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Mobility: Why You Need To Do It In Crossfit

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As Crossfitters, we’re constantly moving. Whether it be pushing for a goal on our next big lift or just trying to survive the workout that day, we’re moving and pushing our body further than it’s been before each day that we step into the gym. 

And when we’re moving and exercising regularly, it’s easy to notice where your body is also holding you back because of limited range of motion or what we call limited “mobility.” It’s a word that gets thrown around quite often and can refer to a lot of different things – and trust me when I say we’ve all got mobility issues to work on. 

It could be tight hips holding you back in your back squat, a tight upper back hindering you during your front squat, tight ankles keeping you from reaching full depth during wall ball throws, or even the ever-so-common tight shoulders limiting you during your overhead movements and gymnastics. 

Regardless of what it is, limited mobility can be more than just bothersome – it can hinder your overall performance as a Crossfitter. So, if you want to boost your performance in the daily workout, during Olympic Lifting, or when doing other types of exercises, it’s always a good idea to work on your mobility restrictions.  

For this month’s blog, we chatted with Dan McGowan, a Physical Therapist (PT) at Horizon Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation, who schooled us on the basics of mobility, giving us some quick and easy places to start with improving things – most of which can help you with the common movements you’ll see at Crossfit Liberate as well as other Crossfit gyms.

Thoracic Spine Extension

Working on the mobility in your thoracic spine is one of the first things that Dan recommends when it comes to basic mobility. 

The thoracic spine (aka T-spine or the upper back) consists of the 12 vertebrae between the cervical spine segment (the neck) and the lumbar spine segment (the low back). The ability for the thoracic spine to rotate and extend is a major contributing factor to someone’s ability to properly move and stabilize the shoulder. And let’s face it, we’re moving and using our shoulders pretty much everyday when we’re at the gym. 

There are a lot of different types of stretches out there to get some good stretch to your thoracic spine. Dan says an easy place to start would be a foam roller. Simply use a foam roller down your T-spine, finding those tender spots and holding for approximately 30 seconds. 

If you’re feeling spicy, you can also use the foam roller to lean back, encouraging reduced flexion. You will notice it doesn’t take much to get a good stretch in this position! 

Front Rack Flexion and Extension

The front rack position is important. And Dan says having a good one is even more important. It’s a position that is utilized in multiple exercises, including front squats, cleans, thrusters, presses and jerks. But regardless of the specific nuances, having the ability to get into the ideal position for a front squat can give you abilities to be in any variation needed.

For a lot of people, the front rack position is not the easiest position to get to and stay in; however, with deliberate practice and a focus of trying to improve the range of motion and position, it will get better and easier with time. With that said, Dan has one simple suggested mobility exercise that can help you make progress faster and get to the front rack position you need to keep pushing through those front squats, cleans and other movements. This stretch is referred to as a front rack single arm external rotation. 

To perform, simply grab a PVC pipe from Crossfit Liberate’s collection. Place it behind your elbow, relax your shoulder, and with your other arm pull the bottom of the pipe (while it’s under your elbow) up towards your midline. You’ll quickly notice when it’s working! The best part about this particular stretch is that you’re gaining range of motion in the exact same shoulder position that’s needed for a front rack. 

This is just one of many types of stretches to get your front rack mobilized. You can find many different options online – some of which you may notice we do during our warm ups in class. And the best part is, a lot of them don’t require any equipment!

Ankle Mobility

In Crossfit, we squat a lot. And to achieve the “perfect” squat (well, what’s perfect for us as an individual), Dan says we’ll need to be able to achieve proper range of motion in our ankles. 

In fact, the foundation of a lot of the Crossfit movements we perform during a workout is in our feet. So, if you find that your chest is falling forward when you do a movement like an air squat, it may be a good idea to work on your ankle mobility. 

One simple stretch that we’ve seen time and time again is the toes to the wall, stretching your ankles in a flexed position. Put your toes up on the wall or some sort of vertical surface (like the rig) keeping your heel on the floor, and shift your hips forward forcing that ankle into a flexed position. Then, just hold it! You’ll feel that stretch working in no time. 

If you want something a little more difficult, Dan recommends lunging your weight forward to accomplish the same goal of creating good flexion in the ankle. Grab a light kettlebell and rest it on your knee for some extra tension. Stretch both sides for about a minute in this position. 

As long as you stretch consistently, you’ll likely feel the benefits of great ankle mobility and feel way more comfortable at the bottom of your squat!

Wrist Mobility 

Let’s face it, wrists are easy to forget! And though we all tend to ignore this part of our body when we think of stretching, we’ve got to remember that we are also putting a lot of pressure on our wrists during any given Crossfit workout. 

There’s a reason why CrossFitters and Olympic Weightlifters alike invest in wrist wraps and straps. The amount of stress and tension placed on the wrists can really create a lot of pain. And pain combined with a lack of stretching in this region (not to mention working at an office where you are required to use the computer all day) can quickly lead to poor wrist mobility. 

Thankfully, stretching your wrists is pretty basic and requires little to no equipment – and it’s something that Dan recommends doing before and/or after workouts. One easy place to start is with wrist rotations. 

Wrap your fingers together and move your wrists around in every possible direction. Hold any position that feels a little tender/limited for a few seconds and repeat! 

If you’d like something a little more difficult, you can also pull your wrist back into extension and/or flexion and hold for at least 20 to 30 seconds. It’s amazing what a little work on your wrists can do for movements like front squats, overhead squats, and other positions that utilize those wrists. 

So, these are just a few of the many quick and easy ways to improve your mobility in the gym. The main takeaway here is to not ignore it! 

If you feel or notice limiting factors during your workout, it could be as simple as working through your mobility in that area. Overall, addressing your mobility can not only be safer for you during exercise, but you’ll also be able to do each repetition faster, smoother and much more comfortably! 

Plus, if you find you’ve got some nagging areas, don’t forget that Horizon Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation is located right inside Crossfit Liberate. You can schedule an appointment with a PT quick and easy using the QR-code located on the door.