Mobility Must Haves: Ankles, Hips, and T-spine


Mobility Must Haves: Ankles, Hips, and T-spine


“Stretching is out; mobility is in. Long gone are the days of static muscle stretching to “loosen up” before a work out, practice, or game. If your joints are stiff, there is limited potential for the muscle to stretch. Instead, focus your warm-up on joint mobility, particularly your ankles, hips, and thoracic spine. Regardless of the workout, hitting these three areas can maximize range of motion of your lift and over time can decrease pain (if any).

Starting with the ankles, how many athletes love to lift the heels or are unable to hit the bottom of a squat? You, my friend, are missing closed chain ankle dorsiflexion. Closed chain just refers to the fact that you’re in a weight bearing position, and dorsiflexion is the ability to move the tibia (shin) over the foot. Yes, I’m debunking what personal trainers tell their clients on a daily basis. You mean it’s ok to bring my knee over my toe? Absolutely—as long as you’re shifting your weight backwards and dropping your hips down simultaneously. This movement is important in any lift that requires a full squatting position. That could be squatting itself, or it could be a squat snatch, etc. To test this movement (and you may need a little assistance), get into a ½ kneeling position with the side you’re assessing “up”. Move your knee over your toes as far as possible without allowing the knee to collapse inward or the heel to come up. Normal range of motion is taking the knee about 4 inches past the toes (and I like to see about 5-6 inches if you’re an avid runner as well). There are several ways to address this movement if you’re limited. One of my favorites is to stay in that ½ kneeling position and with a band around the front of the ankle, move the knee forward like you did during the test. The band will glide the ankle backwards at the same time.

Keeping with our squatting theme, because really this is where I feel most people lose form and depth, hip external rotation should be addressed. External rotation is the ability to rotate the knees outward. I don’t have percentages in front of me, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a good portion of the population has a sitting-based job. This is one of the worst things we can do for our hips (and our spine for that matter). The front part of the hip joint becomes tight from being in a slack position most of the day and the posterior aspect—the part that we rely so heavily on to get us back up out of the bottom of the squat—has been stretched out, inhibited, smooshed. To mobilize this aspect of the hip, turn a box on it’s end and place the outside of your lower leg on it, kind of a modified figure 4. Try to get your knee as close to the box as possible. If this is easy, bend the leg you’re standing on. You may have to play around with different objects depending on your height.

Then there is the dreaded thoracic spine. This is my favorite region really because so may good things happen through mobilization. Do you have anterior shoulder pain? Difficulty maintaining an overhead position with the bar? Difficulty keeping the chest upright during front squats? Sure, there are definitely components of core weakness that play a part here, but chances are the thoracic spine is a limited area. I see too many times that athletes focus on shoulder mobility with bar pass throughs. And while this is an important aspect, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the thoracic spine is an adjacent area. Recent physical therapy research has even shown in patients with shoulder pain, treatment to just the thoracic spine and not the shoulder was beneficial in decreasing shoulder pain. Any lift that requires shoulder mobility will require thoracic mobility as well, so do your shoulders a favor and address both. To mobilize this area, lie on the floor and place a foam roller horizontally across your mid back. Supporting your neck, lower yourself over top of the foam roller (kind of like crunches). Move the foam roller up or down your back to get all areas that feel stiff and limited.

Certainly, depending on the workout, there may be other areas that should be addressed. If you’re short on time, you will get the most bang for your buck hitting the ankles, hips and thoracic spine.”