Strength and Conditioning Essentials: Part 1 - Mobility
Updated: Aug 16
In part 1 of what will be a multiple part series, I look at strength and conditioning essentials, and things that I believe are vital for all the athletes I currently work with.
It is very important for each coach to establish their own philosophies, and this philosophy should be ever changing and expanding with your continued development as coaches. A quote that I heard some time ago was “if you’re done learning, you’re done” S&C is forever evolving and with this in mind you should always be learning and studying to become better. If you don’t dedicate a portion of your day to becoming a better coach then I think you’re in the wrong profession.
In line with my own philosophy there are several things that I feel essential for every single one of my athletes. As a result I have created several generic programs for various components of S&C that address a specific need for my athletes. This is by no means a definitive list, nor is it a finished product they continually evolve with my experiences in working with my athletes.
When working with large groups of athletes that are from the same or similar sports I will, like the majority of s&c coaches; establish a needs analysis. From this I can highlight common mobility/flexibility issues, weaknesses and imbalances, and create a generic program that all the athletes will see great benefit from. So regardless of the situation I face with time, group size or lack of suitable facilities I can get the most bangs for my buck for the situation in faced.
In part 1 of Strength and Conditioning essentials I will look at common mobility issues. I use the following 4 mobility drills, every day with most if not all of the athletes I work with. I also encourage athletes to continue to do these drills before their technical practices, games and competitions. The rational for this is that all these drills will help to optimize mechanics and as a result lead to improvements in performance, if done often you will really start to feel and see improvements in mobility and movement mechanics.
A huge number of the athletes I have worked with often lack ankle mobility, more specifically dorsiflexion. If you have worked in basketball, netball, volleyball you will see the reliance on ankle taping, bracing and high-top shoes. As a result ankle strength and mobility is negatively affected (for more on ankle taping, check out my article here). The importance of ankle mobility and dorsiflexion is well highlighted in a number of published research papers (see links below) and a lack of ankle mobility increases the likelihood of injury further up the chain at the knee, hip and lower back. Additionally, it will also have a negative impact on your running, landing mechanics, leading to a decrease in performance (as this recent paper highlighted- Kinematic and kinetic differences in the execution of vertical jumps between people with good and poor ankle joint dorsiflexion, by Papaiakovou, in Journal of Sports Sciences, 2013). A lack of ankle mobility can result in you becoming very “Quad dominant” which again has injury implications around the knee. especially with explosive jumping sports mentioned above.
Now you know the importance of ankle mobility, my strength and conditioning essential for ankle mobility is :
The Downward Facing Dog.
Unfortunately my technique is far from perfect when performed in the video, I have too much lumbar flexion and cannot get into good thoracic extension. A preferable finish position should look something like the picture.
Performing this movement will improve your calf flexibility, often seen as a limiting factor in dorsiflexion. Additionally the ankle joint will be mobilised into and out of dorsiflexion. In my mobility circuit I perform this for 6-8 repetitions with a pause at the top position.
A large number of athletes have issues with hip ROM and mobility. This could be due to shorting of various muscles in and around the hip complex, but also due to muscle weaknesses. This could be a result of far too much sitting in bad postures and the majority of us leading a more and more sedentary lifestyle. Hip mobility plays a vital role in sprinting mechanics, posture and landing mechanics. Mobile hips will also allow a more efficient and faster change of direction, which is obviously important in a huge amount of sports.
My Strength and conditioning essential for hip mobility is:
The Stationary Spiderman
I choose to add this drill into my circuit doing 6-8 reps per leg. A coaching cue I use is “drop the hips and push chest up” ensure also that the athlete looks forward and not down, while maintaining a neutral spine.
More Hip mobility
The huge importance of hip mobility to athletic importance leads me to believe it requires a little more attention. 9 muscles are associated with hip flexion and enable us to perform some of the following movements – Knee extension, Knee flexion, Hip abduction, Hip adduction, Hip lateral rotation, Hip medial rotation, Spine lateral flexion and anti-rotation and Spine flexion
You can easily see why lack of mobility in our hips will hinder our athletic performance. Hip mobility is also essential to perform a deep squat pattern. The squat is one of my strength and conditioning essentials movements that will play a huge role in developing lower body strength. So as a result I am a big fan of the following exercise that will add to the strength and conditioning essentials for mobility.
Squat to Stand (frog squat)
This mobility drill with the arm reach also works on thoracic extension. This leads us into our 4th and final strength and conditioning essentials for mobility.
Poor thoracic mobility leads to poor posture which in turn will lead to less optimal athletic positions and have negative impact on performance. I see a lot of the tall athletes I work with suffer from a lack of thoracic mobility, due to continued slumping forward, constantly ducking down and even a lack of confidence in their high, so slumping to look shorter. This has a big impact on shoulder health. Vitally important for athletes that participate in throwing sports – cricket, baseball, shot put etc. and other sports that require great degrees of shoulder flexion and extension such as volleyball. A lack of thoracic mobility can also cause some excessive lumbar extension which will lead to lower back pain and weaknesses throughout the trunk and glutes. My strength and conditioning essentials for thoracic mobility is :
Lying iron cross
Bonus Mobility essential.
It’s very hard to pin point 4 essentials and as you can see doing one will have a cross over and positive effect on other joints both proximally and distally from the joint you’re focused on. As a bonus as I’m feeling generous, I have added a shoulder mobility drill to the list. As stated above shoulder mobility is hugely important. Lack of mobility in this joint can lead to a variety of issues in surrounding joints. Our goal is to limit injuries to our athletes and for this reason I try to add in the following strength and conditioning essential for shoulder mobility.
So there it is, 5 great mobility exercises to do every day to keep your athletes performing their best. In the next part of strength and conditioning essentials we will look at some drills to help with weak or under active muscles that are vital for optimal and injury free performances often referred to as activation.