Nowadays, I work with so many different people with completely different backgrounds but one thing you realise about everyone is: they’re always going to do what they enjoy and what interests them, even if it’s at the expense of their body.
I am not going to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do, but I damn well will make you better equipped to cope with what you’re doing so you don’t break yourself. If you listen to me, you might get a few extra years of performing at a high level, or avoid a surgery in 10 years time, or just be a happy old Granny or Grandad that can skip down the street without a needing a Zimmer Frame.
One of the most amusing things to me is that a lot of the movements I give to people will be the same. All too often you see people looking for specific exercises for their muscle problem, sport, or even age... but if I’m 100% honest, that’s mostly comes from marketing and trying to catch people’s attention.
Often, I will give the exact same shoulder mobility drills to a Powerlifter that’s getting pain when they bench press as I would give to a Yoga practitioner that has shoulder stability issues, because they both have the same goal: strong, stable shoulders that move through the full range of motion. Their progressive focus will be different, the Powerlifter will most likely be focused on the range of motion they can achieve to improve their flexibility, whereas the Yoga practitioner will be concentrating on their control of the movement and potentially increasing resistance over time, building a baseline of stability.
But the reason why they can use the same exercise is: joints like to do joint things. A stiff shoulder fundamentally doesn’t need different things to a wobbly shoulder. As mentioned, they both simply need to be stable through full range of motion... they don’t want to be pummelled with a million reps loaded in limited directions (like just the bench press).
If you get up for a moment and flail your arms around like a stroppy teenager, you’ll see just how many different directions and positions and combinations there are and some people NEVER do any of them - it’s unsurprising why so many people’s necks and shoulders feel like crap, and why tendonitis is so common.
There are so many weird misconceptions and stereotypes around mobility work, be it skipping it entirely or doing way too much of it for no justified reason.
You’ll see teams (usually guys) actively mocking each other for stretching or warming up.
You’ll see Weightlifters, Powerlifters and CrossFitters all on the rollers and lacrosse balls every session avoiding working on their actual movement issues.
You’ll see general Gym-Goers come in from sitting all day in their office jobs, to sit on the machines and move all their muscles in isolation with no awareness of how to move their body as one unit.
You’ll see Body Builders that "don’t have time" to stretch because they already have a dumbbell in one hand and a full chicken in the other, and they are petrified to lock out their joints.
You’ll even see some people in gyms doing so much cardio who are scared to look at the weights in case they turn into Arnold, when in reality they could literally be blown away in a strong wind
...ok, I’m starting to exaggerate a little.
What I want to do is set a baseline of things that EVERYONE should be able to do regardless of what they like to train, which is the premise that The Simplistic Mobility Method® is built upon.
Aside from SMM, here are the Non-Negotiables that you should take in and implement. You’ll find you will run into fewer problems in training, and life. After these, you’ll find a list of Super Tricks that will help you easily implement them into your day!
Take breathing more seriously, and I don’t mean just for your general oxygen intake. Actual breathing technique for relaxing your body when you are stretching or in pain can make the world of difference. Similarly, practicing how to breathe when performing reps, maxes, or doing cardio could see you make more progress than if you never bring attention to it.
When you’re trying to improve a range of motion, if you’re holding your breath and grinding your teeth your body is going to sense you are being resistant and resist further. Relaxing your breath goes a long way to making your body feel safe and relaxing allowing you more range. A large part of your inflexibility comes from your body perceiving something as dangerous. It’s right to be hesitant. If you’ve never done something before it’s only trying to protect you, but, provided you’re not trying to do something way too advanced (or actually dangerous), controlling breath and being able to relax your body during your mobility work will increase your gains in a much shorter time.
Chest breathing is a common side effect of pressure, nerves, even self-consciousness about weight and physical appearance. Basically, you’re not using your diaphragm or lungs very efficiently, and can cause tightness around the neck and shoulders. As well as this, it genuinely can affect your mood. Right now, try this for me:
• Take a long breath in through your nose. Don’t exaggerate and gasp in as if you’re about to hold your breath, instead imagine you’re filling up your lungs, expanding your ribs out to the side and your back and expanding your stomach forwards
• Hold for 2-3 seconds.
