Take Care of Your Joints
Congratulations! You are getting stronger! You will start to notice a few changes...
Perhaps you can lift more, go for longer, and appear smaller in the mirror. You may notice leg muscles that you never have before. Maybe you see arm muscles that were not apparent before. But, one of the other changes that you may notice is a decrease in your range of motion in your major joints.
That’s right, a DECREASE! How can that be? If you are getting stronger, you should be able to move your joint farther through a range, right? Sometimes, the increased tone causes muscles to resist movement and limit your range. For some, this is ok (they may have had too much range of motion to begin with). But for most, this is not an ideal situation.
In CrossFit, we want to be able to move through a full range of motion, and for some movements, it is imperative that we have this movement. Some movements like snatch, kipping pullups, muscle ups and deep squats all require full range of motion. So, an increase in strength may not allow you to improve these movements. Have no fear though! There is a way to continue to improve in strength and maintain your range of motion!
We refer to this as mobility. Simply defined, mobility is the ability for a joint to move freely and easily. So, if you have muscles pulling in opposite directions because they are stronger and tighter, you may have limited mobility. There are many things that can limit a joint’s mobility. It may be the muscle being tight around a given joint. It may be the joint itself being tight or having an incongruent surface. It may be swelling, arthritis or ligamentous in nature as well. All in all, there are many reasons that may cause decreased range of motion. Adding extra mobility or mobilization to your routine may help you to regain your range of motion.
Mobility work may include a variety of exercises to help you to regain your range. The most common addition is stretching.
Static Stretch-The most common type, this stretch is performed by stretching a muscle and holding the stretch for a prolonged period, usually 20-60 seconds. This stretching is the best way to improve muscle flexibility. This stretch can change the physiological makeup of a muscle and cause it to lengthen. This lengthening may allow decreased tension within a joint and improve range of motion.
Dynamic Stretch- This type is much quicker, and moves a body part through a range of motion actively. These are commonly seen as a part of a warmup. These movements may include high knees, butt kicks, toy soldiers, karaoke/grapevine, B skip and others. This is a great way to get your body warmed up and moving through your available range of motion. This also teaches your brain to work through the entire range of motion that you have available. This type of stretching is a great way to continue to mobilize your joints.
Ballistic Stretch-(use caution!) This type uses momentum to go past the range of motion that a muscle or joint currently has. This is different than dynamic stretching because dynamic stretching usually does not go to the extremes of range of motion, usually only through the available range. An example of a ballistic stretch is the old stretch called “cherry pickers”, where a person bends over quickly and bounces when they stretch their hamstrings.
You should be very careful about over stretching with this type of stretch and this should only be performed when you are warmed up. Do not use this as your first stretch!
Additionally, foam rolls and lacrosse balls improve the pliability of your soft tissue. Although the jury is still out on why this works, some argue that these techniques can improve the way that you feel and perform. They are great to add in to warmups and may address some pain that you have. Foam rollers may also be a great option to improve your spinal mobility, which can be crucial to positioning with certain movements. Lacrosse balls are much more pinpoint as far as what they target. You can get to deeper tissues with a lacrosse ball as well due to the concentration.
Finally, the most often forgotten component of mobility is joint mobilizations. A joint mobilization is moving the bones within a joint and stretching the capsule. The capsule is a group of connective tissues that helps to hold the joint together. Sometimes, especially if you have not been moving or exercising a lot, these tissues become tight and make it tougher for the joint to move freely. If this is the problem, then all the muscular stretching in the world may not help with your decreased range of motion. You will need joint mobilization.
There are several ways to see if this is the right option for you and we incorporate a lot of these techniques into our mobility work. If you have questions, see your coach, they can help you with some of these techniques.
As a physical therapist, these are some of the most common problems that I find when people are having pain. By trying these things on your own, you may eliminate the need to see a physical therapist completely. We often program time for mobility within our workouts, however, it's still important for you to work on mobility on your own.
I would recommend that you complete these stretching, foam rolling joint mobilizations after a workout, when your body is warm and has a lot of blood flowing to your muscles to allow for improved mobility. If you have any questions, feel free to ask your coach for some suggestions! We would love for you to stay after class for 10-15 minutes to work on your mobility! At CFBA, we know that staying healthy and injury free is the best way to continue to make improvements to your health and fitness. Hopefully you will use this to continue on your journey with us!