Top Five Mobility Limitations in CrossFit Athletes | Modern Manual Therapy Blog

Top Five Mobility Limitations in CrossFit Athletes

Today's Guest Post is from Dr. Zach Long, of! You can actually take what he is posting here and apply it to any athlete or anyone into fitness/yoga/pilates, etc. Thanks Zach!

As a physical therapist and a CrossFit coach, I regularly have the opportunity to analyze the movement and mobility of CrossFit athletes. In my experience, the majority of these athletes will have at least one of the following limitations resulting in injury risk or decreased performance.

1. Dorsiflexion

Without a doubt, this is the most common mobility restriction I see. When ankle mobility is poor, it results in a huge variety of movement faults and injuries. To test, I have the athlete begin in half kneeling with their big toe one hand-width away from a wall. The athlete then moves their knee towards the wall while keeping their foot flat on the floor and pointed forward. Inability to touch the kneecap to the wall indicates restricted dorsiflexion.

2. Hip Internal Rotation

While pushing the knees out while squatting puts the hip in a position that allows for more squat depth, I often see athletes who push their knees out to extremes while squatting. These athletes are often unable to squat to depth without pushing their knees really far out, or they complain of pinching in the anterior hip when squatting.

To assess, have the athlete lie on your back with his or her thigh vertical and knee flexed to 90 degrees. While maintaining the vertical thigh, move the foot outward to internally rotate the hip. Thirty degrees of hip internal rotation should be available.

3. Shoulder Internal Rotation

When shoulder internal rotation is limited, CrossFit athletes tend to get their shoulders in some pretty poor positions during a variety of exercises such as cleans and snatches. This results in unnecessary tissue stress and puts the shoulder in a poor position for generating force.

To test, the athlete lies on his or her back with their arm abducted to 90 degrees. With a partner stabilizing the anterior shoulder to prevent the shoulder blade from compensating, the shoulder is passively internally rotated. I like to see approximately 70 degrees of internal rotation.

4. Thoracic spine rotation and extension

Thoracic spine mobility plays a huge role in overhead mobility and decreasing mobility needs from the lumbar spine. The athlete begins by sitting on their heels with their knees on the ground. They then place one forearm flat on the ground and take the opposite hand and place in on their low back. While keeping their butt on their heels and not shifting their weight to the side, the athlete rotates as far as possible away from the down arm. Fifty degrees of rotation (shoulders in relation to the ground) should be available each direction.

5. Hip hinge

Testing a CrossFit athlete’s ability to perform a strict hip hinge gives me a lot of insight into their ability to load their hip muscles while maintaining a neutral spine. It amazes me how many athletes cannot disassociate hip flexion from lumbar flexion. This results in low back pain and decreased hip power.

To test, I have the athlete place a dowel along their spine so that it is contacting their sacrum, thoracic spine, and posterior head. One hand holds the dowel in the lumbar spine and the other behind the cervical spine. The athlete begins with a slight knee bend and is instructed to not bend the knees further (to avoid this becoming a squat). The athlete is instructed to bend a their hips as far as the can while maintaining the three previously mentioned points of contact between the dowel and their spine. CrossFit athletes should be able to hinge far enough down that if they dropped the dowel in the bottom position, their hands should reach their knees.

About the Author

Zach Long is a physical therapist and CrossFit coach in Charlotte, NC. To learn more about Zach’s work and treatment philosophies, visit

Interested in live cases where I apply this approach and integrate it with manual therapy and repeated motions? Check it out on The OMPT Channel!

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