Feeling stiff, sore, and tight? This is normal, especially for us folk over 30! This was something that hit me right around age 27-28. I had been working a grown up job for 3 years, which included a 2 hour commute round trip, where I was sitting at least half of my 10 hours at work.
Unbeknownst to me, my hips, ankles, and shoulders were slowly stiffening up. I go to deadlift heavy one day, and BOOM, my lower back pinches. Can’t bend over or stand up straight for about 10 days. I spent the next 7 years of my life battling this “lower back” problem. Doctor visits, physical therapist visits, chiropractic visits, NONE of it worked.
During this time, I continued to hit the CrossFit gym hard. Still getting faster times and lifting heavier weights (except in the deadlift). Did that until my shoulder started acting up. No loss of strength, but it hurt every time I benched pressed and shoulder pressed. It was SO frustrating to feel like I was injured and not know how to make it better.
My world changed when the CrossFit gym I was going to offered a one hour mobility class once a week. After just the first class, I immediately noticed a difference in the way I felt. I felt loose, free, and limber. The next day, my workout felt EASIER. Then I got tight again. The following week I did the one hour mobility class, felt awesome after. I started incorporating the stretches I learned in that class on my own, throughout the week.
Then, I had a VERY eye opening experience. I noticed a huge difference when I did CrossFit Open workout 17.5. For those who don’t remember (many CrossFitters have blocked this one out of memory), it called for 10 rounds: 9 thrusters and 35 double-unders. I was good at both of those and thought I’d do well, except for the fact that I hadn’t been working out consistently. I had been stretching though.
I came out of the gate on this workout steady, pacing myself like usual. I was ready to start feeling the pain. But a funny thing happened. I remember thinking to myself, “Why do these thrusters feel so easy?”. Halfway through the workout I felt WAY better than I should have.
Then it dawned on me about 8 rounds in. My torso was straight up and down for the first time ever during a thruster. It felt easy because I wasn’t working so damn hard not to tip over! I was able to go harder with LESS effort! Fuck yes! When I normally started to run out of gas, I actually hit the gas HARDER towards the last part of the workout. I finished much faster than I had expected and hoped for.
Over the course of the next year, I became a mobility fanatic. Learning every stretch, foam rolling, and mashing technique there was out there. I slowly became the go-to resource at the gyms I coached at. People would come to me and say, “Hey, my such and such hurts. What’s a good stretch for it?” I would ask a few questions about where they were feeling the tension, and I seemed to have the solution for them. I felt comfortable doing this because I had experienced the problems first hand, and was able to fix them by myself. I fell in love with figuring out how to live a pain free life, AND spreading the good word on how to do just that!
Which leads me to why I’m sharing this information with you. I have a motto called, “Always Be Mobilizing.” What I mean by that is, you should always be doing something during your day to maintain or increase your range of motion. If you aren’t doing that, you are slowly losing range of motion, getting stiff, and getting closer to a painful existence. Here is all you need to know on how to Always Be Mobilizing.
WHO NEEDS TO MOBILIZE?
Everyone! We live in a world where we are forced to be inactive, stationary, and often times in a sitting position. In your car, at the dinner table, at your desk, texting, on the computer, and the list goes on of all the activities we do that REQUIRE us to be in a seated position. This wreaks havoc on our bodies for SO many reasons! For this reason, and this reason alone, EVERYONE needs to mobilize throughout the day.
When you sit, a ton of problems occur. Your hips are in a closed position, your ankles are in a flexed position, and your shoulders are rounded forward. ALL of these are terrible, for overall body pain AND athletic performance. You cannot be in the seated position the majority of your day, and expect to be able to perform at your best in and out of the gym.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO MOBILIZE?
A good rule of thumb is to start with your ankles, hips, and shoulders. Most people need work in these three areas more than anything. If you can’t do all of them, triage the worst moving out of the three and start there.
- Ankles – with stiff ankles, your knees cannot move forward when you squat. This forces you to lean your torso forward when you squat low.
- Hips – with tight hips, you cannot easily stand up straight. You become slightly hunched over and your lower back begins to hurt because it’s trying to pull your hips back into alignment.
