Bodybuilders and Mobility

How do you train a body builder looking to pack on the mass, but their mobility stinks?

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering…. what body builder doesn’t have a mobility problem?

It’s true, most body builders, or anyone doing a body building type routine generally have horrible mobility. For the most part, they don’t really care either. They just want to get big and pack on some muscle at any cost. This is understandable. I mean, after all, who doesn’t want to build a little muscle and look incredible?

Just because you’re a bodybuilder, or you perform a lot of volume with isolation exercises, doesn’t mean you have to have major shoulder limitations or barely have the ability to raise one leg off the floor. After screening multiple body builders and clients that have spent years packing on the lbs., it should come as no surprise that the mobility screens on the FMS (Functional Movement Screen) were not up to par. A heavy majority of these people were scored as “dysfunctional” using the FMS on both the shoulder mobility screen and the Active Straight Leg Raise. This basically tells me that mobility is a potential limiting factor to their durability and success long term.

If you’re trying to build a lot of muscle, you’re going to need some time to do it. Packing on a lot of mass in a couple months isn’t going to happen unless you’re using juice. So, if you want to make long-term gains and have the ability to really blow up in size, you’re going to need to be healthy enough to train regularly for the long haul.

This is why we screen. Using a screening process will help us determine the best exercise selection when working with bodybuilders or the clients looking to gain mass. You don’t always need a barbell and a ton of weight in order to pack on some mass. There are hundreds of exercises you can choose from to get you from point A to point B, so choosing the most appropriate exercises for you specifically is HUGE.

With most bodybuilders, we see a major limitation in shoulder mobility. Along with the limited mobility, most of them also had pain and impingement on at least on side. Following our “red light” system, we would want to red light bench pressing and most open chain pressing exercises. This is the point we tend to have people look at us like we’re crazy.


The typical response is something like this:

“What do you mean I can’t bench?”

“I’ve been benching for years…”

So, understanding the reasoning and having the ability to explain why is very important when trying to take away the bench press with an individual like this. You’re going to need to reassure them that their size and overall mass isn’t going to be compromised just because you took out one exercise. We need to improve the durability, or the long-term training isn’t going to happen without breaking down and sustaining an injury at some point in time.

I usually talk about how training is a process, and we have to make the best decisions along the way to ensure progress. First, in order to keep healthy shoulders, we’re going to need to fix the mobility issues. Without adequate mobility, the client will eventually plateau or break in the process of trying to get stronger. We’re not asking for perfect mobility by any means. We’re just looking for symmetry and “adequate” mobility. Following the FMS, this is easy since it’s a 0-3 scoring system. Give me a 2 and I’ll let you press…until then, not on my watch.

If you want to know a little more about the screens within the FMS or how to score them, be sure to check out our performing and scoring the FMS section on our blog at:

With a client like this, I would still want to maintain upper body pressing to keep building mass and size of the chest and arms. However, I don’t need a barbell bench press in order to do this. Most clients like this; I will usually be smashing the hell out of some push up variations. We can make push up’s extremely hard by adding chains, resistance bands, changing stability and points of contact, elevating the feet, or several by using several other methods to increase the difficulty. When we take out the bench, we just make sure we’re following what needs to be done to pack on some mass.

If I do feel like bench pressing is a good idea, I’m at least going to use dumbbells versus a barbell. The dumbbell will allow the client to push on a single shoulder rather than trying to push a single barbell on asymmetrical shoulders. Given that the client has adequate stability and can control the motion, I may eventually allow some one-arm dumbbell chest pressing, but our top priority is going to be fixing the mobility issue. If it sets us back at all, the pressing is out.

Off the topic of exercise selection, lets dive into a couple other factors that are related to mass building. Time under tension is a good thing to look at while packing on some size. In order for hypertrophy to happen, or the ability of the muscle to gain size, the time under tension should be at least 30 seconds. So with our horrible shoulder mobility clients, we’ll find a push up variation that will challenge them, but we ensure each working set is >30 seconds.

Also, high volume and moderate rest are two other key components that really help influence hypertrophy. We’ll do anywhere from 3-8 sets depending on the total volume of the workout, and we’ll also keep the recovery periods shorter than we would if we were trying to build strength or power. Good hypertrophy training requires the muscle to really get to the point of exhaustion, greater than 30 seconds of time under tension, and short to moderate recovery periods.

This is a great way to start looking at your programming. Find the right exercise selections for each individual, red light exercises that may hurt them and decrease their durability, incorporate a corrective strategy for the dysfunction, and finally choose the proper exercise selection and progression that will challenge them without limiting the results.

Just because you’re screening and taking out some exercises based upon the findings doesn’t mean you have to make a wimpy program. Use a screen to help guide you in making the best choices and I’m sure you’re clients will not only get great results, they’ll stay healthy and training with you for longer periods of time.

Jared Woolever