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.
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
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.
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:
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
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
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.