Top 5 Biggest Mobility Mistakes

‘Mobility’ is in vogue. Both the word, and the practice. All the cool kids are ‘mobilising’. But first let’s define the term, because I fear it has become a blanket term for the pre- and post- exercise routines that all individuals should complete around their training.

Effectively, mobility is ‘movement around a joint’ - its ability to move through a full range of motion. Muscle length and tension, the structure of the joint, and neural factors (nervous system control) all impact mobility.

So mobility is only a small part of the picture. Either it’s incorrectly used as this blanket term, or people really are ONLY mobilising, and ignoring important elements of movement preparation, correction and recovery. For the sake of this article, we expand our view to cover multiple elements of movement preparation, therapy and recovery.

#5 Biggest Mistake: Not Using Mobility for Movement Therapy. 

Too many people see mobility work purely as a method of recovery. Often the techniques used are not related to either the session that was just completed, nor to that individual’s faults. Mobility work (and it’s important though often overlooked stability counterpart) should be specific. In a three step process, movement faults should first be identified, then from these the underlying musculo-skeletal imbalances should be diagnosed, and finally, SPECIFIC post- exercise routines should be prescribed.

#4 Biggest Mistake: Stretching Before Exercise.

Stretching (both static and PNF) causes “…deficits in strength, power output, and muscle activation…” (Marek et. al. 2005). This means that not only does your performance suffer following stretching, but there is an increased risk of injury. Instead, complete dynamic movements specific to the exercises you’ll be undertaking during training. If you can move each joint dynamically through the same degrees of freedom as they’ll be experiencing during your session, you’re on the right track. The one exception here is when the effects of stretching before exercise allow the individual to achieve better positions which will reduce the injury rate BY MORE than the increased risk of injury due to the reductions in muscle strength.

#3 Biggest Mistake: Static Stretching.

Static stretching is dead. The long term benefits of hanging out at the end of a muscle’s range are minimal. Don’t get me wrong, static stretching is immensely  better than sitting in a chair all day, but remember, the aim is to move further along the continuum from sickness to health. Replacing static stretching with PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) does just that. PNF is a form of stretching that stimulates relaxation of a muscle so it can be moved through a greater range of motion. This functional flexibility refers to not only an increase in the length of a muscle and terminal range of motion, but also an improved strength and force generating  capacity.

#2 Biggest Mistake: Only Mobility, Not Stability.

Increasing the range of movement around a joint is important – for joints that need it. But many joints don’t. Generally speaking, the ankle, hip, thoracic spine and shoulder (gleno-humeral joint) will benefit from increased mobility, while the knee, lumbar spine and scapula need stabilising. Muscles should be trained as they are to be used. Segments of the body requiring stability should be trained to resist movement, not create movement.

#1 Biggest Mistake: Preparing and recovering your body in poor positions.

We devote countless hours to examining and improving our technique. We work hard to create safe and effective movement with a barbell or our body. We prioritise such concepts as neutral spine, stable scapulae and favourable joint positions. So why then does all this go out the window when we ‘stretch’. Our body learns the positions we teach it. If we teach poor positions when we’re preparing our body for movement or recovering after movement, then we’re effectively setting up our musculoskeletal system to  lose integrity and fail under load.

Of course, everything here sits on a continuum. As long as it does no damage, it’s better than nothing. But my hope is that the guidelines will allow for the creation of better habits and more efficient and effective pre- and post- exercise routine practices.

Dan Williams's picture

Dan Williams

Dan Williams is the Founder and Director of Range of Motion. He is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Exercise Scientist with a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science. Dan is a CrossFit Coach (at CF Games Level) and four time CrossFit Regionals Athlete.