More Mobility Isn’t Always Better and 3 Things To Do About It

Every movement we make is a balancing act (literally) between stability and mobility.  Stability comes from muscular tension, mobility from muscular relaxation.  We need just the right amount of both to move safely and efficiently.

In crossfit and the world beyond (that apparently exists) – there is the belief that the more flexibility the better, and that the more flexible you are the less likely you are to get injured.  Spoiler alert: This is not always the case.  I’m going to tell you why and how you should use this information to review your current training.

Flexibility and mobility refer to the range of motion at a given joint. It is true, a lot of people are lacking range of motion, and would benefit from an increase in flexibility and mobility. We all know those people who can’t get overhead without arching their back, or can’t squat to parallel, and by and large, most of the time, some flexibility and mobility work would help them out. 

BUT…

You can have too much of a good thing

Every movement we make is a balancing act (literally) between stability and mobility.  Stability comes from muscular tension, mobility from muscular relaxation.  We need just the right amount of both to move safely and efficiently.  Too much tension and we have no motion, too much relaxation and we collapse like a bag of bones. 

Play with planes Muscle attachment points are often not located on the front and backside of our bones, so we can take advantage of this to get greater muscle activation and recruitment by varying the angles of our lifts. Try some of your regular lifts, but aim to lift a few inches away from your normal centre. In doing so the lever arm changes so the weight will feel heavier, but you'll also feel different muscles fire up compared to the normal version of the lift. Here I'm shifting the weight across the body to get more adduction and internal rotation at the right hip, to encourage more activation of the right glute as compared to a normal single leg deadlift. Try some off-centre lifting for yourself, just remember to start light #allthesingleleggies #allthesingleleggies #putyourhandsup #fmh #functional #movement #hacks #triplanar #crossfitmobility #crossfit #mobility #mobilitywod #romwod #suppleleopard #fitness #flexibility #prehab #rehab #fitness #fitfam #fitspo #bodybuilding #handstands #movementculture

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What does this mean on a practical basis?

I’ve discussed in an earlier blog here how tension in a muscle is mainly controlled by the central nervous system.  Usually if a muscle is tight, it’s your body’s way of trying to protect you from getting into a position it perceives as dangerous – it is creating stability because it doesn’t feel in control. 

SO, if we do tons of mobility work, and stretch off that tight muscle, what happens?  We now let our body get into a position that it can’t control (well).  Depending on the situation, this can be a good or a bad thing.  If we’re doing some movement homework, trying to improve our positions then, great, you’re onto a winner, you just keep being you. If we’re doing 1RM snatch, you’re asking for an injury – the new range of motion will not have the same level of control or strength as the old, so when that HUGE weight you’re lifting slams into end range at high speed, you are unlikely to create the correct or enough muscular tension to stabilise the bar. This is when ligaments and tendons are stress tested, and also when they fail.

Rotate your shoulder Improve the external rotation of your shoulders, especially for pullups but also for finding a good overhead lockout position for DB snatch @22.5kg for example. Hang foot supported from a pullup bar, thumb pointed towards you. Reach around for the upright or wall behind you going for progressively lower touches. Do 3 sets of 5 each arm. Key cues: elbow stays locked out, ribs stay down, keep weight through the hanging arm. #sniffyourpits #openprep #tightshoulders #fmh #functional #movement #hacks #triplanar #crossfitmobility #crossfit #mobility #mobilitywod #romwod #suppleleopard #fitness #flexibility #strictpress #press #prehab #rehab #fitness #fitfam #fitspo #bodybuilding #handstands #movementculture

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What should you do about it?

  • Lay off the aggressive mobility work just before you max out – tension might stop you getting into perfect positions, but it is there for a reason, it also protects you
  • Whenever you open new range, make sure you develop skill and stability there afterwards, use it or lose it
  • Be aware that if a muscle is consistently tight then it might be doing the work of another muscle, so building stability elsewhere might actually be a better way to ease it off than stretching the tight muscle every single day

Tight ankles A very common limiter for the squat is tight ankles/calves. Give this drill a try to loosen them up and take some of the work off the hips to get to full depth. Stand on a dumbbell or step, hang the heel off the back until in a stretch position then reach down to the targets behind. To increase demand, bend the knee slightly and repeat. For a more aggressive release drop into the stretch each rep. Try to relax the calf and let the reactive muscle contractions control the movement. Scale up or down using height of step. 3 sets of 10 reps at a challenging variations. #babycows #hardestplacetoaddmass #pistolpistol #fmh #functional #movement #hacks #triplanar #crossfitmobility #crossfit #mobility #mobilitywod #romwod #suppleleopard #fitness #flexibility #strictpress #press #prehab #rehab #fitness #fitfam #fitspo #bodybuilding #handstands #movementculture #squat

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Conclusion

Mobility/flexibility/stretching aren’t necessarily bad, but should be applied as necessary, rather than as much as possible.  If you’re unsure about how to address your issues, check with your coach/movement specialist, or get in touch with me!

3 Top Ways to Squat Deeper and Improve your Mechanics

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About The Author

Ashley @f_m_hacks is a London based personal trainer and coach. He helps crossfitters improve their movement for performance or to escape injury.
He found crossfit through mobilitywod while looking for solutions to old rugby injuries then started on a journey of trying to fix himself when traditional healthcare options couldn’t. He is now a qualified movement specialist which he uses to complement his degree from Oxford University in ...

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