Mobility Basics

Kelly Starrett is an extremely effective DPT. Most physical therapists aim at rehabbing people back from injuries, but doing so in a way that covers the baseline level of care to limit re-injury and legal issues. As with any profession, there are those who aim to run a swift business and garner an impressive income, and then there are others who truly aim to help not only their trainees and clients, but as many people as they can. Kelly is definitely the latter in his effort to help the CrossFit and athletic community improve their performance by maintaining upkeep on their body. Instead of just waiting for injury, Kelly aims to stave it off with preventative exercises and stretching. This concept is the act of improving mobility and is nowadays summed up as “mobility”.


Standard ops for Kelly




Kelly is a really, really good guy. He not only cares about teaching, but is innovative in how he takes the fundamental concepts that he learned in his doctoral program and disseminating that information for simple plublic consumption. I’ve told him this (as I stared longingly into his eyes) when I briefly got to chat with him a couple years ago at the first CrossFit Football Seminar. He’s a stand up guy, funny, and very effective. Learn from his website, MobilityWOD.com.
Note: An increasing number of my readers don’t come from a CF background: “WOD” is short for workout of the day.”


However, a lot of you lifters will gaze upon the MWOD and get a sensory overload. It can appear complicated at first look. Kelly is using bands to twist and torque his joints into positions, and then puts a kettlebell in his hand or on his belly, and the mobility noob is only confused, terrified, aroused, or all three. I hope this post will help some of you learn the basics of implementing mobility work. This isn’t Kelly Starrett endorsed, but it should give you a decent baseline to implement his recommendations well.


First, I want to point out that there is an entire FAQ that will undoubtedly answer most of your questions. Take the time to read it. Additionally, this quote is on the home page:

This blog is intended as a jump off point for athletes to systematically begin to address their nasty tissues and grody joint mobility. Use at your own risk and stop if you think it’s gonna hurt you, your spine is going to come out your throat, or your face goes numb. But, understand that you should be responsible for your own business. Don’t wait until you need a new knee. Pony up.

When To Do Mobility
As Kelly points out, it can be done whenever. The obvious answer is, if it effects your workout, then don’t do it before. Brent has mentioned that doing some of the hip stretches make him feel loose at the bottom of his squats, cleans, or snatches. When I was Olympic weightlifting regularly, I did the “3 stretches for lifters” before every session because I either had to, or it made me feel better (my back and hip external rotators were chronically tight back then). At first, put mobility at the end of your workouts or before bed (it works well with most schedules, and you can do it in your underwear). If you do it chronically — like you should be — then you will notice the benefit in training. If you have range of motion limitations, then put some of them in your daily warm-up. The trade-off of losing some power capability for the sake of a better ROM will be worth it until you are more mobile. Most importantly, I’ll highlight this quote by Kelly in the FAQ:

The bottom line – be less concerned about when to do the MWOD and be more concerned about addressing your tissue health and range of motion problems. Above all else, the MobilityWod is about improving your capacity to be in a good position during movement to improve performance and avoid injury.

I know that I had glute medius, hip flexor, and lumbar/sacral issues with my back a couple of years ago because of a lack of mobility work and guidance. This is why I’m going out of my way to make sure that you guys do it, because it can make a difference, subtle or dramatic.



Where To Start?
Brent talks about doing mobility work all the time on his training log because he has made it a part of his training. People often ask him for advice, and he’s quick to point out, “I’m not special in knowing what to do, I just do it.” In other words, he just does the MWOD every day (usually in his underwear). By regularly doing it, you’ll find out where you are deficient. Once you know where you’re deficient, then you know what to focus on. There are videos where you may not have the equipment — lacrosse balls, bands, foam rollers, and other stuff — so emulate the stretch the best way you can.


If you don’t know what you’re deficient in and are totally lost with the MWOD videos, then start with the two videos I’ve made and do those regularly (again, they are videos one and two). Of course, you don’t have to, but you’re the one that doesn’t know what to do. I highly recommend that you regularly watch Kelly’s videos daily along with doing the stretches I give you. Hearing the terminology regularly will help you understand what’s going on. Once you feel more comfortable, you can start branching out into some of the more complicated stuff.


