One of the hardest things to do as a coach is somehow figure out how to combine strength, speed, mobility and power training all in one training session. If you’re like me, you’re only allotted an hour to train most athletes, and unfortunately, not all athletes are flexible enough to get into the ranges of motion you as a coach want them to reach.
Personally, I find the most troublesome ranges of motion to teach are for the Olympic lifts.
While these movements are by far the most useful in increasing power production, they are by far the most difficult to get an athlete’s body used to.
The Olympic lifts call for extreme:
- shoulder internal and external rotation
- shoulder flexion
- wrist extension
- knee flexion
- hip flexion
- hip extension
That’s a total of six ranges of motion that need to be mobile AND durable enough to support hundreds of pounds… and all of that needs to be done in a total of sixty minutes while also allowing the athlete enough time to fit in their other lifts and speed work.
Luckily for you, over the years I have come up with what I believe to be three of the most effective mobility drills for increasing range of motion in the Olympic style lifts. If done correctly during rest periods, these three drills will help your athlete feel more comfortable with a barbell in their hands, and also help you as a coach with session time management.
PVC Prayer Stretch
The most important detail of this drill is to make sure that the knees are completely under the hips while the hips are in flexion. If not placed properly, then the increased, or decreased, hip flexion will contribute to an overly flexed, or stretched, lower abdomen, and thus a ‘loosening’ of the torso and less of a desired stretch.
The second most important thing during this drill is keeping the core as tight as possible as pressure is being applied. Keeping a tight core implies ‘keeping the ribs tucked to the spine,’ and the lower abdomen braced as if it was waiting to receive a kick from a donkey.
If done correctly, the athlete should look like a tabletop. Once the position is established, then the athlete is given a PVC pipe which is to be held in a prone position.
Resistance Band Front Rack Stretch
This next stretch is an easy one to set up and which only requires a light resistance band and a rig and/or squat rack to tie the band around. Height of the band in relation to the athlete’s body is subjective, but usually the lower the band is to the floor, the more of a stretch the band will give the “front rack position”. The “front rack position” is the position the barbell is in at the end of a clean, or before the start of a power/split jerk. Most athletes have a hard time getting their elbows and shoulders high enough in order for the barbell to sit right above their collarbones. However, with this stretch those problems are mitigated.
Once the athlete has the band tied up around their rig of choice it is important to instruct them that they have to have their whole wrist and hand inside the band before they begin. Once both wrist and hand are in the band they should “wrap their hand around the band,” as if they were trying to squeeze water out of it. If not, the band will slide out of their grasp and snap behind them rendering the stretch useless.
Once hand position is established, the athlete must externally rotate their shoulder, get their elbow to the sky and walk forward… all while maintaining their postural integrity. If the “ribs flare” then the athlete loses the desired stretch in the triceps and lats as they walk forward. However, if done correctly then the long head of the tricep will feel a massive stretch from the armpit area along with the lats.
Glued Overhead Squat
The great thing about this last stretch is its applicability not only to weightlifting, but top speed mechanics, drills, and overall shoulder health. Nonetheless, just like the other two mobility drills, this one requires core stiffness and postural control.
The “Glued Overhead Squat” sounds more menacing than it is. All it requires is a PVC pipe and a wall. The athlete is instructed to get their hands into an overhead position that would resemble their snatch receiving position, or overhead squat position, and then place their back against the wall with their feet a decent distance from the wall.
With both the hands overhead holding the PVC pipe, and the back against the wall, the athlete is then to do a squat with their feet as wide as their usual squatting stance. If done correctly, the external rotation mixed with an upright posture will cause an intense stretch in both the pecs and biceps of both arms.
Note: It is important to understand that if the stretch is too much, then the athlete may need to get their hands wider.
As simple as it sounds to do, a lot of coaches go wrong in how they tell their athletes to position their heads. Newcomers to the overhead squat position will want to poke their hands obnoxiously through their arms in order to limit the stretch in the upper body. As a coach, it is important to make sure that the one who’s doing the drill has their head perfectly stacked over the shoulders and tightened core. If not done right, not only are the shoulder musculature and and upper back muscles getting hit, but so is the athlete’s ability to do a deep squat. This one really gives you bang for your buck.
The best time to use these mobility drills is at any time your athlete is going into a rest period from a set, or speed drill, and they look tight in the aforementioned areas the mobility may hit. It doesn’t have to be strictly an Olympic weightlifting session for these drills to be done. The mobility granted allows for it to be used no matter the context. An athlete that can move their shoulder better in and out of shoulder flexion is going to use better arm action, and an athlete who can reach a deep squat with a barbell overhead is going to have lots of elastic energy stored in their hip flexors for when it’s time to extend those hips in a sprint. Mobility, when coached correctly, is never a weakness.
About the Author: Khalil Harrison
Khalil has been in the fitness realm since 2008 when training for high school wrestling. After 5 years of competitive wrestling and being under a barbell, Khalil began to coach as a sports performance coach. He has experience working with high school soccer, lacrosse, hockey and wrestling teams. Khalil also is a certified USA Olympic Weightlifting coach as well as a national level athlete in the 67kg weight class.
Khalil is continuing his education at CUNY Lehman College in their Human Performance graduate program.