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Upper Body Mobility and The Art of Applied Laziness

I’m lazy.

It’s one of the reasons I train the way I do.

My background is in the martial arts, specifically Karate. My instructor was forever trying to instil the idea of efficiency into us, economy of motion and maximum return for minimum effort. This kind of thinking is absolutely vital to a martial artist, or anyone involved in a fight / high risk scenario.

I liked this idea of maximum return for minimal effort, it suited my lazy streak. So I’ve tried to implement the same thinking into everything else I do, including my fitness training.

In the gym I can’t be bothered doing a dozen exercises when a few will do. Why train for an hour if I can get it done in 30 mins. Isolation drills always sounded silly to me. Work the biceps, ok. With curls? No thanks, I’ll do chin ups thanks. 6 exercises for the pecs? Why? I can increase the intensity of this one exercise and get the same result.

This thought process eventually led me to Kettlebell lifting, where if you want you can strip all training down to just four movements:

  1. Clean

  2. Jerk

  3. Snatch

  4. Squat

How’s that for efficient?

The next thing that got me was stretching. I hate it, but I need it. How to make that more efficient? Thankfully the martial arts held many clues. You won’t meet many good martial artists who can’t move fluidly and exhibit catlike mobility in everything they do. I know many who spend hours stretching, but there are many other’s who don’t, they simply move. When they move it’s in all directions, exploring and extending the ranges of movement in all planes. 5-10 minutes of this usually exceeds the results of an hour stretching. The masters of this type of movement are the Chinese kung fu guys, the Yoga guys and wrestlers. Each of these three have amazing drills for opening the the body ready for action.

A drill I’d like to highlight today comes from the Kung Fu guys. I learned it from Steve Cotter on his last visit here (he’ll be back in June, click here for info) I’m talking about this drill today as it has significant importance to me personally and a few of my regulars, but for different reasons, which perfectly highlights it’s efficiency and  it’s place in the lazy mans training program.

It’s called the Tea Cup Drill. For me it’s fantastic for loosening the waist. I have a history of low back injuries which leaves me tight through the right oblique. My Quadratis Lumborum on that side gets like a violin string if left alone, which causes discomfort and also hikes my hip up and creates a scoliosis effect. I’ve tried all the QL stretching, even asking other coaches for opinions which I’ve also tried out. Nothing hits the waist just right, except the Tea Cup. The waist is flexible and designed to move in all directions, 1 dimensional static stretches have to be repeated at so many different angles to have any effect And that aint efficient! The Tea Cup performed one arm at a time (there is also a bilateral version) takes the waist through a full range of motion on every rep. I get more improvement from one set of 10 reps than I do from 15 minutes static stretching.

The Tea Cup is also a great shoulder mobility drill, which is where most of my guys get the benefit. The upper back, scapular and AC joint (actual shoulder) are taken smoothly through a huge range of motion, after just a few reps this range will start to gently increase, the movement will become ever more fluid and the entire upper body will become loose and agile.

Now that’s efficient!

To describe the movement in writing would fill book so here’s a video. In it I reiterate some of the points above, especially the benefits for the waist.

Here it is: [youtube] And don’t forget, Steve Cotter, the man I learned this and much more from, will be at Wild Geese in June to run his CKT 1 and 2 courses.

Chat soon


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