How to create a mobility training program that actually gets results (and keeps your clients excited for more)Mar 08, 2023
Creating a world-class mobility program, that isn’t drop-dead boring, isn’t as complicated as you might think. In fact, I'd argue it’s probably easier than programming any other style of program once you understand the fundamentals. If you’ve experienced any of our programs at Primal Mobility, you already know that mobility training can be fun and interesting, but may not understand where to get started on executing mobility assessments, programming for yourself and your clients, and building a lucrative coaching career out of it in the process.
If you want to learn how to start your journey as a world-class mobility expert, this article will explain it all for you. While there are many different angles that we believe are important to consider in the art of coaching, we’ll start by diving into the nuances of mobility assessments and mobility programming.
I’m sure you already have an idea of what a mobility assessment is, but there are likely some ingredients that you may not have thought of yet. And without you even having to ask me what they are, I’m just going to tell you (I’ll take any excuse to talk about anything mobility related). A mobility assessment is a series of movement tests performed by the client that is then analyzed by the coach. The tests are designed to challenge the biomechanics of various components of the human body. These movements can test our joints in isolation or even in a global manner where we can have a look at how each of our joints works cohesively with other neighbouring joints in a series of patterns (squats, overhead position, etc.). The Primal Mobility Assessment Protocol consists of 9 movement tests that are split up between isolated joint tests and global movement tests. Here is what we include in ours:
•Kneeling Dorsiflexion Test
•Prone Shoulder External Rotation Test
•Prone Shoulder Flexion Test
•Supine Shoulder Internal Rotation Test
•Seated Hip Rotation Test
Example of an isolated joint test that we send to our clients: https://youtu.be/UZ2Re13tyn0
Global Movement Test
•Bodyweight Squat Test
•Front Squat Test
•Overhead Press Test
Example of an isolated joint test that we send to our clients: https://youtu.be/_3Fqv1QZdK4
The movement tests that are included in an Assessment protocol will often vary depending on which coach, or professional, is executing it. However, they will frequently be used at the very beginning of a working relationship (when a client first begins training with a mobility coach), after 1-2 cycles of training with their mobility coach (this can be anywhere from 4-16 weeks), and again at the end of the working relationship (when the client is moving on and will no longer be working with the coach anymore). This allows the client to frequently see what kind of progress they are making throughout their journey with the coach and remain excited and curious about the process.
When To Use A Mobility Assessment
•When starting out with a new mobility coaching client
•If a client is presenting new challenges/issues that need to be better understood
•If the client is struggling to understand what kind of progress is being made
•When the coach needs to see how the client's body is responding to the programming approach being delivered (generally after 1-2 programming cycles)
•As a client is leaving the coaches roster so that they can understand how they need to move forward on their own and the results they’ve achieved from their previous efforts with the coach
Once a coach has completed their assessment with the client, they will be in a much better position to create a strategic program that targets the top priorities as needed. Like Michelangelo with a brush in hand, standing in front of an empty canvas, this is where the coach finally gets to put their creativity to work. Programming should be a fun, creative, and engaging experience for the coach, but it can also be overwhelming and daunting if you don’t understand how and where to begin. Well, since you asked, let’s talk about the important pieces to consider when putting together a mobility program!
Mobility Programming Components
Programming is an opportunity for the mobility coach to not only express their passion but also to continue to hone the skills to master their craft. When first considering putting together a mobility training program, it can feel slightly overwhelming if you aren’t sure about the various components that should be included. But there’s a wee little secret I want to share with you that will make it all so much easier…mobility training is strength training.
If you understand some of the principles of strength training, programming for mobility will become much more simple; if you don’t, you’re shit out of luck (kidding, obviously, we’ll make sure it’s simple enough for you to understand!). That said, there are some nuances to mobility training that we’ll shine a light on here.
Let’s take a look at the 4 main components to consider when creating your mobility training programs - the style of workout routines, the prescription held within those routines, how to apply progressive overload principles to ensure the appropriate development of mobility, and periodization principles that allow us to structure a program that follows a strategic path over an extended period of time.
Mobility Workout Routines
This is a piece of the puzzle that can certainly overwhelm even the best of coaches. At Primal Mobility, we use 5 different styles of routines to help the coach achieve the particular results they are attempting to create. Let’s chop 'em up…
Daily: A daily routine should be something that focuses on helping the client move their problem areas frequently, but with low intensity to help avoid DOMS and overuse issues. This is great for those who sit a lot throughout the day and those that are very restricted in particular areas. Remember to keep this routine short and sweet…avoid boring your clients with their mobility training at all costs.
Targeted: This is a routine that will focus specifically on 1-2 areas. Generally speaking, if you’re creating this routine to focus on two areas, you’ll want to make sure it’s a logical combination according to movement mechanics (ie. ankles and hips, thoracic and shoulders, hips and low back, etc.). Targeted routines are great for making strong progress to particular areas and can give you the opportunity to bring in as much intensity as you feel is needed for the client and the situation.
