Jonathan Ross by Jonathan Ross

In common usage, “mobility training” has come to mean what “flexibility training” once meant for many of our clients. Whatever we are calling it, it’s a good idea to examine two joints essential for movement.

Mobility Gatekeepers: Hips and Shoulders

The hips and shoulders provide the most potential mobility in all three planes of movement and they form the point of connection between the extremities and the torso. As a result, successful movement is only possible with sufficient mobility in these two joints. An individual’s arm movement is only as good as the shoulders; likewise, leg movement is only as good as the hips.

This article highlights two very common problems for each joint and presents a few exercises to work on a solution for each.

The order of the exercises will follow a sequence of:


  • Soften = Self-massage, with the intent of either regenerating the tissue we want to be more active or softening restricted tissue that is preventing movement of the target area
  • Lengthen = Stretching, joint distraction
  • Strengthen = Activating muscle or “strengthening” (even though we are not using strength loads, this term will be most familiar to clients)

There are times where it is appropriate to perform self-massage both before and after exercise. (For more details and helpful tips on self-massage techniques, check out this ACE blog.) Self-massage can be used to loosen tight tissue (similar to how chewing gum needs to be chewed to blow a bubble) and can rehydrate and “wake up” inhibited tissue.

Common Hip Problem: Glutes Don’t Work When Doing Glute Bridges

Just because we call it a glute bridge doesn’t mean it will automatically work the glutes. For many people who never feel this exercise in their glutes, it makes sense to consider why. Most often, it is tightness and/or hypertonicity in the hip flexor muscles that is neurologically inhibiting the glutes from firing. Often this is combined with more use of the lower back and hamstrings to pick up the slack for the neighboring glutes. So people lift their butts, but the butt muscles don’t do much of the work.

The Fix for “Gluteless” Glute Bridges


1. Glute
2. Adductor




Tri-planar Hip Flexor Stretch With Joint Distraction

Complete 5 reps each of the following as shown in the video. 

  • Front-to-back Shift
  • Lateral Flexion
  • Hip Rotation (each direction)



Glute Bridge

Perform 12-15 reps. The use of the Sling Shot is optional and adds a frontal plane load to the traditional sagittal plane movement of a glute bridge.



Common Shoulder Problem: Rounded Shoulders When Rowing Because Back Muscles Don’t Work

Rounded shoulders during rowing is more common in men than women simply because men are more likely to spend an inordinate amount of time training the chest muscles. However, because both men and women spend a lot of time sitting, it’s become a concern for everyone. When performing an exercise such as a seated cable row or single-arm dumbbell row, for example, you often see the arms doing all the work.

Shortened chest and/or shoulder muscles potentially combine with shortened, overactive upper-trapezius muscles to inhibit action of the lower and middle trapezius and rhomboids. This inhibits proper scapula motion when rowing and limits the action of the back muscles. The problem is illustrated in this video.

The Fix for Inactive Upper Back Muscles


1. Chest (Strand and Ball)
2. Upper Trapezius (Body Back Buddy)



Suspension Trainer Shoulder Stretch

Complete 10 reps with a brief hold in open shoulder position.




Scapula Dips

Perform 20 dips. 


Wrap Up

The soften, lengthen, strengthen sequence provides an opportunity to rapidly improve the health and hydration of a tissue and optimize nervous system control, and gets the right muscles firing at the right time. Wherever you see a mobility problem, consider how you can use various exercises in this sequence to improve a client’s function.

Functional training can help all adults improve movement efficiency. Learn how you can functionally train your clients with ACE’s Functional Training Specialist program.

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