Get Mobilized: Your gymmates are doing it. Here’s how it could help you, too

By Maureen O'Hagan Let me guess: you’re a WOD junkie. You love the endorphin rush. The challenge of pushing until you collapse. The way you can measure progress with simple arithmetic. How many kilos can you squat? What’s your Fran time? So you’re probably wondering: what in the world are those people doing over by the far wall in the gym? They’re not hyperventilating. They’re not pushing heavy weight. Does Mobility class even count as work? It most certainly does. In fact, some gym members say Mobility could be the most valuable offering at Level IV CrossFit Seattle.

BJ Bell is among them. One of the gym’s top performers, he decided last year to forego two WODs a week and instead do Mobility. His workout buddies were skeptical. “Some people in Level 2 say, ‘I don’t need to know how to stretch,’” he recalled. If you’ve ever taken one of the classes, you know it’s not just a matter of stretching. And it’s anything but easy. David Glick sees it the same way. After a year or so of CrossFitting, he had sped through the Level 1 benchmarks, and checked off some of Level 2. Yet he hit a plateau. Why? “Pure strength isn’t my bottleneck,” he reasoned. “Work capacity isn’t my bottleneck.” He just couldn’t move properly. His shoulders were so out of whack he couldn’t get his arms straight overhead. His hips were way too tight. It’s easy to ignore all this, especially if you’re strong—which David is. But at some point, he took inventory. His squats were affected. His presses suffered. Snatches. Bear crawls. Handstands. The list went on.

“I had to have a heart-to-heart with myself,” he said. He loves the WODs. But he concluded Mobility classes were what he really needed. So what are these classes? One way to think of it is strength training, through a truly full range of motion. The focus is on mechanics. The trainers will ask you to get into new positions, painstakingly, with attention to every detail.

“To move slowly requires a certain strength I hadn’t anticipated,” said Justin Coughlin, another Mobility regular. “When the classes started, I mistakenly thought it was going to be an active rest day. I pretty quickly learned that wasn’t the case. It’s just a different way of working.” It will challenge you­—and benefit you—in surprising ways. BJ, for instance, became interested in Mobility because he wanted to learn proper positioning. “No matter how strong I thought I was, I realized there was something I could probably gain from it,” he said. And he was right. It tamed his shoulder pain. It improved his flexibility, his pushups, his dips. And it made him stronger. Now, he can’t help but look around the gym and notice how many other people could benefit.

Kate Basart has become a Mobility devotee, too, even though she’s already super-flexible. “People ask, why on earth would you take Mobility?” she said. To her, it’s simple. “The classes are about being strong and technically correct,” she said. As much as the trainers focus on technique during the regular classes, when you’re in the middle of a WOD, things can fall apart, Kate says. She always thought she was doing the movements correctly. It wasn’t until she took the time to focus on Mobility that she realized she was missing the mark in small but important ways. Turns out Kate was a little too flexible relative to her strength. “I really feel like it’s going to help stave off injury,” she said. Plus, she said, it’s addictingly fun.

Meg Fox agrees, even though she has a different problem than Kate. “I am kind of the Bermuda Triangle of coordination,” she said. But after focusing on Mobility, “I’m way less stiff and way more coordinated.” People notice her posture is better, that she looks stronger. The way both women sees it, mobility is vital to a good life. Kate says her mother struggles just to walk; her grandmother was bent over “like a weeping willow.” She wants to prevent that. Meg wants to be self-reliant. “I want to be walking until the day I die,” she said. “That’s not going to happen just by throwing weights around.” The classes have given her a sense of capability, too. “The body doesn’t have to stop improving,” she learned. “There are things you can really get better at and be more powerful inside your age.”

Justin feels the same way. The trainers offer modifications for those who aren’t ready for some of the movements. But, as Justin learned, “Just because I’m older, that’s no excuse for not trying to do a handstand.” Or, for that matter, anything else.

Gail, a retired PE teacher, came to Mobility classes with some significant issues. She had hip replacement surgery, and problems with her wrists. She also has had rheumatoid arthritis since her 20s, so maintaining mobility is vitally important. For several years, she struggled with the regular WODs, but saw progress in modified workouts, and hiked and biked, as well. “I was as active as I could be,” she said, “but I was still quite limited.” At first, she felt silly in Mobility class. Then she started seeing improvement in her squats and other movements. She also saw the results in daily activities, like raking. Now, she can go much longer before her back stars to hurt. “It really feels good when I can move a certain way that I haven’t been able to move in awhile,” she said.

The classes, which are unique to Level IV CrossFit Seattle, are offered mornings and evenings. Each trainer has a slightly different approach. “Dave’s gym has always been great,” Justin said, “but now I think it’s moved into a new level. He’s sort of redefining what ‘athletic’ really means.”