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Mobility & Recovery

Grinding Through Mobility With Dr. Kelly Starrett

The importance of daily mobility training

Photo by Matt Upchurch


So I was discussing with members of my local box (C3 CrossFit) any topics they would like to see written about in my columns for The Box. One member, Shannon Heisler, suggested that talking about the importance of daily mobility work as opposed to just waiting to do mobility and stretching after you got sore or injured would be a good idea. I agreed.

I had recently finished reading Rich Froning’s autobiography, First: What it Takes to Win, in which he discussed a back injury he picked up at a demo after he had competed in his first CrossFit Games. He tells the story about how he had gone to see a doctor after his lower-back injury had continued to nag at him for some time. The doctor gave him some pills to take and a couple more prescriptions and told him to lay off the training for a while and take it easy. Froning says he threw the pills in the trash, wadded up the prescriptions and called Dr. Kelly Starrett, renowned CrossFit mobility expert and author of Becoming a Supple Leopard. Starrett suggested that he try a variety of mobility exercises which would open up the joints and muscles that were inflamed and help him recover. After a few days focusing on mobility, Froning recalls that his back was feeling like its old self. He went on to win the next three CrossFit Games. So I figured, good enough for Rich Froning, good enough for me.

I contacted Starrett to ask about his thoughts about the importance of using daily mobility as a component of CrossFit training and body maintenance. I started off by asking what he thought about daily mobility as opposed to those who sometimes use stretching and mobility work to help with an injury or ongoing soreness.

He corrected me right away.

“We aren’t talking about ‘stretching’ because I don’t know what that is,” he began. “‘Stretching,’ at least what people call ‘static stretching,’ does not exist in my world.”

Ok, I got the point. He then went on to explain why daily mobility work is the key to improvement in all areas of CrossFit, even for a grinder like me.

“People have to start to understand that mobility work is a part of life. You can’t just come in and try to do all your mobility and stabilization work during your warm-up. The warm-up is the time to get hot and sweaty. If you do one session of CrossFit, you owe me one session of mobility, but that has to be on your own time. Each training session will be equal to 10 to 15 minutes of mobility, but you need to be doing this outside of your time at the gym,” Starrett explained.

To further support his rationale he offered this analogy: “Have you ever had a massage? How did you feel afterward? Did you want to jump on the rack and squat 300 pounds? No. You feel relaxed and calm, like you have less energy. If you roll into a CrossFit at 6 am and lie back on the foam roller and roll around on some knot or sore spot, it sets you up to be in a relaxed mindset, not to be ready to train. You need to move around in the warm-up. Don’t lie on a lacrosse ball or foam roller — get moving, get sweaty, warm up.”

All good points, I concluded. I am very much one to come in in the morning and slowly foam roll my lower back in an attempt to loosen it but also to try to ditch the parts of the warm-up on the white board I don’t feel like doing. According to Starrett, this is detrimental to getting warm but also not the time for me to do mobility work. He said that CrossFitters need to take care of soreness on their own time. He stated as well that a lot of problems and soreness are a result of people not being mobile enough to do the proper range of motion because they are not ready to go when the WOD starts.

“We know people who come in to do a pistol and they can’t do a pistol because their hip or ankle mobility is shit. I look at them like, ‘So what is your plan?’ Don’t come in to do a pistol if you can’t and the reason you can’t is you’re not ready. I like posting the WOD the night before so that people know what to prep for. They need to be mentally ready to tackle a WOD, but they need to work and get themselves mobile enough to do the work. Preparing ahead of time and maintaining mobility is the key to being successful in your training,” Starrett explained.

To summarize, Starrett suggests the following:

* One CrossFit training session should equal 10 to 15 minutes of mobility work on your own.

* Drop the foam roller and lacrosse ball from the warm-up.

* Get sweaty and move during your warm-up.

* Start each WOD warm and ready mentally and physically mobile. Be ready to go when the 3,2, 1 counts down.

How do you incorporate mobility into your training? Based on what Starrett describes, are you doing enough mobility or do you need to do more mobility work?

Stay on the grind. — Jamie Toland (JTol)@JTolgrinder