Workout Tips

Kelly Starrett’s Top 5 Tips for Mobility

Physical therapist, author, and mobility master Kelly Starrett shares five things you need to know about loosening your muscles up for better performance.

Kelly Starrett’s Top 5 Tips for Mobility

Kelly Starrett is the co-founder of San Francisco CrossFit and mobilitywod.com, co-author of Becoming a Supple Leopard and Ready to Run, and is a an adviser to professional athletes and military members. M&F caught up with the Supple Leopard himself to talk movement, sports injuries, and rehabilitation.

“What we’ve tried to do with out work is establish benchmarks and bookends for positional mechanics,” Starrett says. “If we get people into the benchmarks of mechanics, they’re able to practice any movement patterns they want afterwards.”

Starrett’s first assessment of a person’s mobility starts with addressing their weaknesses.

“The easiest way to start a conversation with people is to say, "Hey look, let’s talk about what’s normal and not normal in your body." Starrett says. “If anyone rolls on a ball the first thing they experience is pain, we start there.”

Follow Starrett’s top five tips for moving better and understanding your body for improved mobility, flexibility and athletic performance.

KELLY STARRETT'S TOP 5 MOBILITY TIPS

1. PASS THESE TWO RUNNING TESTS

“Basic human function goes out the door when we sit at a desk, sit in a car, or wear high heeled shoes,” says Starrett. “You may not be aware how compromised biomechanics are affecting running and predisposing you to injury or loss of running performance and economy.”

Starrett establishes baseline ranges of motion for people, or tests, to see if they are runners with proper mobility.

“One of the things you should be able to do as a runner is, with your feet and knees together, squat all the way down without your heels coming up,” Starrett says. “That means you have normal hip range of motion and flexion and you have baseline human range of motion for your ankles.”

The second test is the couch stretch, where one leg is bent at 90 degrees and the other is parallel against a wall.

“If you put one knee into the wall, you should be able to bring the other leg up into a high kneeling position with you back against the wall and butt squeezed,” Starrett says. “The average runner will get their knee against the wall but won’t be able to get the other knee up into the bent position. That’s how tight and restricted they are.”

If you fail these tests, then it’s time to consider altering your pre and post running workout routines. Starrett says Brian Mackenzie’s running skills are great place to start.

2. PASS THESE TWO LIFTING TESTS

Starrett has two full range of motion benchmarks for weightlifters. One is the upright squat, in the form of the overhead and front squats. If can’t do those two movements, then you’re hiding a serious mobility issue.

The fullest range of motion happens when the torso is in the upright position,” Starrett says. “If you regularly back squat but can’t front squat, that’s a red flag.”

A dumbbell overhead squat is Starrett’s fullest assessment of quality of range of motion. Aside from upright squatting, there’s another way to assess overhead shoulder mobility.

“Grab two 50-pound dumbbells and hold them straight up overhead with elbows straight in a neutral grip,” Starrett says. “You should be able to hold those a while and have a conversation.” If your elbows bend or your back breaks from neutral position, you’ve failed the test. “The bent elbows are a sign missing overhead range of motion,” Starrett says. “You need to explore the problem on mobilitywod.com or read Becoming a Supple Leopard."

3. MAKE THE WARMUP COUNT

Starrett advocates a dynamic warmup before both weightlifting and running workouts. Static stretching can also increase range of motion but it’s also been found to impair force output. A 2014 Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research study found that 60 seconds of four different static stretches resulted in significant decreases in jump height and power compared to not stretching at all. Furthermore, a 2014 Journal of Sports Medicine study found that an upper body static stretching protocol negatively affected peak jump force.

“If you’re going to prepare for lifting you should be covered in sweat before you add any load from a dynamic warmup,” Starrett says. “Lunges, squats, hip hinges, carioca, leg swings, all the same warmups you did in high school/college football.”

Starrett says this warmup is best for running too. For lifting, Starrett and his team spend works in joint mobilization such as laying on a lacrosse ball and joint distraction during warmup sets. And, Starrett emphasizes the need for more warmup sets.

“The average lifter does 135 pounds, then 225, 315 and 405 but they actually need more practice grooving the pattern,” Starrett says. “At our gym, we say ‘Show me five sets of 10 with light weight’ and we assess where you are.”

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