Mobilizing vs Stretching

  • Apr 18, 2012




    We talk about "mobilizing" all the time.  Do you really know what that is and why we do it though?  Is it when we mash our deltoids with a lacrosse ball?  Is it stretching our calf on the pole?  Is it working our quads over with a bar?  Is it stretching our hamstrings with the strap?  Is it opening up our hip capsule with the band?

    Notice the questions above that said "stretching" for the calf and the hamstring.  That isn't quite what I would consider "mobilizing".  Stretching primarily focuses on lengthening tight and short muscles.  This is a good thing and needs to be done, BUT if those muscles aren't moving properly the chances of getting them to lengthen are much less.  That is where "mobilizing" comes in.

    Our muscles are supposed to glide past one another.  This gliding can become inhibited when we are constantly working out and moving heavy loads, or when we are sitting in one position at a desk all day, or when we sleep in the fetal position for 8+ hours a night, or when we carry our body in a non-neutral position...the list goes on and on.  This causes our muscles to become "glued" together.  They are now moving as one unit rather than separately.  So, when we go to lengthen those shortened muscles, it's like trying to stretch a brick versus a rubber band.  Pretty impossible.  Following me?

    I'm going to steal a definition of mobility from the mobility god, Kelly Starrett.

    "Mobilization is a movement-based integrated full-body approach that addresses all the elements that limit movement and performance including short and tight muscles, soft tissue restriction, joint capsule restriction, motor control problems, joint range of motion dysfunction, and neural dynamic issues. In short, mobilization is a tool to globally address movement and performance problems." 

    I have found through my own training in the last year that if I'm having some performance issues (non-skill related) it is 99.9% of the time a mobility issue.  If I'm coming forward on my squat, my calves are usually bound up.  If I'm having stability issues with my lumber on my deadlift, my hips are a bit impinged.  Athletes are strong and our bodies find ways to continue to do these movements over and over without proper mobility and that ends up compromising something else, and that something else and so on and so on...which results in poor movement patterns and ulitimately injury.

    So, now that we understand more of what mobility is, here are a few examples of some mobility exercises I hit daily BEFORE my workouts.  If I am having problems with other things I will for sure focus on them, but these are my go-to's.  I also will spend more time on the joints that I know I will be using for that workout.  So if I'm squatting that day, I will spent more time on my hips.  For a WAY more in depth explanation and variations, head to, type in the search engine what you're having issues with and Kelly will provide you with magic to get you feeling better in no time.  I can't say these are going to feel "good", but I can promise you that if you make this part of your regular routine your life will be way better!

    *For these, you will need a softball, lacrosse ball and a foam roller (the denser the better...i actually use a PVC pipe or even sometimes my Kleen Kanteen.  There are SO many other things you can do, but this gets you started and they can be done almonst anywhere.

    Back- With the foam roller perpendicular to your back, starting on your low back, roll up and down/side to side on your erectors (the muscles along the sides of your spine up until about your shoulder blades.  After that get into your T-Spine but have your hips up and arms hugging across your chest.  Do the same thing roll up and down/side to side.  Then spend some time on the T-Spine (shoulder blade level) with your arms over your head. If you don't feel enough of a stretch here you can hold onto a weight (start light to see how it feels) to open up a bit more.
    Lumbar Roll
    TSpine Roll

    Lats- Laying on your side with your bottom arm overhead, place the roller on the side of your armpit.  Roll up and down/side to side from your lats to your triceps (side of back to back of arm).  I find it pretty hot right in my armpit area, especially when I roll the roller more toward my back on that side.
    Lat Foam Roll

    Quads/ITBand - Laying with roller under front of thighs, roll up and down/side to side from hip to knee.  Then switch position so you're on the roller on the outside of your hip with the other leg crossed over top to help control movement.  Roll up and down/side to side from hip to knee.
    Quad Roll

    ITB Roll

     Adductors - Put one leg across roller so inside of leg is on top of roller.  Roll up and down insdie of leg from knee to groin. (sorry the picture is sideways).

    Adductor Roll

    Psoas - Lay on your stomach on a hard surface.  Starting just inside your hip bone (basically on your bladder), put the softball between you and the floor.  Lay down with as much pressure as you can handle.  You are going to SLOWLY roll the ball up the side of your stomach until you reach your ribs. Go up and down and side to side.  If you don't feel this then you're not human...this is usually a doosie!  
    Psoas Roll

    Glutes/Hips - Sit one glute on the ball and roll all around this guy making sure to spend more time on the spots you really feel it.  Roll to the side of the hip as well and just mash all around in there. 

    Glute RollTFL Roll

    Deltoids/Pecs - Lay on stomach with lacrosse ball between chest (pecs) and floor.  Roll up and down/side to side all over entire pec.  Follow this by getting into the front of the shoulder.  Then lay on your side with ball under your shoulder to get medial deltoid.  Again same thing on the back of shoulder.  With each of these you can change your arm angle from reaching behind to the small of your back and the full movement until it's over your head.
    Medial Delt Roll

    Posterior Delt
    Some things to keep in mind.

    1- Make sure to spend time on the "spicy" spots as those are the ones that need the most work.

    2- Spend AT LEAST 1 min on each one...more is always better.  With that said, don't fall asleep or stay in one place for hours...that would be bad.  I ususally try to go until I feel it release.

    3- The body is a complicated thing and there's a lot going on.  Not everyone is going to have the same issues, so if you don't seem to be hitting an area you feel needs work, then please use Kelly's website or please feel free to contact me.

    4- Doing this once in a while isn't going to do it.  These need to become part of your regular routine (especially the ones that you notice help your body).  I mobilize in the morning when I get up, right before my workouts, and also at night before going to bed.  You can do it while catch up with your family, while you watch TV...stop sitting on the couch and instead start mobilzing

    Happy Mobilizing!

    • Gravatar of karina


      Posted Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 3:11:23 PM

      I love doing mobs..... NOT! But so important I agree. Love the pics, I am a visual person so this helps a lot!

    • Gravatar of Robert Strazzarino

      Robert Strazzarino

      Posted Friday, May 18, 2012 at 11:34:08 AM

      Great post! I visit this page while I'm at work sometimes.