Pattern: A pattern-based routine will focus on specific movement mechanics that are correlated to a particular pattern that you want to improve. Let’s say a powerlifting client comes to you complaining of a shallow squat and low back discomfort when they reach higher percentages. This is a great option to put into their programming on a frequent basis to help them make progress here. Pattern-based routines will generally focus on the multiple components that work together to create the mechanics used within the pattern (ie. for squats - ankle dorsiflexion, knee flexion, hip internal rotation/flexion, pelvic control).
Warmup: This one sounds pretty damn obvious, doesn't it? A warmup routine is one that focuses on the particular biomechanics of the joints that will be stressed during an upcoming workout. There is a lot of conflicting information out there about what type of stretching/exercises should or shouldn't be included in a warmup, but the principles remain steady. When you’re preparing for a workout, you want to avoid stretching exercises that are going to calm the nervous system. Instead, we want to prime the nervous system for intensity and prime the particular joints for work (ie. for a workout with lots of overhead work - thoracic extension, scapular freedom/control, shoulder flexion, shoulder external rotation). Passive stretching isn’t necessarily a bad thing to add to a warmup, especially if the client is highly restricted, but just remember that a passive approach is generally very calming to the nervous system, so you’ll want to be sure to avoid ending your warmup routines passively. Get them engaging their shit before getting to work. Their muscles should be ready to party, not to go to sleep.
Recovery: A recovery routine is basically the exact opposite of a warmup routine. This sucker should prime your clients for a state of recovery. After a strenuous training session, the best way to increase the speed of recovery is to quickly “down-regulate” the nervous system (that's just a fancy-ass way that the industry likes to complicate things, what this really just means is calming down the nervous system after it’s been through a lot of stress). This is a good reason why Now is a great time to bring in some passive stretches, some flow-based movements, and some deep nasal breathing.
Reps, and sets, and rest, oh my (that felt cheesy, but I wrote it anyway). Just like any fitness program, the prescription matters, especially when it comes to the nuances of the individual client. Things to consider are overall volume (sets and reps), total time under tension (how much stress is being placed on the muscles and joints performing the workouts), and intensity. Now, if you’re looking for some kind of list of answers to tell you exactly what programs to create for every situation, there’s no way in hell imma give that to you. I passionately believe that programming is a crucial part of what sets each coach apart, and is a vital part of their overall professional development as well. There’s no friggin way I would rob you of that experience. You MUST go through it yourself and intentionally grow through that process. That being said, I’ll happily offer some insights for you to keep at the top of your mind that should help you remain strategic when creating your programs.
Overall Volume: The overall volume refers to the number of total reps that are being performed within a particular workout or even a particular training block. The most important piece to consider here is fatigue. How much fatigue can the client sustain without resulting in technical failure (failing to achieve the proper technique of an exercise) and without creating DOMS to a point that it becomes problematic for the individual client? If the client can’t perform their training protocols as intended, the volume may need to be reconsidered. This is also where rest should be pondered. Things like the client's fitness experience, injury history, tolerance to intensity, and current pain/discomfort, will all play a role in how much rest the individual may need depending on your programming intention. With that said, considering that mobility training is often done without loading, the stimulus isn’t so taxing that they should need more than a 90-second rest between sets. 30-90 seconds is a safe range to play within.
Total TUT: Time under tension is very much related to the amount of volume in a given workout. The concept here is not referring solely to the number of reps in a set but also how many sets are suggested as well. In mobility training, it’s often a very specific and targeted approach, meaning that we are generally targeting and challenging a particular function of the joint. This has the individual working small muscles that can often fatigue quickly and easily. As fatigue builds, you’ll notice a rapid onset of a technical failure (this is where you’ll start to notice movement compensations), which is something you’ll want to avoid when a large purpose of mobility training is to improve a particular function of a joint(s). This is why it’s important for you as the mobility coach to have personally experienced every mobility exercise that you are programming so you have a clear understanding of the stimulus it provides and a general idea of the level of fatigue it can create.
Intensity: How new is the client to mobility training? How restricted is their body? How much intensity are they willing to endure? How much intensity can they sustain before losing the intended stimulus and ultimately negatively impacting future workouts? This piece of the pie simply just comes down to how well you know your client, how well you understand programming principles, how well you understand the individual exercises you’re implemented, and how well you can gather feedback from your client. Intensity in a mobility training program is an extremely important component as it will have a large impact on your client's results. At first, the intensity will likely be confusing and challenging to navigate, but here is where your skills as a mobility programmer will begin to skyrocket.
