March 21, 2022
One of the most overlooked aspects of the real world and the fitness world is mobility. Mobility difficulties are not only a problem of old age, whether you’re an elite athlete, weight lifting enthusiast, or a soccer mom, it is important to regularly work on improving your mobility. If you want to prevent possible injuries and live a happy, pain-free life then you NEED to have good mobility. By giving yourself a mobility assessment you will know which areas of the body are the weakest. Once you assess and test your mobility you will be able to directly target and improve your weaker joint complexes.
With that in mind, we put together 7 mobility tests for your most important joints as well as some exercises and resources to improve your mobility.
In this article we will specifically target mobility, so try to do this assessment cold to see your everyday mobility and then you can test after a warm-up or workout just to compare.
The definition of mobility is the quality or state of being mobile or movable: ability or capacity to move. When we speak of mobility in the human body, we’re referring to the ability to move naturally with strength through an ideal range of motion. Increased mobility will help you to reach your goals whether it’s to put on muscle or just to feel better throughout a normal day. This article will walk you through 7 mobility tests then provide you with some tips and exercises on how to improve your joint mobility.
Think of your mobility as the cornerstone to a healthy pain-free body. Lesser mobility leads to instability which decreases the movements you’re able to perform. Without proper movement, it’s difficult to build strength, power, and endurance. So, forget about building your repertoire of specialized skills related to fitness if you’re missing one of the most import pieces of a strong foundation - mobility.
There are many joints in our bodies that require mobility but in this article, we will touch on the joints/areas that people often have mobility issues with:
These areas are the most used in basic movements.
The tests will be section by the above joints. After each section we will provide some good exercises and resources to help you improve mobility & flexibility in that area.
Follow the tests and drills below to assess the mobility of your most important joints, which includes the shoulders, thoracic spine, hips, ankles.
We chose to the following mobility tests and drills because they can be performed alone in the comfort of your home.
We will provide results after each test to let you know where you stand in terms of normal flexibility, as well as what potential causes there could be for a lack of mobility where applicable.
Now let’s start testing your mobility!
These two tests will reveal the state of mobility and flexibility that your shoulder joints possess. The first test is for overhead shoulder mobility, and the other is for external and internal rotation.
Because the shoulder joint is the weakest and most susceptible joint in the human body, knowing your range of motion is important so you don’t overexert or injure yourself. Take a few minutes to test your shoulder mobility to gauge your ability and if you need to, start doing more shoulder mobility exercises.
Result: If you had to arch your back to keep your arm straight on the floor then you’ve got some room for improvement.
After you perform the test with your feet on the floor, try to do it with your feet up. Keep your knees bent to 90˚, but bring your feet off the floor so your upper legs are perpendicular with the floor.
To increase your shoulder mobility, you must start doing exercises and stretches that help get the blood flowing into the shoulder joint and loosen up the muscles surrounding your shoulder joint (this includes muscles like your lats, chest, biceps, triceps, and traps)
Here are a few great shoulder mobility exercises...
Standing Arm Swings:
Stand with your back straight and your arms by your sides. Swing your arms up, forward then back as far as they can go without raising your shoulders. Then return slowly to starting position. Do this for 30-60 seconds for a total of 5 sets.
Cross Arm Stretch:
Keep your shoulders squared forward and bring your left arm directly across your body and place your arm into the crease of your right elbow. Using your right arm, pull your left arm in towards your body, feeling the stretch. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Repeat on opposite side. Do this a couple times to each arm.
Pass Overs Dynamic Stretch:
This is a dynamic stretch, so you will not be holding the stretch, you will be moving your arms up and over for reps. Hold onto a light stick or band or long towel with your arms down and out about 1.5-2x shoulder width. From hip level and at the front of you, bring your arms up (arms fully extended) and over to your backside, lowering them down as far as they can go (ideally until the object touches your butt). Then, bring your arms back up and over and repeat. Do this for 6-10 reps.
Overhead Shoulder Stretch:
Bring your right arm up overhead and then bend at the elbow pointing your hand down to the ground with your palm flat against your back. Using your left arm, push your elbow down as far as you can comfortable go. Repeat on both sides for 2-3 sets holding for 30-60 seconds each arm.
Another nice stretch is basically the overhead shoulder stretch in reverse. So your right arm would go behind your back, back of your hand touching your back and arm pointing up (arm at around 90˚). Then using your left arm, you push up on the elbow.
For more exercises and stretches, check out this in-depth article on Shoulder Mobility.
Now, let's move on to t-spine mobility assessments. We have two mobility tests, one for spinal flexion & extension and one for thoracic rotation.
