have developed the strength to force apical expansion with your ribs down, you can start to play with the new range of  motion that you will have created. Take a big breath, exhale as hard as you can flattening your back against the floor, maintain that pressure against the floor as you breath in through your nose, keeping your ribs down fill your lungs with as much air as possible. Then hold your breath and just move your arm around. Most of you will find that you have gained range in every direction, shoulder extension, internal, and external rotation. Move slowly and focus on controling each position. Do this with your eyes closed and focus on what it feels like to use you small external rotators to maintain stabilty and hold your should down againnst the floor as you move into internal rotation. At any point in time you should be able to stop where you are and take a full breath.

4. Scapular stability- This is the heart of healthy shoulders and most of the time, when there is a shoulder issue, we can look at the scapulae as a prime suspect. It is no surprise that breathing plays a great roll in scapular stability. The lungs must fill with air to maintain a good throacic spine position, the t spine must be in a good position in order to maintain the distance relationship of the mid/lower trap between the spine and scapulae. Once this is achieved all of the normal, “Y’s”, “T’s” “W’s” are all great drills for activating or strengthening the mid and lower trap and improving scapular stability. However, since the shoulder has such a great range of motion and moves with such a velocity it seems that we also need to add some drills to improve the patterning of the small muscles around the shoulder. The two that I really like are the side lying GH internal/external rotation and the sword drill. The sword drill can be done in half kneeling, tall kneeling or standing, depending on your athlete’s ability to maintain a neutral spine and proper breathing pattern in the standing.
Check out this video for some demos…

Ryan Brown and Dr. Quinn Henoch of Derby City Crossfit demonstrate this drill for you and how to assess your athletes…

5.Buff – Foam rolling and lacrosse balls and pvc pipes and all of that stuff sucks. It is uncomfortable, hard, and miserable. It is really just too much work. Instead, get yourselves down to Home Depot and buy one of these black and Decker buffers for $39. Actually, buy whichever buffer you want, cause they ain’t paying me yet. (Get at me Black and Decker, tshirts, hats, cash. I am available for sponsorship) Check out the video for the demo on how to change your whole life.


Remember when I talked about posture and how you shouldn’t have to force yourself into the correct position. Lets try something.
First, force yourself to sit upright and maintain a “good posture”. Pull your shoulders back, make the back of your neck long etc. Take note of what that feels like

Now, right here in your chair…
A- Place your feet on the floor, grip the floor with your toes the way that I described earlier, ensure that your knees are in line with your second toe, and they are both in line with your hip, your knee should be roughly at 90 degrees. Guys, your are probably too wide. Your balls aren’t that big, your internal rotation just sucks
B-After you have positioned your feet and knees, drive down through your heel, reaching slightly forward and out with your knees. Try to cue yourself to add length to your femur, don’t slide your whole hip forward. You should start to feel that lateral hip fire up and you should notice a distinct change in the position of your hip in your chair
C- Exhale as hard as you can, use all your abs, even on the side. Get the feeling of pulling up and gaining control of the anterior hip.
D- Maintain control of your anterior hip and begin to breath in through your nose, focus on the sequence of 1)Belly, 2)Low Back, 3)Chest 4)Upper Back/Neck. As you finish all of the air that you can fit into your lungs reach for the ceiling with the top of the back of your head and breath yourself tall.

Now you should be in a good sitting posture at your computer. You should be able to feel like the breath is holding your body up and you should feel less pressure on your spine. If not….. then you need to do the drills, over and over and over.

Ryan Brown is the head physical preparation coach and owner of Derby City CrossFit / DarkSide Strength in Louisville,Ky. Ryan’s focus is on correcting and perfecting movement/motor patterns to get the most out of his athletes. He has competed in CrossFit, Powerlifting, strongman, and currently Olympic lifting. His clients include; elite level power lifters, national level Olympic lifters, pro MMA fighters, college football players, HS athletes, CrossFitters, old broke people, and pretty much anyone else who wants to do something better.

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