Sports are tough on the body. And diving right into an off-season training program—or worse, trying to get a baseline of your strength by "maxing out"—can limit your gains and increase your risk of injury.
"Over the course of a season, your body gets banged up," says Mike Reinold, PT, DPT. "Your mobility often suffers the most."
Mobility problems start a vicious cycle. Lacking full range of motion means you can't perform exercises with proper form—which means you won't work the right muscles with each rep—which means you won't make the gains you deserve, and you'll be more likely to get hurt.
The good news? Avoiding mobility issues is easy. "Simple self-assessments can tell you what you can safely do in your training," says Tony Gentilcore, CSCS.
Before you start piling on weight plates, try these five tests of your strength and mobility. They'll pay off when you're crushing reps later in the off-season, injury-free.
Test it With: Push-Up Planks. Have a partner place a PVC pipe along the back of your head, shoulders and lower back. Hold for 60 seconds. If any of the three points lose contact, you need to strengthen your core.
Fix it With: Pin Push-Ups. Position a barbell on a squat rack at hip height. Grasp the barbell with a slightly-wider-than-shoulder-width grip and assume an angled push-up position. Perform 3 sets of 10 Push-Ups.
Test it With: Prisoner Squats. With your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands clasped behind your head, sit until your thighs reach parallel. If you can't get that low, your knees collapse inward or your heels lift, that's an "F."
Fix it With: Plate Squats. Perform Squats while holding a 10-pound plate with your arms extended in front of your chest. Make sure your thighs reach slightly below parallel. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.
Test it With: Toe Touches. To see if your 'strings are supple enough for Deadlifts and Olympic lifts, put your feet together, bend over and touch your toes. Can't reach? Back rounds when you do? Better loosen up.
Fix it With: Leg Lowering Pattern. Lie on your back with both legs in the air. Place a band around one foot, then lower your opposite leg, keeping the leg straight and core tight. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg.
Test it With: Ankle Dorsiflexion. With your hands on a wall and one foot five inches away from it, kneel on one leg. Try to touch your forward knee to the wall. If your heel lifts off the ground, your ankles are too tight.
Fix it With: Calf and Foot Self-Myofascial Release. Use a foam roller to work tender spots in your calf, Achilles, and connective tissues. Try a tennis ball on your feet and heels. Roll each spot for about 30 seconds.
Test it With: Standing Shoulder Flexion. With your head, back and heels against a wall and arms straight in front, lift your arms overhead and touch the wall with your thumbs, If your lower back arches, you flunk.
Fix it With: Back-to-Wall Shoulder Flexion. With your arms at your sides, stand six inches from a wall and lean your back against it. Raise your arms above your head. Stop if your back arches. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
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