Common Deficiencies
If you don’t even know how to gauge a ROM deficiency, then here are the most common. First, what kind of job or activity do you do on a normal basis? The majority of you would say, “I’m sitting in a chair doing x”. That means your hips are in flexion, your knees are bent, your back is slouched, your shoulders are rolled forward, and your chin is down while you’re looking forward. This produces impressive tightness in the hip flexors, the hip external rotators, the lower back, the internal rotators of the shoulder, and the anterior and lateral neck muscles. Start trying to stretch those areas immediately. In the “3 stretches for lifters” video, the focus is on the hip and back region. However, there are plenty of other common issues in the shoulder and neck region. If you don’t know that you’re lacking mobility in these areas, the best way to test the area is to do the stretches in Kelly’s videos and find out for yourself. If you haven’t really done any stretching at all (lately or ever), then I will guarantee that you’ll be tight in the areas I indicated earlier in this paragraph.


A lot of these stretches don’t merely have an effect on the specific muscle and tendon that is being stretched; they will have an effect on the entire body. Loosening up the hips with a couch and table top stretch can help relieve tension off the back. Working on the proximal portion of the psoas as well as the scalenes can will alleviate tension on the upper body region and allow the shoulders to be opened up. The body is an impressive chain of related structures, and by continuously working on them you’ll receive a large scale benefit instead of just at one specific location.


The following videos are good introductions to some of the basic stretches as well as some of the concepts of related regions that I just alluded to.


Starting Videos
Hip Flexor (“couch stretch”, funny vid)
Hip External Rotators (“table top stretch”)
More external hip rotators
Psoas and Scalene interaction
Stretching muscles around the scapula
More shoulder goodness, with a dowel
Soft Tissue of the Shoulder
A good review on all shoulder mobs to improve internal rotation


These are just but a few videos that highlight each area of the body. There are probably better videos than what I listed here, but you’ll see the common trends on each body part. Kelly will have the daily MWODers repeat stretches, but he’ll also find clever variations to work the structures in a different way. The best way to start is to start; just do the stretches and make it a habit. It will help you prevent injury, recovery from injury, and will even help improve the efficiency of your lifts. Some of the mechanics are difficult to understand if you don’t have an anatomy background, but just do the stretches. The mechanics can be explained later, but you can’t improve your capability until you start. You have 96 increments of 15 minutes in a 24 hour day; using one or half of one of those for mobility isn’t a big sacrifice and it will yield impressive improvement.


Voice Your Opinion
Lastly, I’ll open the comments section up to anything mobility related. Feel free to post any videos that really helped you or other videos you thought I left out. Keep in mind that everyone is different, so there will be varying tightness or deficiency in each individual.

38 thoughts on “Mobility Basics

  1. I’ve always found shoulder dislocates to be a pretty good exercise to loosen up. They can be done with a stick or supposedly with a band also.

    example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXwTBcZpNBI&feature=related

    Yes, shoulder dislocates are a regular part of my warm-up. I looked for a Burgener/Starrett video on them, but couldn’t find any so I left it out. I was gonna talk about them in the dynamic warm-up video I’m gonna make soon.

    While shoulder dislocates are useful, they aren’t all encompassing for shoulder mobility. There was a fella at the Canada workshop who regularly did dislocates, but his shoulder mobility left something to be desired for.

    When doing the dislocates, keep the elbows straight and go as wide as necessary to do the ROM correctly. Over time you’ll work your hands closer for more of a stretch. I typically suggest doing one set of ten at least for a warm-up, but tight people should get three sets of ten. I’ll explain more of their utility later.

    –Justin

  2. Excellent stuff.

    For me, the two absolute go-to stretches are shoulder dislocates and basically any hip flexor stretch.

    It’s all good, but those two stretches give me, by far, the most bang for the buck.

  3. I have a slap tear in my shoulder, I have been doing rehab exercises to try to avoid surgery but every once in a while I will do “something” to it and it will hurt for days (mostly referred pain in my biceps). I already cut out bench press completely, pretty sure that is how I hurt it. I will start the MWODs today with focus on internal and external shoulder rotation. Any other advice is welcomed and appreciated.

    Sounds like you caused the injury by being chronically internally rotated, especially on bench. I have a vid about this topic coming soon.