• Exhale, through your mouth, taking at least 4 seconds to completely breathe out.
• Imagine your lungs deflating, feel your ribs and stomach relax, drop your shoulders down away from your ears and relax your jaw & forehead
• Repeat 3 times
How do you feel?
In the worst days of my back injury, the only way I could get myself to move during a bad spasm would be 5 or 10 minutes of just diaphragmatic breathing. Being able to ease my panic state through my breathing allowed me to decrease my reliance on painkillers.
With both physical and mental benefits to improving your breathing, it’s something that’s easy but very worth doing. One of the most basic ways to make a start is to ask yourself: are you still breathing? You’ll be surprised how often you’re holding your breath!
2. Move Your Neck Every Which Way, Every Day
Look left, look right, look up, look down, look side to side and every variation in between. People do not move their necks enough and this leads to trap tightness, weakness in the arms and just generally your head becoming fused to your upper body.
If you start to lose the ability to look about, your body will start to move slower and less confidently. Trapped nerves and all that jazz can happen just because you aren’t moving your neck regularly enough - and don’t start thinking it’s your pillows fault or the way that you sleep! You can sleep upside down and sideways if you want, provided when you’re awake you feed your body with good movements regularly.
Ever pulled your neck from just turning to the side? You’re not just unlucky (or getting old) you potentially haven’t been moving your neck well/enough for years, making it feel weak and immobile and it’s scared in case your head falls off. You need to earn the right to make a sharp turn with your noggin, and it comes with maintenance.
3. Do Something for Your Upper Back, Every Day
If you make a habit out of opening your thoracic spine daily, a lot of potential shoulder issues like impingement, forward head posture, rounded shoulders and general "bad posture" just float away.
Through improving your thoracic extension your shoulder blades will be able to move better, your ribs will move better, you will breathe better, you will feel less stiff and more options for upper body training will open up.
A lot of people get caught up with wanting to have perfect posture all the time but it’s a flawed venture. Positions are just positions, sometimes you’ll be slouched, sometimes you’ll be sitting funny, and as long as you do the opposite movements regularly too (extending your upper back, being straight etc.) you will happily meet in the middle and offset any sitting or slouching - there is nothing wrong with those things provided you have balance.
The secret to better thoracic extension is to use thoracic rotation using a movement like the Zenith Rotation:
• Lock your hips in place by sitting on your heels or on a chair.
• Rotate your upper back as far as you can in one direction.
• Take a deep breath in and as you breathe out, rotate further until you feel the stretch intensify.
• Do two more deep breaths, for 3 breaths total, trying to rotate your upper back further each time
• Switch sides and repeat on the other side
This exercise is a good way to learn, but you can effectively do thoracic rotation anywhere, even just sitting in your office chair; it’s the principle that’s important not a specific exercise.
4. Understand What Core Strength Is
It is important to see core work as a way of protecting your spine and moving well, rather than just doing sit ups for rock hard abs.
How to brace correctly falls into the category of core strength, knowing how to create intra-abdominal pressure. You don’t need to deadlift, but you should know how to do it. Being able to lift using your hips without compromising your spine is an incredibly valuable skill and one that applies to general human movement, not just inside the gym with a barbell.
But staying stiff & strong isn’t the only movement your spine can do, there are discs between each vertebrae which gives your spine the ability to twist and bend like a whip made of chains (pretty cool right?). You should bend yourself laterally, forwards, backwards and all little combinations in between, don’t over think it though, yes pick some exercises that do those things and train them but never underestimate the power of just dancing about like a kid that’s had too many sweets for a few minutes. Never be afraid to move your spine!
As well as bracing and movement, you also need strength. You want to know how to resist being pulled out of a position by an external force such as a person, weight... or an unexpected bolt when dog your sees a squirrel. You can train this with partner exercises or using a resistance band that’s pulling you in different directions. For complete core strength, you want the ability to create and maintain tension in any position you can move into, it’s not useful to move a certain way if you can’t be strong there, that’s how you can get easily hurt.
