Mobility 101: Common Issues and Ways to Fix Them

Mobility: a term that is used often in the CrossFit community but is not practiced enough. If you read the previous article about mobility – what it is and why you should do it – then you know that it is an important component of being a good CrossFit athlete. In the following paragraphs, I will be addressing common mobility errors in the following movements: air squat, front squat and overhead squat, and some exercises to help you fix them.

Air Squat

The air squat is one of the nine foundational movements in CrossFit and provides the basis for the more technical movements like the clean, snatch and overhead squat.  It is extremely important that an athlete is able to perform the air squat well so that it will translate over into their execution of these more difficult olympic lifts.

Mobilization Techniques:

  • Lay with your back on the ground and your feet elevated on a box. Place a lacrosse ball under your lower bac, right above your pelvis. Focus on keeping your core engaged (clenching your stomach as if you are just about to get punched) in order to keep your back in a neutral position. Slowly shift your hips from left to right, letting the lacrosse ball work into the lower back muscles. This is an excellent exercise if you are experiencing lower back pain because it starts to loosen up the tissues in the low back/upper glute region that restrict movement and positional mechanics.
  • Sit on a bench or a box and cross your right foot over your left knee. Fold forward from your hips keeping your back flat. Use your left hand to keep your right foot from sliding off of your left leg, push your right knee toward the floor and then lock out your arm. Then rotate toward your right hand (keeping your back flat the entire time) and lower your chest to your right knee. Repeat this same stretch with the other leg. 

Front Squat

This movement is very applicable to real life. Imagine picking up a box full of books and then setting it back down somewhere else without pulling a muscle in your back. If you know how to front squat properly, then this should be an easy task. However, if you lack the mobility to properly support a load in front of your body then you put yourself at a greater risk for injury. Mobilization Techniques:

  • Place a foam roller under your back at the base of your rib cage. Wrap your arms around your chest like you’re giving yourself a big bear hug. Extend your back by pulling it into an arching position and then roll back and forth over the foam roller. You want to create an extension force over the roller by maintaining an arched back position as you roll. As you feel your back loosening up, continue this same movement but progress up your spine to the base of the neck. To create even more of an extended position, squeeze your butt and drive your hips toward the ceiling as you arch your back.
  • Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and place a lacrosse ball in the area bordering your scapula (between your right shoulder blade and spine). To create more pressure on the targeted area, drive your heels into the ground and raise your hips off of the floor. As you do this, raise your arm from your leg toward the ceiling and then to an overhead position, keeping your elbow locked out. If your elbow starts to bend, that is evidence that you are missing the internal rotation of the shoulder and this marks the end of your range of motion. Once you have brought that arm overhead, bring it across your body and try to touch your opposite hip (keeping the arm straight). 

Overhead Squat

This is probably one of the most challenging positions for athletes because of the mobility required to stabilize the barbell in the overhead position. Performing this movement well is also essential to being stronger and more efficient in the snatch (one of the olympic lifts). 

Mobilization Techniques:

  • Position a barbell on one side of your body high on your trap and at the base of your neck. Raise your arm overhead and externally and internally rotate your shoulder. You can also slowly, and with control, move the barbell up and down (like a teeter-totter) over your trap and roll the barbell from side to side.
  • Stack a medicine ball on top of two 45# plates. Position your back over the medicine ball with your rib cage in line with your pelvis and your midline engaged. Reach your arms overhead, keeping your hands close together, your elbows locked out, and your armpits pointing forward. Elevate your hips (almost like a tabletop hold) and extend your body over the medicine ball.

Keep in mind, this is not an extensive list of mobility exercises you can do to correct the problems that you are facing. This article just gives you a few exercises to get started. If you have more questions about what mobility exercises you should be doing, a great reference besides your coach is the book titled Becoming a Supple Leopard by Dr. Kelly Starrett.