Progressive overload refers to the methods by which a program forces athletic progression, often on a week-to-week basis. This ensures that the individual executing the program sees continual progress through their efforts and avoids early plateaus due to physiological adaptation. Sounds fancy, huh? I like to use fancy words to make myself feel smart, but my brain actually reads this as, “every week, we are going to be adding something to the program that will increase the challenge so that you can continue to adapt and improve toward your goals and avoid staying stagnant”. That’s better.
The most common progressive overload method that is applied is the increase of weight, sets, and/or reps. Although this may be the most commonly seen method, in mobility training it becomes slightly more complicated as we don’t often add loading (and you can only do so many sets/reps before your client loses interest and would rather step in front of a train than to follow your programs anymore). So let’s have a look at some alternative methods.
Reduced Rest: This can increase the stimulus and force the client to have to perform under greater fatigue
Increased ROM: This will have your client using deeper ranges of motion that they have not yet developed much familiarity within.
Longer Tempo: Slowing down the eccentric phase of an exercise will force the client to apply more control to a muscle(s) while it is being lengthened
Pauses/holds: In the world of mobility, we want to spend as much time as we can in our deep, weak ranges of motion. Adding longer pauses/holds in those positions can offer the opportunity to teach our muscles to engage more effectively in unfamiliar territory.
Exercise Frequency: Bringing an exercise into a program more frequently will deliver a recurring stimulus and force adaptation.
These are just some of the principles that you can implement into a mobility training program that doesn’t require you to change the number of reps or sets. A big problem that both coaches and mobility clients face is program boredom. Although sometimes it may feel necessary for a program to be boring for it to work (the basics are always going to work wonders, and being repetitive with the stimulus can offer a lot of benefits to the human body), that certainly is not always the case. Mobility training is often swept under the rug for a lot of athletes as “boring work”, so it rarely gets done on a consistent basis. This is why most people never see good mobility results. If you can find ways to keep your programs exciting, entertaining, interesting AND beneficial, you’ll win. Remain creative, find what gets your client curious and excited, and have fun with the process!
Program periodization refers to the plan that strategically carries your client through various different cycles (AKA training “blocks”). These cycles are macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles (and individual training days, but we don’t need to dive that deep here). The purpose of the cycles is to deliver progressive overload to the client over a longer time horizon and allow the coach to implement the necessary principles in a thoughtful, safe, and effective manner. Just blindly putting together mobility workouts can probably get your clients some sort of results, but that is a billion percent not the most effective way of going about it. Let’s take a look at how each of the 3 cycles is generally used in a traditional strength program and how we can implement them as mobility coaches.
Macrocycle: This is the bird's eye view. The macrocycle is generally planned out for anywhere from 6-12 months and allows the coach to plan peaks, deloads, and other necessary components to traditional strength protocols. In a mobility program, we can use a macrocycle to better understand the client's training needs, major life events, athletic events, etc. It can help us understand when we should increase or decrease the amount of volume of mobility training and, more importantly, how we should be delivering our smaller mesocycles that fit within the macrocycle. Consider the macrocycle as simply an opportunity to better structure your mesocycles to fit into your client's needs.
Mesocycle: The mesocycle is generally laid out from anywhere from 4-12 weeks. This is likely the most important block structure, as this is where you will be very focused on the particular stimulus you are delivering and how to implement the progressive overload principles. In a mobility training mesocycle, you will select multiple different functions/positions/biomechanics that you want to improve, and you will ensure a frequent stimulus is applied accordingly. The mesocycle allows you to plan in advance how you will deliver this stimulus in a strategic way and avoid losing track and going in an unrelated direction.
Microcycles: A microcycle will generally look at a single week's worth of training. This block can be considered as a small chunk of the mesocycle as we are now refining the plan and getting into more details as to what exercises are being added. Now we have a better understanding of how we are going to address the particular functions/positions/biomechanics that we are looking to improve.
At Primal Mobility, we follow the pillars of the Primal Method as our periodization protocol. This ensures we follow the necessary steps to achieving long-term, sustainable, “bulletproof” mobility. Each pillar of the Primal Method will be carried out as its own mesocycle, and you best believe your ass it works like a charm.
**If you don’t know, common now!…The Pillars of the Primal Method are
1. Awareness & Connection
2. Build New Ranges
4. Movement Control
Building a world-class mobility program might seem complicated at face value, but when you get a lil’ deeper (that sounds like a weird, pervy rapper's name), you see that it’s really not as complex as it seems. Mobility is something that is often overlooked; as a coach, it will be your responsibility to help your clients experience the excitement with their mobility program and want to continue showing up. Mobility training doesn’t have to be boring as shit…you can make it exciting as fuck. You just gotta have the right approach and the right exercises that don’t feel like they’re sitting in a pigeon stretch for eternity.
If you’re interested in becoming a Primal Mobility Certified coach and learning how to build a thriving career as a mobility expert, then join our registration list and reserve your spot in our next cohort! Check it out!