Lastly, proprioception and balance also fall into core strength. Your hand eye coordination, agility and balance all play a part in creating a stronger, more "intelligent" body that moves better. If your body is extremely confident in your ability to not fall over, it has less reason to slow you down - relaxed play like throwing & catching a ball with a partner while balancing on one leg may seem silly, but it’s exactly this relaxed unorganised, unscripted chaos that causes your body to learn how to react faster. Create the stimulus for your body to learn and think for itself quickly and it will give you all kinds of good things in return.
There are 4 principles I break core strength down into:
• Isometric (Bracing / Staying still)
• Rotational (Moving)
• Anti Rotational (Resisting external force)
• Reactive (Responding to unexpected change)
Have a healthy balance of all 4 and your core training will be complete. Most go wrong by putting an unholy amount of attention into planks which is only one element (Isometric). Move your spine like a spine and it won’t turn into an immobile stick. If you don't know where to start then we have a handy dandy educational series called Ultimate Core to give you everything you need for a strong core & healthy spine!
5. Do Something That Requires Balance, Every Day
Continuing on from Reactive Core strength, balance also gives you ankle, knee & hip stability gains.
Prolonged periods of balance are incredibly beneficial for your body and is basically how you create stability: small micro movements cause you to constantly make corrections. Plus, you can take yourself to the point of fatigue quite safely, allowing for significant adaptations in a short amount of time, giving you more endurance and strength to be able to endure harder forms of training.
If you find balance challenging, then you are never going to feel as strong or as "springy" as you could. Same as anything, there are many levels of proficiency and you just need to find out where you’re at. For some it starts with standing on one leg and simply trying to build up to 10 seconds each side, but eventually you want to find standing on one leg so easy that you could do it all day.
Once you have reached a level that you find balance "easy" then it’s up to you to find drills to make it harder again so your body still makes gains: sprinting drills, closed eyes balance, limiting how much foot you are balancing on, wobble boards, whatever takes your fancy, just don’t get complacent! If you’re not finding what you’re doing hard anymore then you’re getting nothing from it.
This is where I see a lot of mid-level athletes get stuck, they assume because they’re quite good at a few things that their aches, pains & stiffness are the result of being unlucky... but what actually has happened is while they’re increased strength & skills in some areas, they have forgotten to bring the fundamental skill of balance with them.
Balance should feature every day or appear some way in your training program.
6. Rotate Your Rotatable Joints & Rotate Them Often
It’s really, really, really strange that this needs to be pointed out so much.
Shoulders and hips are ball & socket joints, meaning they have the capacity for so many different combinations of movements... and yet when people do corrective exercises for them they do the most limited and specific ranges of motion that borderline on pointless.
When you start to rotate your shoulders and hips more often you feed the joint what it wants. You gain better stability and even muscle activation because there are fewer gaps, you’re shoulders/hips regularly pass through so many different positions that it confidently knows it can go up, down, left, right and sideways without hurting or catching or nipping, resulting in a heck of a lot better performance than the guy stuck doing isolated external rotator exercises.
My recommendation for the best shoulder and hip movements can be quite technical, I like to call them:
I have replaced multiple exercises in people’s programs with just 2 or 3 drills and they felt better in a matter of weeks than they have in years of fancy, over-complicated warm ups and protocols.
There is a place for certain exercises when you’re talking about a fresh injury or surgery rehab, but a large majority of hip & shoulder health really comes down to just: move your joints like joints.
You don’t need to be the International Internal Rotation Champion either. If you can do internal and external rotation to some degree and they feel relatively similar on the left and right sides of your body you’ll be alright. You can get caught up trying to create "perfect" joints with "perfect" ranges of motion and still get hurt. In some cases, your belief that you have really specific "weaknesses" can really hinder your strength. Notice differences between sides for sure but remember everything is changeable ... and it might not even be that bad!
