Mobilization Means More Movement
It is becoming increasingly common within the CrossFit community to speak of “mobilization” rather than just flexibility or stretching thanks in large part to Kelly Starrett, his www.mobilitywod.com, and the CF Movement & Mobility certification seminars. On his website, Starrett defines mobilization as
“…a movement-based integrated full-body approach that addresses all the elements that limit movement and performance…”
Mobilization, then, is a methodology for addressing a wide spectrum of conditions that limit movement or mobility.
Mobility is a broad concept that comprises joint range of motion (ROM), muscular tension, soft tissue and joint capsule restrictions, adhesions, tendon resilience, neuromuscular coordination, proprioception, the biomechanics of positioning, and knowledge of the proper form for a movement. It includes stabilization, too, created by muscular balance and strength–particularly core strength to protect the spine–and ligament tautness.
Several techniques to improve mobility are beneficial to improving an athlete’s performance and shortening recovery time while mitigating the chance for injury:
- Stretching, which focuses on lengthening short or tense muscles, is concerned primarily with muscular restrictions that affect mobility. According to Bob Anderson, author of Stretching (2000), “the object is to reduce muscular tension, thereby promoting freer movement.”
- Using bands, which provide “distraction” or extension of the joint, works on increasing the extendibility of connective tissues and the joint capsule itself. Dr. E. H. Bradford reported on the therapeutic value of band distraction for improving joint movement in the American Medico-Surgical Bulletin as early as November 1893.
- Foam rolling and pressure point therapy with a lacrosse ball, examples of soft tissue work known as SMFR (self-myofascial release), which concentrates on sliding surfaces such as skin and fascia over muscle and tendon. Andrew Biel’s Train Guide to the Body (2001) explains that fascia “…is a continuous sheet of fibrous membrane located beneath the skin and around muscles and organs…[forming] a three-dimensional matrix…extending throughout the body from head to toe.”
- Yoga, as a supplemental program for CrossFitters, which works on muscular tension, joint flexibility, positioning, and proprioception simultaneously. The combination of slow, sustained nerve stimulation and muscle contraction during yoga positions facilitates movement in synovial joints (free-moving joints lubricated by fluid within the joint capsule) such as the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders.
All of these self-therapies or practices can help eliminate restrictions and improve your ability to attain optimal positioning during movements. Increased mobility means greater ability to achieve proper form in the set-up and to sustain better form during a movement which, we know, translates into greater power output and more productive WODs.
Mobility training should be undertaken in addition to warm-ups and post-WOD stretching. Warm-ups prepare the body for movement in the WOD by raising core temperature and cardiovascular readiness through dynamic movements–which may or may not be done with complete ROM or optimal form depending upon individual limitations. Post-WOD stretching diminishes the effects of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness.) Neither warm-ups nor post-WOD stretching addresses the more complicated movement restrictions that inhibit full mobility.
For this reason, the techniques mentioned above are recommended to all MCF members. Mobilization practices should be incorporated proactively into your training rather than as a reaction to injury. Of course, the type and amount of mobilization required will vary with the individual and require some caveats or the care of a chiropractor or physical therapist in certain cases. Nevertheless, a conscientious adherence to mobility work can benefit every athlete.