Mobility vs. Mobilizing: The difference you need to know

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When it comes to strength and conditioning, whether it be sport-specific training, CrossFit, or numerous other functional fitness applications, I believe there is still one vastly overlooked component: mobility. This is a term that is thrown around time and time again, especially in the CrossFit community (where the majority of my coaching experience has derived).  One thing CrossFit has been great at is really bringing people’s attention to the importance of their ability to move through Full Ranges of Motion and not only movement requirements for exercise, but also ones ability for their joints to move through proper range. This has brought a great amount of attention to ones own body awareness as it applies to the above topics. And while the sport has done a great job at bringing these elements to our attention as coaches, there are still some clarifications to be made on the topic of mobility as it applies to our athletes. But how do we begin to train movement as it applies to achieving your full range? If you’ve made it this far, you’ll probably guess: mobility. In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of training as it pertains to movement- not just mobilizing. We have lost our ability to perform these full ranges. 

If you walk into any CrossFit gym, the odds are you will see individuals stretching and loosening up with the assistance of bands, wraps, etc.  While all of these things are a great utilization of prepping your joints and muscles for movement, it is not necessarily considered to be actively training and expanding into any new range of mobility.  While it may feel great, and if done over time increase passive flexibility, improvements in active mobility will not be the outcome.  For us to achieve such gains in mobility, we need to place “mechanical stress” on our ligaments, joints, tendons etc and follow through a progression that is not dissimilar from strength training. ]

For example, a passive flexibility stretch (mobilization prep / mobilizing) is attaching a band to the rig, grabbing it with both hands and descending into the bottom of a squat as it pulls and stretches your arms overhead.  This is a typical stretch to help mobilize for the overhead squat.  Now, if we want to train mobility beforehand, and active mobility exercise would be to select a trouble area, such as the T-spine.  We then grab a lacrosse ball, lie on it with the ball placed under our scapula, and will then move through the overhead ranges as our tissue lengthens and shortens.  In this example we are trying to actively create change in the tissues effecting our T-spine mobility thus creating change in our overhead position.  Odds are your typical mobilization feels quite satisfying, however mobility training, creating change in tissue will most likely be far more “uncomfortable”. 

  • Passive Flexibility: stretching in a static position
  • Active Mobility: the act of consciously moving through specific and targeted ranges of motion that apply to a given joint
  • Mechanical Stress: whenever a “force” is applied to an object or material, in this case it refers to out joints moving through movement
  • Progressive Tissue: connective tissues such as ligaments and tendons in their lengthened state
  • Regressive Tissue: connective tissues such as ligaments and tendons in their neutral of “shortened” state

The first step to this is identifying the movement issue (or in many cases, issues) and address it directly.  This is where the mechanical stress comes into play.  We must actively perform movements for both progressive (lengthened) and regressive (shortened) tissue.  We will do so by moving through active full range drills and positions to identify and work through “sticking points” .  Now if all this seems a little bit confusing, don’t worry.  There are numerous tools available to assist you in your journey to become more supple. But the most important element for improvement is consistency. Work with your coaches, and spend time before or after your workouts continuing to improve your range of motion. 


Taylor Rank