Most athletes below the professional level lack the flexibility to reach their full potential, or even make consistently successful lifts. Here are five flexibility exercises to perform before and after your training sessions that can help remove that roadblock. All exercises do not need to be performed every single session, but they should be rotated so they all are performed multiple times in the course of a week of training. 

Front Squat Stretch

Why You Need It: Lumbar instability, lack of quadriceps engagement, and missing cleans out in front. 
What It Does: The front rack stretch improves limited range of motion in the triceps and lats as well as thoracic extension.
Do It: Load up a clean in the front rack position with about 30% of your 1 rep maximum. While using a partner’s assistance, descend into the bottom of your full front squat. The partner will place their hands underneath your elbows so you can press against him or her like a shelf.
Prescription: Hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times, with 15 seconds rest between reps.

Ankle Squat Stretch

Why You Need It: Limited ankle flexion due to lack of mobility. This results in lack of depth in squatting, decreased power output from the lower body, longer hip patterning, and collapsing of the torso on near maximal lifts. 
What It Does: Decreasing the angle will allow easier routing for the knees over the toes, which leads to better hip/torso angle for optimal loading.
Do It: Load up a barbell with about 50% of your 1 rep maximum snatch. Pick up the barbell with a snatch grip and stand in a tall position. Lower the barbell to the knees and allow it to sit on top while dropping into a deep squat. Focus on pushing the knees over the toes while separating them away from each other.
Prescription: Hold for 30-60 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times, with 15 seconds rest between reps.

Glute-Hamstring Activator

Why You Need It: Decreased power production from the glutes due to inactivation. Low velocity in the first and second pulls. You might also see lack of deceleration in the catch, and over-activation of the lumbar spine. 
What It Does: Turn the glutes on and stretch out the hamstrings with the eccentric phase of the Romanian deadlift. This activation exercise is ideal for lifters who are constantly loading their lumbar spine because it entices the back side chain to work.
Do It: Take the same barbell and 50% snatch weight. Grab the barbell in a snatch grip and stand tall. Begin to descend towards the ground with an 8-10 second pace. Allow the barbell to reach the ground and reset. You can do the same with a clean grip while using clean weights. Snatch grip may be more appropriate, since typically more athletes struggle with a snatch grip.
Prescription: Hold for 8-10 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times, with 15 seconds rest between reps.

Frog Stretch

Why You Need It: Tight quadriceps adductors can lead to valgus knees falling in during the catch and ascent of lifts, and walking a tightrope with jerk footwork due to knees caving inward. 
What It Does: This bodyweight stretch allows the quadriceps to shut off while the upper body does all the work.
Do It: Start on the ground on your knees. Push your knees out as wide as possible. Position your feet with the toes pointed out. Place your elbows on the ground in front of the body, lining them up slightly in front of the shoulders. Use your upper body only to push the torso back towards the heels.
Prescription: Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.

Deep Squat Wall Stretch

Why You Need It: Poor motor patterning in the squat. Low awareness of spinal alignment during deep hip and knee flexion.
What It Does: This stretch is another great way to develop patterning for the squat. It allows the ankles to work on decreasing the angle while the torso sits up tall without any loading.
Do It: Start on your back with your feet placed on a wall. This should look similar to a deep squat position. Begin to bring the hips towards the heels while keeping the heels flush against the wall. When arriving at a deep squat position, allow the shoulders, thoracic spine, and head to stay in contact with the ground.
Prescription: Hold for 45-60 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.

Warm Up. Lift Heavy. Cool Down. Get Better.

Begin each session with two out of the following three exercises: 
  • Front Squat Stretch
  • Ankle Squat Stretch
  • Glute-Hamstring Activator 
Picking two exercises will allow the body to warm up without tiring you out before a heavy lifting session. Follow up your session with the Deep Squat Wall Stretch and the Frog Stretch to enhance flexibility while the body is still warm from training. Try to hold these stretches a bit longer than the warm up to increase range of motion. 
With these exercises, any lifter can begin to get a better understanding of how the body moves through Olympic movements. Try them before and after strength training sessions to enhance range of motion in all Olympic lifts.
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Teaser photo courtesy of CrossFit Empirical.