    –Justin

  4. Something everybody, including Kstar tends to skip over (mainly because most people have the opposite problem) is hip internal rotation.

    Any suggestions? it’s an extremely awkward range of motion to mobilize, and I often struggle to find a position that doesn’t compromise my knee.

    Currently I’m doing the standard “goalie” stretch to the best of my ability (which…isn’t much), but would love some more tools in my toolbox.

    I have one that will help. I don’t know if it’s been done by Starrett, and a lot of stretches will be reciprocated (for example, I was doing a “couch stretch” and “table top stretch” as part of my warm-up before I saw them in Kelly’s videos — because I needed to).

    –Justin

  5. Any other coaches here should seriously consider taking Kelly’s CF mobility cert. I’m not a huge Crossfit guy, but his cert taught me a ton about positioning, movement faults, set up, biomechanics and how to create and apply his methods. I’ve been able to fix things that physios and chiros can’t for people…it’s not magic, it’s just effective and simple.

    I’d second this. I’ve never been able to attend one, but in the short amount of time that I’ve been able to talk to Kelly, I learned a lot. Having the principles and fundamentals taught in a systematic way would be exceptionally helpful.

    –Justin

  6. Any good videos for knees? I likely tore my ACL or meniscus(or both) a couple years ago. Right knee caves much more than healthy one. Anything to alleviate pain/improve performance would be helpful.

    The first thing you can do is go on the website and search “knee”. Here, I’ve done it for you.

    http://tinyurl.com/6x2otzz

    Existing pathology is always going to be more complicated. Knowing how the injury occurred, what deficiencies you had that probably aided in the injury, and then working on the associated areas would be what you’d probably do. But it always depends. You should aim to work on everything around the knee, everything around the thigh, and everything around the hip. That’s what I would do if it was me, but you should get the advice of someone who can be more specific.

    –Justin

  7. My hips would sometimes feel tight and uncomfortable during my squat warmups, so I spent a total of 2 minutes stretching them, and the next day I could feel a definite improvement. This shit works.

  8. Huge MWOD fan here. I don’t do it nearly as much as I should but have been doing it at least every time I watch tv, so about every other day. I think that’s a helpful guideline: if you’ve found yourself sitting in front of the tv for an hour, get on the floor and start to foam roll and mobilize.

    Justin, do you have a favorite non-traditional mobility tool? Kstar is always finding new dog toys and shit to use. I sometimes use an old iron golf club shaft to brutalize knots in my quads. Hurts so good.

    This is my absolute favorite tool for dealing with plantar fasciitis. It’s just fantastic. If you can position right it can really help the glutes and quads too.
    http://www.amazon.com/Footsie-Roller-Foot-Flex-Massage/dp/B0016BDO28

    The lacrosse ball is so simple and works so well that it’s the standard thing. I’ve used a golf ball on the arches of my feet before.

    Other than using various pieces of gym equipment to stretch, I don’t have any other unique methods.

    –Justin

  9. K-star is the man. I had a rotator cuff injury that he magically mobilized and rehabbed in just a couple (painful) sessions. So painful in fact that I blacked out in his chair, but whatever. It worked. If you ever have the need for PT and are in the Bay Area, do yourself a favor and see him.

  10. Just read the 70sBig facebook post about the uniform nonsense and decided I really like Brent Kim, although I’m not going to “like” any comments individually because I like them all the most. +1000 Brent

  11. Since I’m not getting stronger and my body comp. still sucks dick I think I am gonna start CrossFit Endurance. Fuck you guys I’m winning.

  12. And I’ll kip my way to 100 consecutive pull-ups.

    Not a single fuck was given.

    You’re not getting stronger because you’re using 531 and there isn’t a proper systemic stress in each day of training.

    –Justin

  13. I can’t stress enough how important this shit is. I’m still pretty sloppy but my pre workout warmups have gotten a lot better than they once were.

    Stretching my hip flexors has been the biggest thing to improve my squat this year. I found that I couldn’t hold a good body position in the hole, I’d round forward, weight moves and then BAM I become the failwhale.

    Now that I stretch my hip flexors regularly I have been much stronger and tighter at the bottom and can even utilise hamstring bounce!

