We use the word mobility often, and you probably associate it with foam rollers and lacrosse balls. You may think of it as an interchangeable term for flexibility. So let's clear that up. You can be flexible, and not have sufficient mobility (and vice versa). While both flexibility and mobility are involve the range of motion of a joint or the elasticity of muscles, understanding the differences will help you determine how to address and develop both.
Mobility is about range of motion within a certain movement pattern (ability to squat or get good overhead position). Can't get deep in your squat? You likely lack mobility in your hips, or possibly ankles. Can't seem to get a PVC in the proper overhead alignment, much less a bar? Shoulder, possibly thoracic spine mobility issues.
Flexibility, on the other hand, is about the range of motion that one has during little to no movement (static). An example would be someone sitting with outstretched legs and being able to grab their toes. Being able to do this would suggest a good amount of hamstring flexibility. Does this necessarily mean that this person can perform various movement patterns without issues? Nope. They could be able to put their forehead to their knees AND grab their toes but not reach full depth in a squat because of mobility issues.
Being proactive about your mobility is VITAL. It doesn't matter if you are an Olympic athlete, an old grandma or a teenager. Being proactive means you do it, routinely. You don't wait until you can't squat, you keep up with your exercises so you can squat even deeper! Now, pay attention- this is important: the pre-WOD warm-up is NOT adequate mobilizing. Warm-up is designed to prepare the body for movement, it does not solve positional problems. Most of our warm ups involve movements to help your body prepare for the WOD. However, if you have range of motion issues, you will need to supplement your training with EXTRA mobility work in order resolve those problems. Notice, I said extra. I don't care who you are, you need to be working on mobility. And you can’t just come in and try to do all your mobility work during your warm-up, or even after the WOD. "The warm-up is the time to get hot and sweaty. If you do one session of CrossFit...one session of mobility, but that has to be on your own time. Each training session will be equal to 10 to 15 minutes of mobility, but you need to be doing this outside of your time at the gym"- Dr. Kelly Starrett. Bingo. If you don't know who he is, he is the mobility guru. He literally wrote the book on mobility and body maintenance. (This is the guy who came up with the couch stretch you all love. Which, by the way, is a good starting point if you aren't doing anything at home.) If you fail to maintain your body, it will fail to perform for you, and not just in your WODs. Lack of mobility is what puts people in nursing homes. When elderly people cant get around on their own anymore, they become dependent on others. So, if you want to be independent as you age, you had better get a lacrosse ball. ;)
There are plenty of ways you can prevent injury, speed up recovery and just improve, many of which are included in soft tissue work. Soft tissue work, for our purposes, is self-myofascial release (SMFR) -the most common form of soft tissue work. This includes our beloved foam rollers, massage sticks, rolling pins, and lacrosse balls. SMFR should be performed after training sessions in addition to on your own time, away form the box. The guru (Starrett) has this to say- “Have you ever had a massage? How did you feel afterward? Did you want to jump on the rack and squat 300 pounds? No. You feel relaxed and calm, like you have less energy. If you roll into a CrossFit at 6 am and lie back on the foam roller and roll around on some knot or sore spot, it sets you up to be in a relaxed mindset, not to be ready to train. You need to move around in the warm-up. Don’t lie on a lacrosse ball or foam roller — get moving, get sweaty, warm up.” Sometimes we incorporate some SMFR work into our warmups, but this is more to show you how so you can do it on your own, rather than to suffice.
Now, this is not to say that mobilization cannot and should not take place at the gym, pre-WOD. Mobility in the form of contract/release stretches is a great way to prepare the body for movement. You will improve your overall range of motion, and during that WOD you will have the opportunity to actively use that new range of motion, which trains both your body and your brain to accept it as your new standard of movement. Kelly Starrett’s website, www.mobilitywod.com has a bunch of great exercises for improving joint mobilization. Many involve stretch bands, to provide resistance at a joint. The goal of joint mobilization is to help increase the ability to extend a joint capsule. Sounds like a pretty good idea pre-WOD, ay? But, again, take some initiative. You can't over-mobilize.
To wrap up, I'm going to use an obvious analogy. Think of your body like a super cool car with an impressive engine, whatever that may be to you. You wouldn't wait until the engine blows to find out it needs oil, right? You maintain it. You may not ever get the dream car, but you have your body. And you only get one. So take care of it. Maintain it. Mobilize!