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Mobility Work Sucks, But It Works

dr. danny mobility performance stretching Jul 19, 2016

Like most kids in the United States, sports were a huge part of my life growing up. If you would have asked the 10-year-old me what I wanted to be when I grew up, it wasn't a physical therapist, it was a professional baseball player (that obviously didn't happen). 

When I do look back on my athletic career (I guess you could call it that), it's riddled with injuries. Here's a list of the major injuries I have sustained playing sports to include, football, baseball, basketball, soccer and dabbling in military combatives.

  • Broken right ankle at the growth plate age 15.
  • Non-contact related right meniscal tear requiring surgery age 16.
  • SLAP labral tear right shoulder age 18.
  • Torn disc lower back L4-5 causing nerve root compression for 6 months age 24. (High volume deficit dead lifts with poor technique, my own damn fault)
  • Torn disc neck C5-6 causing nerve compression for 3 months age 26.(Army combatives, accidents happen)

Looking back all the injuries that I have sustained it's a fairly long list. Some people would say that I'm injury prone, others may blame it on my genetics. I blame it on my horrific lack of mobility!

When I was in elementary school, I can remember taking the President's Physical Fitness Test. It was a big deal to me back then, mainly because I was sure I would be a professional athlete one day. I did great on all of the events and went into the last event with my confidence at an all time high. The last event was the sit and reach and I failed it! I could not for the life of me reach forward and just touch my damn toes. I was an emotional train wreck, my whole life revolved around sports and I couldn't even pass a national standard. That's a tough pill for a 10-year-old to swallow.

I think back to that test and I think of something different that could have come out of that. An educator, my parents or a coach could have seen that as a red flag or a warning sign. Sadly, the reality is that mobility is often overlooked and brushed aside as just being "tight". If you are making all-star teams and progressing in your athletic skill sets, who cares if you are a little on the tight side, right? Wrong, that's a big mistake and it needs to change. 

We as coaches, parents and physical therapists have to prioritize movement first. That comes down to two components, motor control and mobility. Motor control is the ability to perform a movement correctly aka technique. Mobility is having enough available range in your joints and tissues to perform that movement optimally and safely. You need both to have proper movement, one without the other is worthless.

For me, mobility was my greatest obstacle to achieve better movement. Working on mobility sucks! I know, both as an instructor and from personal experience. Shit, two years ago I couldn't even touch my toes and now I teach Movement and Mobility courses across the country. It's very humbling for me to teach these courses for CrossFit and it's because I know first hand how much it can change people's ability to perform at a high level and stay injury free. Since adding MWOD concepts into my training I have not been injured once. I did get hit in the face with a surfboard that broke my nose a couple years ago but no amount of mobility/technique would have changed that. Some injuries are unavoidable but they are very rare.

Here's my advice for all my CrossFit athletes in Atlanta. If you suck at something, you need to focus on trying to improve that weakness everyday. This is not what most people want to hear. If you're flexible, you will enjoy yoga. If you're strong, you will enjoy powerlifting. The reality is, that super flexiblity yoga practitioner would benefit a hell of a lot more from doing some heavy squats than working on her pigeon position. 

Find your flaws, chase them down, go for the throat and don't let go until your weakness becomes an asset!

-Dr. Danny, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS​

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