3 Common Bodybuilding Mobility Problems and How to Fix Them

Problem #1: Persistent shoulder pain

As a bodybuilder, prominent, rounded shoulders are your calling card; without solid delts, it’s hard to find your way to success as on the stage. Bodybuilding competition judges are looking for that V-tapered upper body, starting with broad shoulders, punctuated by rounded delts and tapering down to a trim waist.

 

It’s no secret what the judges are looking for, so of course you’d want to continue to add size to your delts. But what are you supposed to do when you can’t even press a 10 pound dumbbell overhead without feeling pain and clicking in your shoulder joint?

 

Don’t freak out. Pain and clicking in the shoulder is common, and if it wasn’t caused by a sudden, traumatic injury, chances are it’s easily treatable at home.

 

If you try to pinpoint the location of the pain and clicking, does it seem to be coming from that bony protrusion at the end of your clavicle? That area is called the AC (acromioclavicular) joint, which is where your arm and clavicle meet. The function of the AC joint is to allow you to raise your arm overhead, and that’s why it hurts so much when you try to shoulder press.

 

The weird thing about pain in the AC joint is that the pain isn’t actually coming from your shoulder. It’s coming from your pecs!

 

When your pectoral muscle is tight it’s because it’s stuck in a shortened state, forcing your shoulder to roll forward and strains the AC joint. To fix that forward rolling, you’ll need to help your pec return to a normal length by loosening it with massage. A small, firm ball (like a lacrosse ball) is the perfect tool for loosening your pec. Here’s how to do it:

 

Roll pecs with lacrosse ball or mobility sphere

  • Stand facing a door frame

  • Place lacrosse ball or mobility sphere (5 in. diameter) between your pec and the doorframe

  • Lean forward, using your bodyweight to dig the ball into your pec

  • Rock side to side while maintaining pressure to roll out your pec

  • If you notice a sore spot, pause on that spot for 15-30 seconds before continuing to roll

 

Problem #2: Inability to engage the lats

In a V-shaped upper body the lats, or latissimus dorsi, are the long lines on either side that taper from the widest point (the shoulders) to the narrowest point (the waist). Without well-built lats, a bodybuilder’s upper body might look disproportional because there’s no smooth transition from shoulders to waist.

 

Maybe even harder than building your lats, though, is learning how to flex them. Flexing the lats isn’t a movement we do throughout the day, so it’s tough to learn how to do it. But since almost all bodybuilding divisions for both women and men include at least one mandatory pose that requires the lats to be held in a flexed position, it’s a skill that we bodybuilders have to master.

 

Here are a few mobility exercises you can try, both to loosen your lats and help you gain a better mind-muscle connection with this big muscle that you can’t see.

 

 

 

Lat stretch

  • Reach your right hand up as high as you can, then grab your right wrist with your left hand

  • Lean your ribs to the right as you pull on your arm with your left hand

  • You should feel a deep stretch all along the side of your body

  • Repeat on left side

 

foam roll lats

 

 

Roll lat with foam roller

  • Lay on your right side

  • Stretch your right arm overhead and place foam roller in your armpit, perpendicular to your body

  • Use your legs and left arm to help you roll your right side along the foam roller

  • Repeat on left side

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep lat massage with lacrosse ball

  • Lay on your right side and reach your right arm out in front of you, perpendicular to your body

  • Bend your elbow to 90 degrees so your palm faces you

  • Place the lacrosse ball underneath your lat and let your body weight sink into it

  • Use your legs and left arm to help you roll the lacrosse ball along your lat lengthwise

 

 

 

 

 

Another challenging thing about building the lats is that they’re almost always asymmetrical, with the dominant side -- the side of the hand you write with -- being larger or wider than the other side.

 

Everyone has a dominant and nondominant side, and that influences the way we train. The dominant lat often carries more of the load during exercises like pullups or barbell rows, and the more work it does, the more it grows.

 

To combat this, not only should you pay special attention to your non-dominant lat as you do our recommended mobility exercises, but you should make sure to regularly include unilateral exercises in your workouts. When you do this, begin with the weaker side, then match the number of reps with your stronger side.

Problem #3: Lower body inflexibility

If you ask any bodybuilder which is the best exercise for building the legs, they’ll tell you it’s the squat. The squat activates the hamstrings, quads, and glutes, and going heavy can help you pack on size pretty quickly. But if your squat form is wrong, you can easily get hurt and be forced to hang up your squat shoes and stick to the Smith machine. There are lots of things that can cause incorrect squat form, and most of them have to do with lower body mobility.

Stiff ankles

If your ankles are stiff, you’ll find it tough to get into a deep squat without your heels lifting off the ground. If you can’t get all the way down to the bottom of a squat, you won’t be cashing in on your full range of muscle activation throughout the movement. To fix stiff ankles, you’ll want to work on your calves:

 

Calf stretch

  • Start with your right foot. Place your toes on an elevated surface like a step or a weight plate

  • Hold onto something for stability if necessary

  • Lower your right heel to the ground and hold for 15 seconds, then slowly release

  • Repeat on left foot

 

Roll calf with lacrosse ball

  • Sit on the ground with your feet straight out in front of you

  • Place the lacrosse ball underneath your right calf and press down into it

  • Slowly roll back and forth along your calf from the knee to the ankle

  • Repeat on left calf

Tight hips

Another common bodybuilding mobility problem that can wreak havoc on your squat is tight hip flexors. If your hip flexors are tight, you may have trouble keeping your torso upright during the movement because your shortened hip flexors are pulling you forward. Here are our favorite exercises to fix tight hip flexors:

 

Roll hip flexor with mobility sphere

  • Laying on your stomach, place a 5 inch diameter mobility sphere just below your right hip bone

  • Roll side to side in short strokes AND forward and backward in long strokes, pausing and holding on any sore spots

 

Runner’s stretch

  • Kneel on the ground, then place your right foot flat on the ground in front of you so that your knee is at a 90 degree angle

  • Keep your torso upright and squeeze your glute to push your hip forward. You should feel a stretch all along the front of your hip.

  • Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on left side

 

Whether you lift for fun or as a means to compete in a bodybuilding competition, chances are you’ve faced shoulder pain, trouble flaring your lats, or lower body inflexibility giving you trouble with your squat. Although these three common bodybuilding mobility problems are frustrating, just remember that they’re all totally fixable if you take a little time to work on your mobility regularly.