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”.
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.
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.
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.