    Sadly, I still also stand like a duck.

    I also want to point out that consistently training also made your squat increase reasonably well.

    –Justin

  14. Oh and yeah, very informative and well structured post. Thanks again, like the multitude of others that have been presented…

    If only there was a way to donate money, or purchase some of your wares in a way of showing thanks for the massive amounts of information you have imparted upon me…

  15. My right LCL feels pretty off as of late. It’s from spending too much time in the diver’s seat of a car and having my knee bent in. It only hurts if I manually close my knee as far as possible by doing something like kneeling, but I can still squat deep no problem.

    Any ideas on what I can do?

    The first thing to do would be loosen up the structures that would attach laterally to the knee. Vastus lateralus, maybe even IT, proximal lateral biceps, distal lateral hamstring. If you’re knee is in, then that’s internal hip and knee rotation (internal/external rotation can occur in the knee once it is flexed, not when it’s straight for obvious reasons). I linked a nice knee video to jarrett yesterday, so look higher in the comments for it.

    –Justin

  16. I got a lacrosse ball a couple weeks ago after always reading about Brent’s mobbing and the results he got out of it. I was hitting a lot of shoulder stuff initially, but have started to use it for some leg stuff now too. I was in the pain cave earlier doing some shoulder stuff with the lacrosse ball on my first rib. It was brutal, but you feel so much better after.

  17. Justin,

    Kelly advocates a feet forward position in the squat, what is your opinion on foot stance with a loaded bar? Feet 45 degrees out or facing forward?

    Cheers

    I would never put someone at feet 45 degrees, nor would I put them directly forward (and neither would Kelly, he says 7 to 10 degrees out from forward). The degree of “toes pointed out” is (in my opinion) dependent on the person’s mobility — which should improve over time. This topic is much larger than a short comment post, but I would love to chat with Kelly about this topic. I’ve invited him to do a podcast, so maybe it could happen there.

    –Justin

  18. I did go to the site and search “knee” and “acl” and a few other terms. When knee returned nearly 50 videos(plus comments, required reading to me, sensory overload as you mentioned) I thought I might ask in case there were particular ones you’d suggest since you did so for shoulders/hips in the OP.

    I went through a bunch anyway and none seem like they’ll help my particular issue but the site should be useful to me in general.

    Thanks for the help and keep up the good work.

    Well, the site is directed at those who have normal, healthy pathology. Since you don’t, it’s up to you to become more of an expert on the anatomy and the mechanics so that you understand what you need to do to prevent it from getting worse.

    All I know is the following about you: “Any good videos for knees? I likely tore my ACL or meniscus(or both) a couple years ago. Right knee caves much more than healthy one. Anything to alleviate pain/improve performance would be helpful.”

    You don’t even know WHAT you tore IF something was actually torn. Furthermore you didn’t indicate WHICH meniscus was torn, although I assume medial. If you’re like a normal person, then you have coddled this knee since this incident (regardless of what occurred in the incident) to the point that it has developed (or regressed) to not being a strong and stable knee. “Knee caving” is arbitrary and you didn’t indicate on what movement or how it was caving. I’ll assume the knee is going in on the squat, maybe even the deadlift. This could be attributed to you coddling it over time and losing the effective musculature to keep it in a good, stable position. The external hip rotators need to contract for the knee to stay out and the adductors need to stretch and help extend the hip properly out of the bottom of a squat. I’d assume you haven’t overly strengthened your hamstrings and haven’t really done RDLs consistently? And I haven’t even mentioned working on the quads, the hamstrings, or anything in that video that I linked you yesterday.

    You also didn’t indicate WHERE this is pain or HOW it limits your performance. For all I know, you could have a minor injury that has been coddled and everything just got worse as a result. Or your lifting technique is not great because of the coddling and has exacerbating the minor issue. I just don’t know because you didn’t give me much information to work on. It sounds like you haven’t gotten an MRI. These are the reasons I can’t help you, and it’s also why I said “start working on everything around the knee, thigh, and hip”.

    –Justin

  19. What’s a good stretch for the chest? I get a lot of popping in my sternum/chest when I raise my hands above my head and chest gets stretched out. It doesn’t hurt but seems like an odd place to have popping.

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