Hey Fellow Recovery Revolutionaries!

If you have ever stepped foot into a CrossFit box, you probably heard two words echoing through the gym: flexibility and mobility.

While they may seem interchangeable, there are distinct differences between them that are significant for athletes striving to increase performance and enhance their recovery. Today, let’s dive into why they are BOTH crucial components of every CrossFit athlete’s journey to peak fitness and health.

Flexibility and Mobility: Yes They Are Different

Flexibility revolves around the capacity of soft tissues—muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves—to lengthen passively. Picture the classic sit-and-reach test from gym class or the familiar quad stretch before soccer practice. Flexibility exercises, commonly known as stretches, aim to elongate tight tissues that hinder full range of motion. However, not every muscle needs stretching. Maintaining tension in muscles is vital for generating force effectively and safely. It is unlikely that someone who can palm the floor will benefit from stretching their hamstrings, even if they experience the sensation of tightness. Continuing to stretch muscles that are over-lengthened does not improve performance and can even set the stage for injury.

On the other hand, mobility pertains to a joint’s ability to move actively through its complete range of motion with control and stability. Think of executing a Turkish get-up or fluidly maneuvering your shoulder in all directions. Unlike static flexibility exercises, mobility exercises are dynamic and involve movement. These exercises enhance functional movement patterns and directly benefit daily activities.

Flexibility and Mobility: Yes They Are Connected

Flexibility and mobility are intertwined, with each relying on the other for optimal function. For instance, achieving full shoulder flexion mobility (think holding a barbell over your head) requires adequate soft tissue flexibility AND joint mobility. This will look different for every body, and could include strengthening the lower trapezius, optimizing scapular movement and control, addressing joint capsule tightness, and ensuring that the pectorals and latissimus dorsi are flexible.

As a result of their interdependence, many movements work on flexibility and mobility simultaneously. As a result of every body being different, the same movement can be a flexibility or mobility priority exercise based on which tissues are most restricted in that person’s body. 

Dynamic and Static Stretching: The Science Behind It

Research advocates for dynamic stretching over static stretching in enhancing various sport-related outcomes, including flexibility, performance, and agility. Most CrossFit pre-WOD routines predominantly feature mobility exercises, aiming to unlock additional range of motion before a workout to optimize performance. We do this to boost performance without compromising strength and power. 

However, there are always exceptions to the rule. Sometimes static stretches can be included in a good CrossFit warm up, specifically for muscles not working primarily to produce power in the upcoming workout. For example, a pectoral stretch may be appropriate before an overhead squat workout. Here, stretch-induced strength loss is not a concern, as the primary action of the pectorals in the overhead squat is to stabilize the barbell overhead rather than produce power. In this case, pectoral stretches improve shoulder flexion range of motion, allowing for improved strength transfer and ultimately better workout performance as measured by a heavier barbell held overhead with better control. 

Putting It All Together: Comprehensive Improvement

The pursuit of peak performance for CrossFit athletes requires a holistic approach that encompasses BOTH flexibility and mobility. One of our favorite tools to use to evaluate an athlete’s individual need for flexibility and mobility is The GOWOD mobility assessment featured in their app. It identifies limitations and designs individualized exercise protocols that prioritize both flexibility and mobility. These protocols evolve over time, shifting the emphasis from flexibility to mobility as you progress in your CrossFit journey.

Incorporating both flexibility and mobility exercises into your training routine is crucial for CrossFit athletes seeking to optimize performance, prevent injury, and improve their recovery. By assessing and prioritizing these aspects of fitness, you’ll ensure your body is well-prepared to handle the demands of intense CrossFit workouts while maintaining proper movement mechanics and overall physical health.

Stay strong and flexy!

Coach Matt


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  3. Behm, D. G., Button, D. C., & Butt, J. C. (2001). “Acute effects of static vs. dynamic stretching on isometric peak torque, electromyography, and mechanomyography of the biceps femoris muscle.” The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol.15, no. 4, pp. 426-431.
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