The Top 3 Mobility Exercises for Lifters

by Dr. John Rusin

The Multi-Movement Mobility Fix

There are tons of trendy mobility drills and correctives. But lifters need to target the hips, shoulders, and spine the most. Do these and feel awesome.

Multi-Movement Mobility

Not every trendy mobility drill or corrective exercise you see flying across your social media feed is going to work for you. Why? Because an effective strategy is dependent on one thing: proper diagnostic assessment. And that’s not something can get from a 12-second video on Instagram.

Why would you want to waste training time on correctives that offer little to no benefit? Instead, narrow down your problem areas and hit them hard with multi-movement mobility drills that address several common dysfunctions at once.

Here are my go-to corrective movement drills that’ll target your hips, shoulders, and spine together working as a functional unit… you know, the way you’d be using them during training.

1. Single-Leg Adductor Rock Back with T-Spine Rotation

What This Targets

Most people have lost the ability to stabilize their pelvis and lumbar spine. This is a problem since the lower portion of the spine is anatomically designed to be stable; it functions best under low amounts of relative movement.

Creating super-stiffness at the pillar is nonnegotiable if you’re a lifter. It starts with positioning the pelvis and lumbar spine together synergistically. But achieving a position is vastly different than maintaining a position, especially when there’s a heavy barbell on your back.

That’s where this movement comes in. It’ll help you brace your core by creating tension in a controlled environment. You’ll relearn what stability should actually feel like.

How To Do It

  1. Drop down on all fours with your joints stacked (shoulders above elbows above wrists).
  2. Extend one leg out to the side with a straight knee in line with your hip.
  3. Grip the ground and co-contract your pecs and lats together.
  4. Stabilize the pelvis by co-contracting the glutes and adductors together.
  5. Tense the abs and core while maintaining the tension and torque at both the shoulders and hips.
  6. Slowly rock your hips back while maintaining a neutral spine, placing a stretch through the adductor that’s extended.
  7. Move deliberately back and forth slowly in a controlled non-compensated range of motion.
  8. Complete 10-15 slow reps before sitting back and holding the end range actively. Maintain tension throughout.
  9. Place your hand on your head (side of the extended leg) and rotate slowly up through the shoulder and thoracic spine.
  10. Complete another 10-15 slow reps here, exhaling at the top of each rep fully.

When To Do It

Use this drill in any warm-up before squats or deadlifts, which require the pillar to be active to create stability before getting into the big lifts for the day. Don’t have a warm-up? Add it to the third phase when you do my Perfect 6-Minute Warm-Up.

The execution quality needs to be the focus here to yield positive results. This one will be a challenge to do smoothly. When in doubt, make sure your spine and pelvis remain in neutral with active tension created around them.

Extra Info

This drill was derived by combining two movement drills together: the quadruped thoracic spine rotation as popularized by the Functional Movement System (FMS), and the single-leg adductor rock back, which Eric Cressey popularized.

Both drills are good, but we can get even more out of them when they’re combined. Increasing the dynamic “moving part” component of this drill also increases the challenge, so if you’re struggling after cleaning up your form, revert back to the individual drills.

2. Lateral Lunge Hold with Spinal Rotation

What This Targets

This targets the adductor mobility, and it’ll help you maintain a neutral lumbo-pelvic complex. The adductors are a forgotten muscle group, and targeting them is often the “magic antidote” to lifters’ problems.

The adductor’s role in both dynamic stabilization and functional mobility should not be overlooked. This group is by far the largest and most powerful of the hip (excluding dat booty, of course).

Compared to the hamstrings and quads, the adductors are 2-3 times as thick, and are actually comprised of more muscles and structures, ones which play a huge role in creating stiffness under heavy loads during compound movements.

The problem? They’re often functionally shortened and weakened as a result of our chronic daily positions and not experiencing mobility through a full range of motion. Luckily the lateral lunge will help you learn how to use the adductors through extended ranges of motion to stabilize the hips, pelvis, and lumbar spine as a unit. Once you master the lateral lunge with pristine stability and unlocked mobility, add the rotational component through the thoracic cage and shoulders.

How To Do It

Since this multi-movement drill is dependent on your ability to open up the groin to achieve a deep lateral lunge with the maintenance of a neural-ish spinal position, that’s where you should start first. Here’s how to open up your lateral lunge pattern the way it’s supposed to be executed:

  1. Start in an athletic stance with feet under the hips, toes facing forwards, and pre-tension through the glutes, core, and shoulders.
  2. Slowly step your right foot directly lateral to your starting base and keep the toe pointing forward.
  3. Smoothly descend into the movement by allowing your right hip to hinge back while bending your right knee.
  4. Don’t let your right knee fly forward. You’ll need full control of the movement to go deep.
  5. While maintaining full body tension, actively pull your right side deep into the lateral lunge range of motion while your hands move forward to counter the movement’s center of mass.

