The Best Mobility Exercises & Tools for Weightlifting
With the amount of hip-hinging weightlifters and strength athletes do, a tight posterior chain can spell doom for a day at the gym. Missed lifts, poor mobility, pinched nerves, and muscle strains do not a happy lifter make.
Get Your Lower Body Ready to Squat & Deadlift
It’s easy to catch a little warmup ADD when you get to the gym—pedal on a bike, stretch this muscle for a bit, then smash that one, then chat with your friends while leaning against a foam roller. (We see you.)
To get the most out of your warmup and actually prep yourself for a hard squat or deadlift training session, consider the parts of your body you’ll be asking to work most that day. Then consider what they’ve been doing for the hours before your session. Do you sit for long periods of time or does your work involve a lot of repetitive movements? More often than not, your posterior chain needs something to feel ready.
We challenge you to actually try a structured, intentional mobility warmup for your hips, glutes, quads and hammies before your next squat day and see what a difference it makes. These warmup tools and techniques bring blood to your muscles, prime your motor patterns, loosen your jacked up tissues, and connect your brain with the muscles you need to perform.
Plus, if the Olympians and pro athletes take time for specific mobility warmups, why don’t you?
Check out the methods professional coaches program for their athletes before lifting.
There’s a seemingly infinite number of bands available for different purposes, but the ones you see most in gyms are short and long rubber loop bands in varying sizes. The thicker/fatter bands have greater resistance, while the thin/skinny ones are lighter weight. For posterior chain activation and general warmups, aim to use mostly lighter resistance.
The long bands are great for priming different hinge movements like banded good mornings, deadlift variations, and squat variations. They’re also easy to attach to a rig for banded distractions, which help create space and movement in a given joint. (Greater ankle mobility = better squatting!)
P.S. Avoid using the short rubber loop bands around your knees or ankles if you have any amount of leg hair whatsoever.
Hip Halo or Slingshot
The Hip Halo by Crossover Symmetry and the older-school Slingshot are like upgraded versions of the short circular loop band specifically designed to activate your posterior chain before a squat or deadlift workout. The most common place you’ll see people use these is around the legs just above the knees.
Prime your posterior with a hip circle above your knees by doing a few rounds of any hinge movement. Focus on driving your knees out and feeling your glutes activate to stabilize your lower extremities. Get a little burn by trying things like lateral shuffles, hip thrusts, tempo squats, and forward/backward marching.
(This video is a longer one, but it’s worth it! Extra credit if you try the hip circle and band-around-feet combo at the end.)
Whether you shelled out for the fancy Theragun or Hypervolt, or you’re working with some kind of loud jigsaw knock-off, percussion massagers have exploded onto the fitness market in the last several years, and for good reason. These muscle-pummeling power tools allow for the maximum amount of tissue smashing with a minimal amount of effort.
Use the wide dampener attachment for large muscle groups like glutes and quads. Run the massager both along and against the muscle fibers. Play around with stretching or contracting the muscle while you hit it with the gun. (Try massaging your hips while in a pigeon stretch—you’re welcome.)
You can go a little ham with these before and after working out, but be careful with extra tender areas. Check out the Theragun How-To playlist if you need some more ideas.
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If your tissues are super sore or feeling sticky, you won’t have access to your best mobility. A few minutes on a foam roller can do wonders to help get your squats deeper and your t-spine unstuck. Foam rollers get a bad reputation for being procrastination bolsters, but they actually do what they’re supposed to if you use them properly. They can be a little more forgiving than massage guns, too.
Make sure to find a roller that works for your sensation threshold. If it’s too hard and painful or too soft and squishy, you’re not going to want to use it! The Grid by Triggerpoint Therapy is a reliable standard in foam rollers. They even offer an extra firm version.
You don’t need to spend a ton of time on this but it can make a huge difference in your squat and deadlift power. Check out Catalyst Athletics head coach, Greg Everett’s pre-workout foam rolling sequence and get used to doing it before every session. Seriously.
Ok, we’ll say it: compression therapy is the shit.
If you’ve never tried it before, flossing or blood flow restriction (BFR), involves wrapping a huge, flattened rubber band around a joint or muscle group to compress it super tightly. The compression pushes fluid (blood) out of the area so you can move through different ranges of motion to “scrub” the sticky tissues and restore their ability to glide. Sounds like magic, works like magic, might actually be magic.
The first time can be pretty uncomfortable and kind of scary if your brain sends off warning signals that you’re about to lose a limb. But once you understand your time threshold and adjust to the sensation, you’ll start to get an idea of what to feel for. The mobility boost after unwrapping a compressed joint is immediately noticeable. Here’s a good primer on how to start out if you’re totally new to flossing.
Check out Kelley Starrett’s gnarly lower body piece here and try flossing your knees or ankles before your squatting.
Bonus for Olympic lifters
Here are some more mobility primers and activation movements to follow from Greg Everett. His comprehensive warmup for Olympic Weightlifting is quick, effective, and easy to follow. Memorize it!
“Run through this series of DROM drills before beginning your specific barbell warm-up for your first exercise. 10-15 reps (10-30 seconds x 1-3 sets for the 2 static exercises).”
- Wrist circles
- Elbow circles
- Seal swings
- Over & backs
- Freestyle bounce
- Arm circles – forward and backward
- Trunk rotations
- Hip circles
- Bow & bend
- Knee circles
- Leg swings
- Squatting ankle stretch
- Russian baby maker
Lily is TrainHeroic’s Marketing Content Creator and a CF-L1 with an English background. She was a successful freelance marketer for the functional fitness industry until being scooped up by TrainHeroic. An uncommon combo of bookish, artsy word-nerd and lifelong athlete, Lily is passionately devoted to weightlifting, CrossFit, yoga, dance, and aerial acrobatics. Find her showcasing her artist-athlete hobbies on IG @lilylectric.