Results: If you weren’t able to get either full flexion and/or extension in your spine, there’s plenty room for improvement.
There are a number of exercises and movements that can help to improve your thoracic mobility.
Cat Cow Stretch:
Start with your hands and knees on the floor keeping a neutral spine with your hands under your shoulders. To perform the cat portion of the exercise simply sink your back towards the floor and raise your head simultaneously pushing your tailbone out. Make sure you breathe out during this movement. Next, move into the cow position by tucking your head and tailbone in while arching your spine. Breathe in during this movement. Shoot for 20 repetitions of this movement with a brief pause at the top and bottom.
Windshield Wiper Thoracic Rotation Stretch:
Lie down on the ground with your back flat to the floor and your arms out to your sides. Lift your legs up off the ground (flexing the hips) and bend at the knees to make a 90˚ angle with your legs. From here, bring your knees down to one side, keeping your upper back flat to the ground and your shoulders squared. Hold the position for desired time, then bring your legs back up to the center and slowly to the opposite side. Again, hold for the desired time. Repeat this several times.
For more exercises and stretches, check out this in-depth article on T-Spine Mobility.
We all know how important hip mobility is, so let's test the hips! The first mobility test is for hip flexion and the second test is for hip internal and external rotation.
Results: Pass Test = Being able to move through fully to 90/90 positions on each side with arms up at shoulder level
Here are 3 of the best beginner hip mobility exercises to help strengthen and open up your hip joints which will lead to a greater range of motion. It will take continuous practice with these stretches to improve your hip mobility.
Lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Place one leg over the opposite thigh then pull your crossed knee toward your opposite shoulder.
Begin with on your hands and knees with your knees spread as far apart as you comfortably can. Rock back and forth in this position, keeping your feet on the ground and your toes pointed outward.
Hip Opener Lunge Stretch:
Get into a lunge position with your back knee to the ground and front knee at 90˚. Shift your hips forward and feel the stretch. Hold for 30-60 seconds OR hold for 10 or so seconds and move in and out of the stretch, holding each time at the end range of the stretch. Repeat on the opposite side.
Knee to Chest Stretch:
Lie flat on your back and bring your knee as far as you can to your chest, hugging the leg and bringing it as close as you can to your body. Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat with the opposite leg.
For more exercises and stretches, check out this in-depth article on Hip Mobility Exercises.
The ankle is probably one of the most overlooked joints. It's important to have good mobility in your ankles! Let's do this test to see how good your ankle mobility is. For this one, we have just one important test (if you can't pass this test, you likely have troubles with squats!).
Results: If your knee can touch the wall, you pass. If your knee is 1 inch away, that is abnormal mobility, and 2 inches away is very abnormal. But don't let the words abnormal scare you, it just means you need some or a lot of improvement.
In order to fix your tight ankles and increase your ankle mobility you must start moving through a greater range of motion.
Full Range of Motion Calf Raises:
By performing toe raise to heel drop on a step you are flexing the joint resulting in strengthened ankles. Stand on the edge of a step with your weight on the balls of your feet. Push through your toes raising your ankles then slowly drop your heels down below the step level. Repeat 10-20 reps of 2-3 sets every other day. If you have limited mobility use a railing or wall for support.
Facing a wall, bend your forward knee and keep your back knee fully extended. Both feet should be flat on the ground. From here push into your front foot. This is stretching your ankle for dorsiflexion. Repeat on the opposite side.
You can also bend your back leg and bring it in close to your front leg, then push down into the back foot. In this case, you are stretching the ankle in the back, not the front
For more exercises and stretches, check out this in-depth article on Ankle Mobility Exercises.
The World's Greatest Stretch (that's the actual name of it) targets the ankles, hips and thoracic spine, which makes it one of the most effective stretches for improving mobility. It’s no wonder why the it was given the moniker 'world’s greatest stretch'.
We recommend you do this stretch no less than three times a week. Make sure to stretch each side for 5 reps, 10-30 seconds per time.
The two things we are looking for during these screening tests are:
If you found imbalances then you should train the weaker side a little more until it catches up with the other side.
If you found less than ideal mobility, then you should add more mobility exercises into your daily life. Start by adding the mobility exercises we provided in the Functional Foundations Guide.
Remember, it’s never too late to reclaim the joint mobility and muscle flexibility that you had as a child. Use mobility exercises as a warm up, active recovery, or as a stand-alone workout. We recommend that you try to add at least 1-3 sessions of mobility training a week, but even better would be to start off each day with a few mobility exercises that will have you moving better and feeling better throughout the day.
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