by Jesse Irizarry T-Nation
Here’s what you need to know…
• Too many lifters waste valuable gym time by doing Jazzercise-like mobility drills and rolling around on obscene-looking knobby rollers.
• Instead they should be doing weight-loaded movements that challenge mobility and stability at absolute thresholds.
• Extended-range belt squats, Sotts presses, and Zercher pulls are three such movements. They have the added bonus of being pretty solid strength and muscle-building movements, too. All you need is a barbell and a dip belt.
While the gym should be a time of focused, intense effort, many lifters squander their precious training time doing too many warm-ups with mobility drill circuits. Now, lifters should continually improve and prioritize range of motion and stability in all movements and positions. That’s a given. However, prioritizing mobility for each muscle group with drills that don’t resemble the big movements you’re trying to master can hinder progress by limiting your gym time. Mobilizations that concentrate on certain areas can be done after or later at home instead of before a workout. There will be plenty of time later to lie on your back and roll around like an upended turtle, if that’s your kind of thing.
A better model is to warm-up tissues with movements similar to what you’ll be doing and to build mobility and stability during the workout with lifts and exercises that challenge range of motion. As such, here are three great lifts that challenge mobility and stability at absolute thresholds. No need for bands, foam rollers, or twenty-step Jazzercise-like mobility circuits before and during the workout, just a barbell and a dip belt. They have the added bonus of being pretty solid strength and muscle-building movements, too.
1. Extended Range Belt Squats
The first under-utilized movement we’ll cover is the extended-range belt squat. To perform it, stand on two parallel benches while wearing a dip belt loaded with as many plates as you deem necessary. Screw your feet into the bench and keep an upright torso and squat as deep as possible with good form. Standing on the benches will allow you to get much deeper and challenge the range of motion of the hips while simultaneously building stability as you try to fight a non-testicle related load that’s swinging underneath you.
As you can see, I descend down to the point where I begin to lose my position. Only do this if the weight is light enough to safely challenge your form and range of motion. If you use lighter weight, you can place yourself in positions where weakness and restrictions can be exposed and addressed.
2. Sotts Presses
It’s time to free this gem from the walls of Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit gyms and bring it to the masses. I believe the Sotts press is the ultimate demonstration of shoulder, thoracic, trunk, and hip range of motion as well as freakish strength and stability.
• Place your hands as wide as you need them.
• Squeeze your glutes and keep your midsection tight, locking your ribcage down and not allowing excessive lower-back arching (this is one of the biggest challenges to upper-body ROM that I’ve ever experienced).
• Make sure to pull your chin in as the bar goes past your face and shift your weight slightly forward at the top so that the bar is in line with your ears and over your base of support.
• With time, range of motion in your shoulders and thoracic spine will improve and you can move your hands closer together to continue to challenge that position.
Don’t push too quickly and sacrifice position for heavier weight. I’m no stranger to heavier weight but it took me a few months to work up to doing a fluid rep with 135 pounds, and you can see how my demonstration with 95 pounds still poses a challenge. Obviously this is for lifters who already have decent range of motion and stability, but you can start with a dowel or unloaded bar pressed against a squat rack or cage if you’re not there yet.
Get in the front rack position with the bar pressing against the posts of the rack. Descend into a front squat and slide the bar against the rack as far up as your range of motion will allow with as wide a grip as you need. As you get better, inch forward so that the bar is farther back over your ears, squeezing your glutes and locking your ribcage down to keep position.
You need to know that this isn’t just one of those novelty lifts that weak guys get good at to try to make themselves seem significant. Doing these in the front position will have an immediate carryover to your pressing strength. They’ll improve your range of motion, sure, but anyone who can hoist serous weight overhead in this position is going to be a big, strong, scary badass.
3. Zercher Pulls
These are great for creating trunk stability as they keep the load close to your center of gravity, thus eliminating any assistance from leverage. It also challenges hip mobility unlike any other squat, pull, or non-specific mobility drill. Keep in mind the pull needs to emphasize hip flexion with minimal knee bend.
While the traditional Zercher deadlift is done from the floor, many will find that placing the bar on low set safety pins or boxes is more manageable at first. Place the bar as low as you can handle without a breakdown in posture. Your back should not round. As you progress, always choose lowering the bar first (thereby extending the range of motion) before adding additional weight. That way you can really challenge and develop motor control in the new range of motion before deciding to add weight.