WODprep Physical Therapists Dr CJ DePalma and Dr Joe Camoratto are going to help me debunk 3 common mobility myths so that you can perform at your best without feeling the pressure to spend hours and hours foam rolling each week.
If you're more of a visual learner, you can watch us discuss this topic below:
First up, what exactly is mobility?
When I first started CrossFit, (before I met CJ and Joe!) I thought that mobility meant painful stretches and smashing my body to bits with lacrosse balls. I asked them to provide me with a better definition in the context of CrossFit training, and here it is;
“The ability to achieve the positions that the sport demands.”
Now let’s dig into some common misconceptions in the realm of CrossFit and Mobility...
Myth #1: Myofascial Tissue Release
Ever foam rolled your lats with the intention of improving range of motion by breaking up the fascia? Here’s the thing; this goes against what we know about the robustness of our bodies. Imagine we could actually structurally change our tissues with a little rubber ball or foam roller… now imagine what a heavy barbell would do to those same tissues when we put it on our back?
So what is actually happening when we foam roll? And why does it make us feel good?
Dr Joe explains that there’s a sensory input - we feel sensations around the area we put the ball/roller, oftentimes painful sensations. When we then take that painful stimulus away, it feels better because the nervous system is pretty easy to fool.
So is it still the best thing to do? Dr CJ says that lots of things can accomplish that same response and so there might be more effective practices we could be following. For example, instead of digging a lacrosse ball into your chest to improve internal rotation, you could just hold the bottom of a push up for a few seconds. You might get the same response, but you’re also going to get a little bit of the resistance benefits that you get from actually doing exercise.
At WODprep, we prioritize active and resisted approaches to rehab or pain or discomfort over passive ones because those are the ones which prompt adaptation which is more effective in the long term. The short term response is often what we’re attracted to, because we like a quick fix, everyone is doing it and it seems to be creating structural change - but it’s not.
In simple terms - try warming up with the movement you plan to do and gradually expose yourself to more range of motion (e.g. going deeper into a squat) or more weight (e.g. air squat to empty barbell) as you complete that warm up.
Myth #2: Stretching prevents injury and improves performance
This one might upset my old football coaches who loved to program stretching before and after each session! Dr Joe explains that while stretching might temporarily make you more flexible, it’s not something that needs to happen for you to train.
We think that the issue comes from the common definition of stretching and what is perceived to be happening. What we often think is happening is that we’re lengthening the tissue which is incorrect. Our theory for what is actually happening is that we are improving our tolerance to that stretch. For those people who have pathologically shortened muscles, called a contracture, stretching is rarely included in their care.
When we look at a toe touch for example, the second time we try it we can usually get farther. Why? Because we have tricked the nervous system and we have become more tolerant of that position.
Does this mean that we are now less likely to become injured? Absolutely not. Take a look at a sport with very flexible athletes - gymnastics - to demonstrate why this is not the case. Gymnasts have a very high injury rate!
So what is more effective than stretching for CrossFit? Again, think about the movement you’re going to do, and which you want to improve your mobility for. Take, for example, the squat. Rather than stretching, a more efficient use of your time, and one which is more directly related to the movement itself, would be sitting in the bottom of a squat.
This also relates back to our theory that active and resisted movements (like a squat!) will give us more bang for our buck by encouraging our body to adapt in the long term.
In simple terms - stretching isn’t bad. If you enjoy it, go for it! But the most effective way to improve our mobility for CrossFit movements is to do those actual movements, and spend time in those exact positions.
Myth #3: More mobility equals better performance
Practicing skills is what makes us better at CrossFit, not sitting in front of our tvs in a painful pigeon pose. Prioritize practice over passive modalities, always.
At WODprep, we don’t like to have roadblocks that stop us from exercising. The majority of the population (80%!) isn’t active enough and we’d hate for athletes to feel like they have to buy certain tools and follow specific programs just to be able to start squatting, for example.
If you can’t do a movement yet, find something that is very similar that you can progress over time. Just like coaches will have you go through pull-up progressions and drills to work towards your first pull-up, we can do those same things when it comes to mobility. You can goblet squat with reduced range of motion on your journey towards a full depth overhead squat which is much more effective than dedicating hours to stretching and foam rolling.
In simple terms - change your mindset to developing skills rather than developing mobility.
Want more free help from our Physical Therapists?
So, if stretching and smashing your body to bits with inanimate objects doesn't prevent injury, then what does? Well, we know - cause science - that there’s nothing that can guarantee we stay injury free for life BUT there are things we can do to reduce our risk. Dr CJ and Dr Joe have put these 5 practices into a simple PDF checklist that you can download for free below and start following today!