If you lift weights or play sports regularly, chances are you repeat the same movement patterns a lot. The key to getting stronger, building more muscle and staying injury-free is to look after the muscles that perform these movements. If you don’t, they’ll tighten over time, restricting the range of motion through your joints, especially your ankles, hips, back and shoulders.
Mobility is the ability to apply strength through a functional range of motion. If that range of motion is compromised, it will stop you from working out to your full capacity. For example, if you overwork your chest with too much bench pressing, your pectoral muscles will tighten, reducing your shoulders’ range of motion. The resulting restriction on the force you can put through the joint will limit how much weight you can lift.
Pause for thought
The main thing you can do to avoid these problems is warm up properly. A lot of guys do a couple of light sets then jump straight in with heavy weights. But a far better way to prepare your muscles for a session is to break each exercise down into stages and pause briefly between each one. This will give your body a chance to adapt to the different muscle lengths and tensions the moves require.
If you’re bench pressing, pause for a couple of seconds at the bottom of the movement, and really draw the bar into your chest and squeeze your shoulder blades back and down. With the deadlift, pause and create some tension in the bottom position by pushing your feet into the floor and gripping the bar, without actually lifting it off the floor. For squatting, sit into a deep bodyweight squat for three to five seconds, then stand up explosively. Aim for five sets of five reps for each move.
All filler, no killer
Another useful tool is adding ‘filler’ exercises to rest periods during your main workouts. These are usually stretches that work the opposing muscle groups to the ones being targeted by the lift, whether it’s the bench press, deadlift or squat (see the box ‘Fill Me Up’, left).
It might seem like a hassle, but taking the time to add these to your sessions will help you train more frequently and with greater intensity and consistency, because your joints won’t be restricted by a reduced range of motion. And that means more strength, more muscle growth and fewer injuries.
Fill me up
These filler stretches will enhance your ability to boost strength and build muscle
When you’re… bench pressing – Gym ball Kneeling lat stretch
Hold this stretch for 40-60 seconds between sets, pushing down through your shoulders to open your chest out.
When you’re… deadlifting – Anterior pelvis lunge – Anterior pelvis lunge
Perform this stretch for 30-40 seconds on each side between sets, extending forward through your hips.
When you’re… squatting – Cross-body glute stretch
Hold this stretch for 30-40 seconds on either side between sets, making sure you can feel the stretch in your glutes and core.