Why Your Mobility is Not Improving

Squatting in Hobbiton

I’m on a mission.

Foreign Countries? No problem.

Eighteen days. Six flights. Ten-plus hours of driving. No problem.

I will sit in my squat for 30 minutes a day. Stopped at a light in Auckland is good place to sit for two minutes. Hiking through Queenstown, squat on down for 30 seconds. Going to get the 30 minutes in some way, somehow. How did I get here? Well, it turns out the advice I have been giving for the last four years was wrong! That’s right, the very stuff I believed for others and for myself I now realize doesn’t cut it.

At the CrossFit Movement & Mobility (M&M) trainer course, the most common question asked is, “Why is my mobility not getting better?” The athlete’s frustration builds around the belief that they are constantly putting in the appropriate amount of effort into their daily routine.

Spoiler alert: You’re not. This is true whether the mobility routine is the Daily MWod posted on MobilityWod.com, self-established, or what their Box programs for them during their daily WOD. The answer most often given to people is to be patient, as Rome wasn’t built in a day … and neither was your mobility.

I have been part of MobilityWod from the very beginning when Kelly Starrett started his daily mobility conquest back in August 2010. The very first MWod video posted was the 10 minute squat test. My first attempt lasted about 90 seconds before my upper back and shins started burning; I had to fight with all my might not to fall backwards. I have had limited improvement over the years, maybe two to three minutes unbroken if I was really warmed up and mobilized.

The ending was always the same. I resigned to the fact that this may be one of those feats that I would never be able to perform. I continued mobilizing more days than not, and over the years my mobility continued to improve a little. I was still frustrated with my inability to sit at the bottom of the squat for 10 minutes and I was frustrated with the answer I was giving to other athletes. How could I ask athletes to be patient when for four-plus years I have been mobilizing but have failed to improve on the most fundamental movement in our community?

In October 2014 I started a daily quest to accumulate 30 minutes in the bottom of my squat. The only standard I set for myself was that I wanted to keep my feet pointed forward. This was just about learning to adapt to a position that had become so foreign to my body. Did I try to maintain a good position? Absolutely. But because I knew the difference between squatting to relax and squatting with weight, I was not afraid that this would be the technique I would use during a workout. I did this over the next two months, including during a three week-long trip to New Zealand and Australia and while trying to survive the many puddle jumper flights and long drives in a car. I tried to make this more of a lifestyle change than an exercise change. I found random times in the airport, at home, walking around the neighborhood and while waiting in line to order food. I was “that” weird guy. Any free second I had where I was either going to sit or stand, I made the decision to squat.

In December 2014 while teaching my normal Friday morning class at San Francisco CrossFit I sat down into my squat and started my timer. I just squatted there, yelling out cues and still coaching. I finally looked down at my clock and it said 12 minutes. I just sat in my squat for 12 unbroken minutes and came out only because I was amazed at what happened, not because anything was burning. I had reached a goal that I truly thought was unachievable. I am still trying to improve the ability to keep my spine neutral, but now I know I have the capacity to mobilize in a much deeper position than before.

Is the message here that if you want to improve your ability to sit in your squat for 10 minutes that you need to accumulate 30 minutes in your squat daily? Maybe. What I took away from this venture and what I now teach at the seminars is that we have to literally start thinking “outside the box.” For me, it was a shift in lifestyle thinking and coaching. If we try to get eight hours of sleeping, 20 to 30 minutes of mobility and an hour in the Box, what about the other 14.5 hours of the day. If the majority of that time is spent sitting in a cubicle, commuting, or even standing and coaching athletes, will we be able to make the dramatic changes as quick as we want to? I doubt it. The key here is “as quick as we want to.”

If you are like me and you spent a lot of your youth sitting playing video games, if you have spent a lot of time commuting and sitting in your office space, then we have to become more aggressive with our plan of action. I wish I had the mobility of all the great gymnasts and olympic lifters, but their stories are different than mine, different than many of those who come to the Movement & Mobility Seminars. If sitting in your squat is where you want to get more mobile, well then the first question is, how much time do you actually spend in the bottom of your squat? It really is that simple. Your body will always adapt to what you do the most often. If it is an important goal of yours, do it more often, and do it outside the Box.

Roop Sihota
Dr. Roop Sihota, DPT has been a Coach at San Francisco CrossFit since 2008 and part of the MobilityWod team since 2010. Roop received his Doctorate of Physical Therapy in 2013 from Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, California. In addition to the helping develop MobiltiyWod content, Roop travels the world teaching the CrossFit Movement & Mobility Seminars.