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Better Shoulder Mobility Isn’t a Pipe Dream—Here’s Why Trainers Never Start a Workout Without the PVC

Kells McPhillips

Kells McPhillipsFebruary 12, 2020

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When you’re typing, cooking, or going about your usual business, most of your body’s joints won’t be moving in a full 360-degree range of motion. And that’s okay. Before you start any workout, though, trainers say that warming up your joints using a handful of PVC pipe mobility exercises gives you the greatest chance at performing every move—from kettlebell swings to alligator walks—safely.

“The PVC pipe can be a modality that adds a grip for the hands and allows the shoulders to increase mobility before working out,” says trainer Katrina Pilkington, NASM-CPT, with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. The pipe—which is normally used in construction—also creates the muscle memory you need to hold a barbell safely overhead or get your deadlifting form down pat before adding the weight.

Even when you’re not within the four walls of the gym, your body will thank you for taking the time to work  on your mobility. “A lack of mobility can affect how we walk, how we sit, and if we can move through our day pain free,” Emily Kiberd, DC, a doctor of chiropractic at Urban Wellness Clinic, previously told Well+Good. So, yes, we’ve come full circle (360-degrees, you might say) back to you answering your emails, sautéing veggies, and just generally living your best life.

PVC pipe mobility exercises for 360-degree mobility 365 days of the year

(If you don’t have a PVC pipe on hand, a towel will do!)

1. Overhead partial pass-throughs

Before you try more stealthy moves with the pipe, Pilkington recommends starting with partial—or full—pass-throughs. “I would do an overhead partial pass-through, as most people in the general population aren’t mobile enough to pass through the PVC pipe just yet,” the trainer says.

Step 1: Stand with your feet hips-width distance apart and grip the PVC pipe. (Note: The wider you hold the pipe, the easier the exercise will be.)

Step 2: For a partial pass-through, bring the pipe overhead, then slowly extend it back so it’s about a foot behind your head.

Step 3: Go back and forth. Or, if you feel comfortable here, you can practice bringing the PVC pipe all the way from touching your hip bones (in front of you) to tapping your butt (behind you, um, duh).

2. The figure 8

Alright, now for the ninja-style stuff. Make sure you feel comfortable in the last move before moving onto this one.

Step 1: Stand with your feet hips-width distance apart and grip the PVC pipe. (Again, the wider you hold the pipe, the easier the exercise will be.)

Step 2: Bring your right arm up so that the pipe forms a slant in the air.

Step 3: Press the bar back behind your shoulders at the slant by drawing your left hand up and your right hand down, then bring it straight across the back of your tailbone.

Step 4: Bring your right arm up behind your back, the pass it through to the front of your body.

Repeat on the opposite side. 

Stretching is mobility’s best friend—here’s how to get started: 

Here’s how to move that mobility magic into your hips, and the scapular push-up your shoulders will thank you for. 

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