Our culture these days is so very sedentary. This affects not only our body; also our mind and spirit. By increasing our mobility and flexibility, we are creating health. Where to start? Grab yourself a copy of Tools of Titans for inspiration. In this hefty titanic book (it’s over 600 pages), you’ll find all sorts of advice, experiments to try, new ways of thinking, different connections to make in your life. It’ll increase your mobility in all kinds of manner.
In Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss has compiled his podcast interviews with “billionaires, icons, and world-class performers.” He scoured the world basically for tactics, philosophies, habits, and secrets to their success. You may know Tim Ferriss from his very popular and best-selling books The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body. Reading this titanic book front to back will take more than four hours! So I’ve done what Tim Ferriss suggested – skipping liberally and intelligently around this buffet of a book.
From some of the world’s premier athletes and coaches, here are some movements to get our mobility back into gear. Remember – if you’ve been a couch potato, start slow. Partner up. Hire a trainer. Check in with your doctor first. There is something we can all do to increase our mobility so let’s find what works for you.
Exercises to Increase Your Mobility
Standing, lift a dowel behind your back. You can also sit and walk your hands behind your hips backwards. The goal is to get to 90 degrees. Talk about increasing our mobility!
JEFFERSON CURL OR THE J-CURL
This is basically a slow stiff-legged deadlift. Christopher Sommer, who developed Gymnastics Strength Training from his four decades of coaching and training experience, told Tim Ferriss : “Progress slowly and patiently. Do not rush. For this type of loaded mobility work, never allow yourself to strain, grind out reps, or force range of motion. Smooth, controlled movement is the order of the day.”
Start your workout with five to ten reps of the J-Curl. For beginners, Tim Ferriss suggests 15 pounds. You can also start with a dowel, 5-lb weights, or just the bar, working ultimately to your body weight on the bar. The goal is to get to 90 degrees.
Remember how easy it was to do the bridge as kids? Well, time to practice that again. Tim Ferriss suggests elevating the feet to focus the stretch on the upper back and shoulders. Hold this position (breathe!) and aim at straightening the arms, building up to straight legs as well. Talk about building mobility.
Tim Ferriss shares in the book that he was no longer laughing after trying these exercises. Former ultra-endurance athlete Peter Attia credits this set of seven basic movements for avoiding knee surgery. For each one, start with 10 to 15 reps. Once you can do 20 reps no problem, add weights to your ankles. If these movements are challenging at first, remember that Tim Ferriss himself thought they were “excruciating.” That’s because for most of us, our gluteus medius muscles are weak!
This first movement is done lying on your side. Support your head with your arm propped up. Keeping your legs straight, lift and lower the top leg. The foot is internally rotated. The goal here is not to lift as high as you can, which reduces the tension. Try for hip width.
For the next exercises, remember to keep your legs straight, toe at the heel level, and move the top leg on a horizontal plane. This means not allowing the top ankle to drop or dip. Start by figuring out what top leg height is challenging for you. It’s in the range of 12 to 18 inches. When you do the circles, the ankles always remain at this distance.
#2 Front Kick/Swing
#3 Back Swing
#4 Full Front and Back Swing (# and #3 with no rest in between the movements)
#5 Clockwise Circles
#6 Counterclockwise Circles
#7 Bicycle Motion
This exercise builds scapular mobility, which is important for upper-body function.
Start in a plank position, elbows on a Swiss ball, with the forearms pointing straight ahead. You can narrow your feet from a wide stance as you progress. In this position, do one set (10 to 15 reps) of the following by using the forearms to move the ball.
- clockwise circles
- counter-clockwise circles
- froward and backward by sliding the elbows 6 to 12 inches in each direction
Charles Poliquin strength coach to elite athletes from across a spectrum of sports – “The rule is : The basics are the basics, and you can’t beat the basics.” When asked which of the back, front, or overhead squat he choses and why, he’s for the front squat. You can’t cheat on the front squat. He also advises to warmup first on a calf machine and to stretch the calves. Ankle mobility decreases lower body injury.
A favourite performance coach of Tim Ferriss, Kelly Starret, has this to say about squats – “If you can’t squat all the way down to the ground with your feet and knees together, then you are missing full hip and ankle range of motion.” If you have hip issues, plantar falsities, torn Achilles, pulled calf, he says it’s it’s because of this problem. How did Tim Ferriss increase his ankle mobility? Cossack squats.
Try out this Ido Portal Scorpion Transition and Cossack squats – great for beginners. Ok maybe start with this first to learn how to do the Cossack squats.
With all this movement, remember to drink lots and lots of water. You can also drop a small pinch of salt like Kelly Starrett to maintain a healthy sodium concentration in the blood. For his post workout, big wave surfer Laird Hamilton enjoys a blend of tumeric root, chaga mushroom, liquid pepper extract, raw honey, apple cider vinegar, and water.
When trying something new, such as targeting muscles not so well used to increase mobility, we are likely to feel challenged and we can feel so tired. Start where you are. Consistency is key. Even focusing on stretching the entire year can yield amazing changes.
Know the difference between fatigue from waking up unused muscles and actual pain. Kelly Starrett speaks about movement and pain pathways in Tools of Titans. This is an example of what fires together wires together. If a movement causes pain, the brain will recognize this movement after repetition. This means even if the injury is healed or there is no trauma, we may still feel pain sensations. He helps his clients to make small alterations to the movement to remap these pathways.
Never forget, training is enjoyable! Get the basics right and your foundation strong and you will find more fun ways to increase your mobility, and keep that well into your later life. And it’s never too late to start.