Mobility Work Within Powerlifting – Where It’s Applicable

The post-quarantine block for Brandon was a success, and in particular was very productive in his switch from conventional to sumo deadlift. Here is just a 2-week difference (CLICK HERE), with a comparison of 451×3 to 501×3. While there was bound to be improvement from the natural progression of a new movement and not having done sumo deadlifts before, the main difference can be seen in his hip mobility and then positioning on that final rep. 451lbs. wasn’t necessarily heavy, but it became a grinder quickly on that 3rd rep due to positioning. He got stuck right at that mid thigh position, where as with 501lbs. he was able to have an easier time pulling through that, albeit heavier weight that was just naturally harder. As for why he got stuck, I break that down fully in my deadlift tutorial video on Youtube. But for how we fixed this, it came down to mobility, which as of recent times has become somewhat of a taboo word after the fad where everything was about “mobility”. But there is a time and a place for everything. While fads can get overdone, they usually have merit in some aspect, and in the case of Brandon let’s dig deeper and understand why.

When I program mobility work for an athlete, it is not to necessarily increase joint range of motion, it’s to access the range of motion they already have. Every person has a genetic capability for their joint range of motion, and for the most part we can’t change that barring long term bone remodeling from forced high exertion stretching. What we are trying to achieve is that end range that someone already has, but struggles to find access too. So for someone who is performing sumo deadlifts for the same time, there is a good chance they have higher perceived tightness in this wider stance that requires increased abduction. To Brandon, it seemed very hard to be able to open up his hips much more on the 451×3 video than he already was. And looking at the 2 videos, thats probably the striking difference. After 2 weeks of dedicated sumo mobility work, Brandon was able to achieve a much better position due to not having that same perceived tightness, allowing him to be able to get closer to the end range of his joint mobility.

My point in bringing this up is that when we start or come back to a movement such as sumo deadlift or low bar squat, we may have this new perceived tightness from a lack of accessing that end range joint movement for a certain time frame. I see this often with low bar squatting, that if we take a period of time away and come back, athletes will have increased flare ups of low bar related shoulder, bicep, and elbow pain from the demands for higher degrees of external rotation. I also see this on low bar squats at times when the load starts to build up after periods of not being as heavy.  During these instances, I’ll try to be mindful to be proactive in having an athlete increase their pre-lift mobility work. Or in the case of Brandon and never before sumo deadlifting, he needed some type of mobility work to allow him to access end range joint range of motion that he hadn’t before. And then generally after those first couple weeks it’s less about finding more, and more about maintaining. As mentioned, our goal isn’t to increase our joint range of motion per se, its just to find our genetic capability that is blocked from some form of tightness.

And one last point with low bar squats in particular that I find very important and too often neglected, is that as powerlifters we bench a lot. Benching promotes internal rotation of the shoulder, as that is one of the primary functions of the pectoral muscle. We are constantly battling this internal rotation for benching compared to external rotation for low bar squatting, so I often see athletes needing year round dedicated shoulder mobility work to combat this. This is an example of where you might need dedicated mobility work year round if this is an issue you struggle with. The previous examples are more for times of introduction or reintroduction of a movement, but there are also times mobility work may just need to be a staple within your pre-lift routine.

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