If you are not already doing rotational movements in your warm ups and cool downs then you are missing out! You don’t know what recovery is until you add this to your life!
7. Look After The Little Guys
Feet, ankles, hands, and wrists are the cause of so many "whoopsies" that it only makes sense to add some extra durability to them.
Sure, it may not be cool or sexy to be the person doing toe exercises and ankle rotations, but you know what else isn’t cool? A sprained wrist or ankle, or plantar fasciitis, or Achilles tendonitis.
Your feet are the things that hold you up all day, if you devote time to making them stronger such as through balance (multiple crossovers! Woohoo!) then a lot of good stuff comes of it upstream!
If you have weak feet, then everything else could collapse on you. Move your ankles in all the ways they can move and even put a little pressure on them in unfavourable angles - you don’t want the first time you ever go over on your ankle to be... the first time you’ve ever gone over on your ankle with your entire body weight crashing down as you stumble off a step. Practising "bad positions" can give yourself a bit of wiggle room that could mean the difference between a small sprain or a full-blown snap. You’ll never be fully injury proof, but you can give yourself a nice buffer by doing the right things often enough.
For the wrists, you want to gradually increase how much load they can tolerate by leaning on them in different positions while they’re on a wall or the floor. If you train wrist-intensive movements like handstands or muscle ups, your durability will improve the more you practice, meaning you don’t need to spend as much time working your wrists in isolation - but don’t forget to do the "opposite" movements. Like slouching & thoracic extension we talked about earlier, if you’re spending a lot of time in handstands (wrist extension) a large part of your additional wrist work should be in flexion to build balanced strength.
Too many times I have seen incredibly strong people being held back by their wrists, so make sure to move them through flexion, extension, and also radial & ulnar deviation (side to side). Plus, did you know that you can rotate your ankles and wrists?! So, you know what that means... *points to tip number 6*
Grip is also a nice addition to consider; strong grip, strong person, that’s just the way it works. Carry heavy things, make sure you can hold your own bodyweight from a bar easily. You don’t need to be so strong that you could crush someone’s skull with your bare hands... but it’s pretty cool to think you could if you had to...
8. Go Into The Deepest Positions You Can, Every Day
It doesn’t need to be a mad, intense, life-changing, stretching session, but just sitting as deep into your squat as you can, reaching up above your head as high as you can and reaching down towards your toes, etc. once daily can be enough to start making an improvement, maintain your flexibility, or notice if it’s regressing.
That last one is quite important but often forgotten; be it through training or inactivity, if you start to lose a range of motion or movement pattern, you want to reclaim it as fast as possible.
Losing the ability to move a certain way can happen easier than you think. It’s not a frantic race against time, so don’t freak out... but the "use it or lose it" principle is very applicable to your body and how you move. I meet people that have no interest in overhead pressing, handstands or pull ups and their shoulders are in bits - they simply never have a reason to reach straight above their head, so they lose the ability to do so.
Similarly, when you don’t regularly sit deep into your hips (e.g. with squats or lunges) they can lose the ability to move properly too, so your lower back is forced to compensate by moving more than it should. You can see why lower back pain becomes so "normal" as we get older.
Moving through your deepest ranges doesn’t need to be fancy. You can hold on to a door frame and sit into your squat, then stand up, bend over putting your hands on the wall with straight arms and lean your chest forward, then stand up and touch your toes - done. The main thing is that you do some sort of test like that daily, that way you’ll be way more body aware and KNOW the second something starts to feel the slightest bit funky.
Your mobility does not need to be a "training session" and you don’t need to sweat. That’s often a barrier for someone to commit to morning routine: you don’t want to get all sweaty if you only have a few minutes to get ready for work and go out the door... but having a just few things that feel great, that you can do while half asleep still in your pyjamas, that will set you up for the rest of the day? That’s something you can be consistent with and THAT’S the thing you need, it’s the thing everyone needs.
You don’t need to be going 100% and feel sore the next day to make a physical difference to yourself.