Warning: Relearning the stability and mobility required to execute a perfect lateral lunge is the first step here. So if you’re going to half-ass the next component of the drill without mastering the lateral lunge, stop. Master it by getting depth without rounding your lower back. Your focus should be on moving deliberately and keeping full body tension with an emphasis placed on the contraction of the glutes and core.

Many times it’s not your “tight adductors” holding you back; it’s your lack of hip and core stability that send apprehensive signals through your body to lock down movement. So before you drive your car straight through the parking brake, work hard to let the parking brake off and drive forward freely.

The Next Steps

If you’ve mastered the lateral lunge, progress to the next steps below, spinal rotation:

  1. Out of the right lateral lunge position, maintain full body tension with your hands in front of the body countering your center of mass.
  2. Slowly place your right hand down flat on the ground right next to the arch of your right foot, and bring the left hand along next to the right.
  3. Start to rotate your left hand up in an arcing-like motion, allowing your thoracic spine, shoulder blade, and rib cage to move alongside the shoulder leading the movement.
  4. Follow the rotating left hand with your eyes and head, moving the spine as a unit from the neck to mid-back.
  5. Once you’ve achieved an end range rotation overhead, come back down through the same range of motion and repeat.

When To Program This

Add this into any type of dynamic warm-up. I’ve used this drill before deadlift and box squat days to mobilize and activate the adductor group, which is a primary stabilizer in both of these lifts (especially sumo-style deadlifts).

Since the static hold of the bottom of the lateral lunge can be challenging on its own, limit the amount of shoulder rotations to 3-5, and alternate between sides between rotations to avoid falling into compensation patterns that cause a loss of position at the spine or lower body. Start with 3 sets of 3 reps per side, focusing on quality and smoothness of movement.

3. Half-Kneeling Banded Face Pull to Y-Press

What This Targets

Since the previous drills use only bodyweight, they lack an external stimuli to challenge the entire upper quadrant patterns as a whole. This is where the half-kneeling face pull to Y-press comes in.

The best mobility drills are ones that work to the point of never having to do them ever again, and that comes with mastery of movement and hitting the “save button” by adding it to your movement library. So what comes after that? An active stability component to the new range of motion or mobility you just unlocked.

This drill activates the primary stabilizers of the upper back. It does so from a challenging stability setup (half kneeling) which increases your stability motor learning.

How To Do It

  1. Kneel on your right knee and position your left foot out in front of your body. The left foot will be directly in front of the left hip, with a 90-degree bend at both the knee and hip on that left side.
  2. The right knee will also be positioned in a 90-degree bend with the toes and foot dorsi-flexed into the ground.
  3. Start your 3-step tension by squeezing your glutes and adductors together, creating a scissoring effect at the hips to co-contract around the joints.
  4. Co-contract the pecs and lats together. Place your opposite hand in your armpit and squeeze. You should feel the pecs and lats turn on together and the shoulder slightly depress and internally rotate.
  5. While maintaining hip and shoulder co-contractions, brace the core and ensure 360-degree tension around the entire region.

When the tension described above is executed properly, you should be able to “feel” a stretch going through your quads on the back (kneeling) leg from active internal tension alone.

Once you learn to generate tension through your entire body in the half-kneeling setup, it’s time to add the dynamic banded component to this base and further strengthen and stabilize around your newfound thoracic spine and shoulder ranges of motion.

The Next Steps

  1. Place a light circular band around a squat rack at hip height and string a second extra-light band through the first to create “handles” for your hands.
  2. Grab the extra-light band with both hands (with arms out in front of you) while maintaining co-contraction of the pecs and lats with packed shoulders.
  3. Drive your elbows back while your hands come directly towards your mouth, with a focus on “squeezing” your upper back, and more specifically your posterior delts.
  4. Once you’ve achieved full activation and peak contraction from the face pull, slowly externally rotate the shoulders, bringing the hands up into a 90-90 position.
  5. Externally rotate to full uncompensated range to peak the upper back contraction once again, and from that end range, press your hand straight up into a Y.
  6. This Y-press should be positioned overhead with full range of motion into elevation, and non-compensated at the thoracic or lumbar spine.
  7. Hold the overhead position for 1-2 seconds and slowly reverse the drill to come back to the start.

Though this drill has many moving parts, they’re all working together in order to achieve upper back activation (which most big lifts depend on) while maintaining it through an assisted overhead position that uses increased stability to open up range of motion and mobility.

When To Program This

This drill works extremely well before any overhead lifts including overhead squatting, pressing, and vertical pulling variations. It can also be a powerful drill to negate poor daily postures and can be staple movement in any postural maintenance program.

Since these reps are meant to be done with slow and deliberate motion, the total time under tension for each rep will be around 6-8 seconds. So only do 3-5 reps at a time in order to avoid pre-fatiguing the upper back and pillar to the point of diminishing returns. Do an even amount of sets per side.