Four of Nelson’s Favorite Mobility Movements
About a year ago, I wrote a blog about training for longevity, which you can read here. It was one of the most popular blogs I have written, and the question I have been asked the most since was what I was doing for mobility. I shared my simple routine with a few people, and everyone that added it to their training regimen felt much better. I am not a physical therapist or any kind of medical practitioner, but I truly believe a mobility routine can help you reverse some of the wear and tear we inflict on ourselves
When drilling comes around, we pretty often hear our students and training partners say something like careful when you try that, I have a bad ankle, or knee, or shoulder. This is normal. We practice something physical, and we are literally trying to break each other’s limbs. However, these injuries often linger as we train through them, and many of us come to accept them as our new normal.
I had reached that point with my hands and my knees, until my friend Matt started working on his own mobility to help with his hip issues. He started showing me a few drills, and I have been working on a few of those drills for years. Over the last year I have been pretty consistent, and I feel and move much better. I can spar takedowns without fear of my knees popping as I defend a single leg again, something that had become an issue last year, and I am confident working in and out leg locks again.
Here are the mainstays of my mobility routine:
My friend Kevin Sheridan showed me this one long time ago. He is a big yoga practitioner and believes this was one of the most important stretches for a BJJ guy. If you have knee or ankle mobility issues, this will show it. If you are unable to be in this position, as I see with white belts all the time, it’s a matter of time before someone tries to sweep you and forces you into this position. I have seen it many times: Either the ankle or knee goes, and often people are confused as to how they got injured. It was "just a sweep!"
Sitting with your ankles outside your hips puts more strain on your knees, while sitting on your ankles puts more pressure on them.
Finally, going up on your toes puts the stress on your toes. Play around with all three, you will quickly find out which one you need to work on.
Social media videos about Asian squats and the inability of Westerners to hold this position make the rounds every few months. This is especially important for our sport. Being able to maintain this position shows you have working hips, ankles, and knees. The better you move in and out from this position will make your guard and passing better. Many times, I see white belts struggle to learn simple passes because of mobility challenges. They understand the concept but are unable to move from a low squatting position. For example, some knee cut variations can frustrate people that are unable to get here.
Practicing holding the squat will help. As you work on it, you will be able to get lower and lower. Also work on moving around and opening your hips.
Opening your hips and bringing your knees down can add a challenge if you need it. Matt showed me the knee down drill at the height of my hip and knee issues. While my squat was decent, my knee felt like it would explode if I brought it inside. It took me about six months to be able to do these.
I grew up watching Dragon Ball. The main character always did these before big fights. I would play around and do them, as I trained to be a super saiyan.
Years later, as I got into kettlebells, I started reading Pavel articles, and I recognized these! Cossack squats are a great way to work on your hamstring and adductor flexibility. These are great for opening up your hips and improving your guard.
Of all the crazy drills Matt had me work on, this is the one that I had the most issues with. Not only was my flexibility terrible from this position, so was my mobility. A year later, I am still working on this drill daily. Working on isometric contractions from this hold are a special kind of torture. If you want to learn more, look for "90/90 hip stretch PAILS/RAILS" on YouTube. There are a ton of resources by people much more knowledgeable than me.
These movements are a big part of my mobility routine. If you are having issues with your knees and hips -- and if you been training for long enough you probably do --try some of these with the supervision and input of your physician of course. You will be amazed at how different your game can feel once you clear up a few issues. Work on your mobility, prevent injuries, train longer.