Mobility is King

by Grace Lin

If you’ve been coming to the gym consistently for the past month, you may have noticed that once a week, we have been dedicating the first half of class to mobility.  What’s the reasoning for this?  Well, simply put, mobility is king.  I would argue it’s the most important element of CrossFit.  Yes, intensity is important, strength is important, and technique is important, but how can you maintain those elements if you cannot move properly?  90% of the time, mobility is the thing that is holding people back in CrossFit.  Someone can be super strong, but if they can’t fully extend their arms overhead, then what good is that strength?  What’s the point of having strong legs if you can only squat halfway?  You cannot maximize your athletic performance until you have proper mobility.

What is mobility?  By definition, mobility is the ability to move or be moved freely and easily.  It’s a concept that comprises of joint range of motion (ROM), muscular tension, soft tissue and capsule joint restrictions, adhesions, tendon resilience, neuromuscular coordination, proprioception, the biomechanics of positioning, and knowledge of the proper form for a movement.  There is a difference between mobilization and stretching.  According to Kelly Starrett,”Stretching only focuses on lengthening short and tight muscles.  Mobilization, on the other hand, is a movement-based integrated full-body approach that addresses all the elements that limit movement and performance including short and tight muscles, soft tissue restriction, joint capsule restriction, motor control problems, joint ROM dysfunction, and neural dynamic issues.  In short, mobilization is a tool to globally address movement and performance problems.”

Proper mobility can prevent injury.  Since the majority of people have some sort of limited mobility, their bodies will naturally adjust to try and perform the movements we do in the gym.  So, instead of working on shoulder mobility, you arch your back to get that weight overhead or you overhead squat on your toes.  Instead of working on hip and posterior chain mobility, you turn your feet way out during a squat.  Instead of working on ankle mobility, you dive your chest forward to prevent from falling backward during a squat.  

You see, poor ROM = poor movement.  The better your mobility, the easier the movement will be.  Once your mobility improves, then you can really start focusing on increasing strength and efficiency.  But without proper mobility, there will always be a ceiling that you will hit because your body simply won’t be able to handle heavy weights in an incorrect position.  You’ll either plateau on strength or you’ll get injured.

The two largest problem areas I see with mobility are the hips and the shoulders.  Why?  Sitting.  With the invention of computers, the majority of people are sitting in front of a screen for 40+ hours a week.  Kelly Starrett puts it into perspective when he states “the ‘smoking’ of our generation is sitting.”  There really is no remedy for this problem, other than not sitting.  A treadmill isn’t going to solve the problem.  Going to the gym for 1 hour a day isn’t going to solve the problem either.  Go invest in a standing desk and maybe a barstool that you can lean on.  Please reference the posture post for more information about fixing postural habits.  There is even a link in there to make your own standing desk.

All this information is great, but it doesn’t mean anything if there’s no action being done.  So here’s your call to action:

Spend at least 10-15min every day on focused mobility.  Do some research or ask your coaches on your specific problem areas and focus on those.  This does not include laying on the foam roller!  Really put some effort into creating a routine that addresses your specific ROM needs.

A usual good rule of thumb is 2min on each side.  Mobilize until change is made or until you stop making change.

Spend 30-40min on mobility during your rest days.  Take that time you would normally dedicate to working out and spend it on focused mobility.  You can divide it into upper and lower body, and thoracic spine.

Test and re-test!  How do you know if it works if you don’t test and re-test?  Find the drills and techniques that work for you.  Everyone responds a little differently from the various types of mobilization drills out there.

Fix your posture.  If the majority of your day is spent in a bad position (slouched/hunched forward), then how do you expect to be able to move in a proper position?  Be serious about fixing your posture and build good habits.  Again, reference the posture post for more tips on building better posture.

Working on your mobility is not glamorous, but it is necessary for your success in the gym and your quality of life outside of the gym.  If you want to stay injury free and continue to hit PRs, then you need to be working on your mobility!