- Shoulders – with tight shoulders, you aren’t able to press anything over your head without arching your lower back. Your upper back also wants to pull you back into alignment, which causes pain in the upper back.
WHEN AND WHERE DO YOU MOBILIZE?
All the time, and everywhere! Find a way to mobilize at least one body part at all times. This sounds crazy and I admit, it kinda is. It also is very realistic and time efficient. I call these “mobility hacks.”
Brushing your teeth? Cool, pop into the bottom of a squat. Standing in line at the grocery store? Awesome, pull your foot to your butt and stretch your hips and quads. Stalking your ex lover on Instagram to see how unhappy they are? That’s normal, put one foot behind you and stretch your hips and calf muscles. Stuck in traffic? Even better, reach one hand behind your driver’s seat and stretch your pecs and shoulders.
There are ENDLESS ways to mobilize throughout your day in order to stay limber and prevent stiffness. It’s better than doing nothing. Here is a quick video on simple ways to mobilize while doing day to day activities in your own kitchen. Don’t wait until later, start mobilizing now while you finish reading this article!
WHY SHOULD YOU MOBILIZE?
There is plenty of research on how stretching and mobility will reduce the risk of injury during sport and exercise. There is also tons of research to support that a flexible muscle is an explosive muscle, and how flexible muscles perform better in athletic performance. On top of all the research, there are many other personal experiences I have to show the benefits of daily mobility training, flexibility, and stretching. These experiences are personal, and through training clients.
The main benefit that I have found in myself and clients is that it makes the athlete more aware of their own body. Our bodies are incredibly durable and adaptable. Many times we are so stiff, and have been for so long, that we don’t even realize how much pain this is causing our bodies. We have become so accustomed to being in chronic pain that we have forgotten how much our bodies hurt.
Daily stretching, mashing, and foam rolling is important for us to check in with our bodies. Where are you tight? Where are you in pain? Do you need to back off of training? Can you fix the painful area so you can push harder in training the next day? These are all very good questions that you should be asking yourself, for athletic performance and quality of life!
IS OVER MOBILIZING BAD FOR YOU?
The benefits of mobility and stretching has been well documented in the past. However, there has been an interesting movement recently to support that a stiff, or less flexible muscle actually increases athletic performance. The theory behind this is that a stiff or “tense” muscle can actually fire harder and more explosive, without the athlete having to battle an overly flexible muscle.
I have two thoughts on this. First, in regards to your average “weekend warrior” style athlete. The athlete who has a full time job that requires them to be sedentary most of the day but is active for about an hour in the gym. For most people in this category, mobility is a glaring weakness and just getting into certain positions is difficult. Simply getting into a proper and safe overhead press or squat is the challenge.
For this person, mobility should be a huge priority or else they run the risk of injury over time. Mobility should occur before the workout for this person, in order to help them get into a better and safer position for the exercises they are about to perform. If they don’t do this before, they run the risk of stressing the body in a compromised position.
This person may even be an incredible athlete, beating people in running races and CrossFit workouts. Eventually, without proper ankle, hip, and shoulder mobility, this person will suffer an injury due to overcompensation or flat out bad form. It may take a month, a year, or even 10 years, but it will happen. Don’t fall into this category and ALWAYS BE MOBILIZING!
For the higher level athlete who already has great mobility and does not struggle getting into proper position, flexibility training differs. For this athlete, mobility is not a priority, but a necessity. It’s a necessity in order to prevent muscle soreness, expedite recovery, and maintain self awareness of how their body is feeling.
For this person, pre-workout stretching is more dynamic, priming style mobility. It is less about getting them into a better position and more about getting their body ready for exercise. This person should also emphasize mobility training after their workout, to help maintain or increase flexibility while your muscles are loose and warm.
So here is my cry for more mobility! Stop living a painful life. Stop living with lower back pain, plantar fasciitis, and “text neck.” Start moving better throughout your day and in the gym. Start hitting personal records in the gym because you aren’t fighting your own muscle restrictions! Utilize your time wherever you are and start stretching today!
Let me know if you need help with ideas on how to mobilize throughout your day! I want to hear from you!