Pre-Habilitation Techniques

Use this proven physical therapy exercise to improve mobility, decrease pain and realign your joints.

By Lara McGlashan MFA CPT | February 3, 2017

You know you should stretch. You’ve already implemented mobility drills preworkout and sometimes you even practice static stretching afterward. So your muscles are (mostly) taken care of, but what about your joints?

“Joint distraction exercises help improve how the joints function, specifically in regards to alignment, range of motion and movement quality,” says Michael Rosengart, CSCS, CES, CPT, and author of the PreHab Exercise Book series (prehabexercises.com). “Stretching and mobility drills affect the soft tissues that move the joints, but joint distractions more directly impact and change how the joint is actually aligned.”

Joints become misaligned due in part to muscle imbalances, which “create uneven tension and force on a joint, distorting the alignment of that joint and the corresponding joints up and down the kinetic chain,” explains Rosengart. These tight muscles not only restrict mobility, but also can compress your joints, squeezing out the synovial fluid that acts as a cushioning between your bones, and possibly leading to injuries such as tissue tears, arthritis, bursitis and bone spurs.

“Joint distraction exercises attempt to reposition the joint structures and create more separation between joint surfaces, providing more efficiency and larger range of motion,” Rosengart says. Creating more “space” inside a joint also allows the synovial fluid to flow back inside and protect the articulating bone ends from harm.

After your dynamic warm-up, grab a moderately heavy superband loop and a foam roller. Try the movements listed here, holding the positions on each side of your body for up to two minutes. “With the band, start closer to the anchor and work your way out until you reach a resistance of five to seven on a scale of one to 10,” says Rosengart. Otherwise, he says, your muscle will resist by tensing up, negating the effectiveness of the exercise. He recommends following your distractions with one or two more activation exercises to prepare your limbs to move with their “new” alignment.

The Moves

Thoracic Extension (foam roller)

Improves upper spine and shoulder mobility for overhead presses and top-loaded lifts such as back squats.

Lie with the foam roller underneath your upper back and interlace your hands behind your head. Inhale deeply, then exhale and allow your head and upper back to relax toward the floor, extending your spine over the roller. Repeat, holding in different positions along your upper spine.

Kneeling Lunge (band)

Improves hip extension for better running, jumping and squatting performance.

Secure the band at hip height and loop the band high around one leg where your glute meets your thigh. Face the anchor and lunge back with the banded leg, placing your knee on the floor. Tuck your tailbone under, feeling the stretch across the front of your thigh and hip.

Prone Ankle Distraction (band)

Improves ankle dorsiflexion for enhanced agility, running speed and lifting depth.

Secure the band at ankle height and loop it around one foot at the intersection of your ankle and shinbone. With your back to the anchor, walk away until you feel tension, then get into plank position. Press back with your banded heel and hold.

Hip Flexion (band)

Improves hip mobility for squats and deadlifts.

Set the band at hip height and step inside it with both legs. Face away from the anchor and position the band as high on your thigh as possible. Step forward so the band is tight, then place your hands on the floor and walk them out into a down-dog position. Press your heels down, lift your tailbone and hold.

W/I Reaches (foam roller)

Improves shoulder and chest mobility for overhead lifts and hanging movements such as pull-ups.

Lie faceup on top of a foam roller with the roller positioned vertically along your spine. Extend your arms out to the sides, palms up, allowing their weight to stretch your chest and front delts. Raise your arms slowly overhead into an I position, then lower them all back down to your hips. Now, bend your elbows so your arms form a W and press the backs of your hands and your elbows toward the floor.

Shoulder Distraction (band)

Stretches the entire shoulder joint, improving rotational capacity and overhead lifts and presses.

Attach a band to a pull-up bar and loop one wrist through it securely. Step back with the same-side leg and lower into a lunge, arm extended. Rotate your arm slowly inward and outward, breathing deeply.



About the Author

Lara McGlashan MFA CPT

Oxygen Fitness Editor Lara McGlashan has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and editor, who specializes in health, fitness, and nutrition. 

Lara is an ACE-certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. Her sports background includes skiing, snowboarding, flying trapeze, yoga, competitive beach volleyball, dance, mountain biking, hiking and running, to name a few endeavors. She is currently exploring the world of CrossFit in her home base of Connecticut, where she lives with her 2-year-old son, Alex.

You can follow her on Facebook at LaraFitnessEditor.