Athletes get their egos thrown out the window when they start CrossFit. No matter who you are, there’s going to be some aspect of this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to fitness that challenges and at some point, utterly defeats you. Mobility is one of those somewhat obscure factors that will present a host of challenges to athletes of all skill levels entering the program.
A very specific mobility is needed for many of the exercises performed in CrossFit. This mobility goes beyond simple flexibility, as illustrated by the fact that some of the worst and most difficult to correct squats have come from yoga enthusiasts. This isn’t meant as a bash against yoga, only as an example to show that excessive flexibility without stability can be just as dysfunctional in terms of strength training as a lack of flexibility.
When you do a snatch you have to be able to comfortably move into a full depth squat with a vertical torso while supporting significant weights above your head. Simply getting into position is not enough. You must lock your body into rigid posture and control an external load back to a standing position. This requires that your muscles work together, in a uniform and controlled manner, even under extreme load and extreme position.
It is a convergence of coordination, flexibility and stability that allows movements as fast and aggressive as a snatch to be performed correctly. Having strength disproportionately above these three factors is a one way ticket to injury. Not only with the snatch, but with all movements, both bodyweight and weightlifting oriented as well.
The trouble is, when you start out at CrossFit, you have no clue where you are lacking. What’s strong, what’s weak, what’s running smoothly, are all mysteries until the clock starts running. This is why I start all new athletes out with training bars or pvc pipes and scale the vast majority of bodyweight movements as well. The more you move, the more apparent the issues facing you will become. Much of what initially seems to be flexibility related often turns out to be more effected by coordination and begins to correct itself from simple verbal cuing over a period of weeks or months, if an athlete is patient and dedicated.
The general CrossFit template is great for those simply looking to get a good workout and stay healthy. An hour lifting some weight, doing some 400m runs, and having a go at some band assisted pull ups is plenty challenging for the vast majority of the population and creates a wonderful training effect. However, when you decide you want to make significant improvements and you want to challenge yourself with weights and speed, you must respect the power of mobility.
Depending on your deficits, the path to better mobility will involve lots of practice, lots of stretching, lots of accessory work, or more likely, some combination of the three on a consistent and long term basis. Stay dedicated and focused on quality movement as a priority above simple intensity and you will be rewarded with a fitness you can use to do CrossFit and anything else you want for years to come.