Moving around freely, fluidly and easily is major. It is HUGE when considering the quality of your body, your productivity, and your life. But it is so often overlooked, so few people actually have the ability to move freely and pain free, and not many more people even work on it. It’s time for us to pay some attention to our joints mobility and stability, and I’m going to show you that it isn’t all that difficult to do so.
It’s amazing how much easier everyday tasks and movements become when proper movement patterns are restored. Not only that, but its an extremely freeing and liberating feeling when you aren’t limited by tight hip flexors and pec muscles, or plagued by pain from poorly functioning shoulders or creaky knees.
Before that, however, let’s get into how the joints in the body stack up, and what battles we face in each area of the body, starting on the floor.
The ankles tend to become very tight, which places added demand on all the joints above. Generally speaking, most people need improved ankle mobility.
The knees are a hinge (picture a pair of scissors). When the hinge is in line everything moves nicely. But when you pull the handles apart or press them together to move the hinge out of line, then you hear everything start to grind. Because of that, we need to work on knee stability.
I’m not sure if there is a joint in our body that takes a bigger hit from our sedentary and seated position lifestyle than the hips. Generally, the hip flexors (the psoas and the iliacus mainly) become very tight from prolonged periods of time in a seated position. This tightness in the front of the hips causes the powerful glutes in the back of the hips to go to sleep. We need the glutes awake and firing in order to have proper hip control, function, and when the glutes go to sleep, the low back and the knees need to pick up the slack, and this causes a world of potential problems. We need hip mobility with glute activation.
The thoracic spine (upper back) is another area that takes a beating from prolonged seated positions. That hunched over position many people sit in causes that area to tighten up, when it is designed to be quite mobile. When the upper back tightens up, all of the joints around it are forced to pick up the slack (think shoulders, neck). We need to work on mobility in the thoracic spine.
The shoulder complex is a very fragile and complex structure. We need the scapula (shoulder blades) to track along the back nice and smooth, so we need both stability and mobility. Think of it like a train on a track. It needs to move without any obstruction, but please stay ON the track. The glenohumeral joint (the shoulder joint itself) also needs both stability and mobility. It relys on the proper function of the scapula so that it is not needed to become hyper mobile and placed in compromising positions, but it also needs to move freely without certain muscles (ahem, pectoralis major and minor) keeping it from doing so. We need to work on stability of the glenohumeral joint with some mobility.
Still awake? Ok, here is the meat and potatoes. Below is a simple plan that can be followed either as a dynamic warm up before workouts, or as an extra bit of work on days between workouts. However you choose to incorporate it is up to you, but you will be happy you did.
First up we have wall slides. These have a lot of benefits which include activation of lower traps, rhomboids, infraspinatus and teres minor, dynamic stretch of the pectorals, great warm-up for upper back, and improved posture. These are great for glenohumeral joint/scapular mobility and stability.
When doing wall slides, be sure to focus on driving elbows back towards the wall, and driving them down when sliding down the wall
The spider-man walk really has a ton of benefits, mainly because it involves so many joints and tight muscles in the body. In the lower body you will be working on hip flexor and hamstring flexibility, as well as some glute activation. In the upper body you will be working on thoracic mobility, scapular function and glenohumeral mobility with a nice stretch in the pecs.
Take your time during this one as it is quite complex. Move through the motions very deliberately.
The yoga push-up is going to move your glenohumeral joint through a great range of motion while stretching out the pecs. It is also going to work on scapular function, especially packing the shoulder blades back and down. And finally it is a great exercise for overall shoulder stability.
Focus on keeping a flat back during the movement, and gently push your range of motion, but not too aggressively or to the point of pain.
Side Lateral Lunge With a Reach
This exercise is going to work on lengthening the adductor muscles in the groin, working on hip mobility, it is going to activate the glutes, improve thoracic mobility, glenohumeral range of motion and scapular function.
Move through the movements very deliberately and gently push your range of motion without being too aggressive.
This exercise is going to improve your scapular function through a nice and full range of motion. It is also going to strengthen a scapular muscle called the serratus anterior. This muscle is responsible for holding the scapula in place, in in track (like the train), which will in turn allow you to build more strength, pain free movement in the shoulders and avoid injuries.
*See Top Video Under Wall Slides*
Squat To Stand
This exercise is a great one for lengthening the adductor muscles in the groin, improving hip and ankle mobility, glute activation and thoracic mobility. More than anything though, this exercise will establish or re-establish the all important squat pattern.
This is a focused exercise on thoracic mobility. These will free up your upper back, and allow your neck and shoulder joints to relax and function as they were intended without the necessity of excessive ranges of motion.
*See Top Video Under Wall Slides
Rocking Hip Flexor Stretch
This exercise works on flexibility in the psoas and iliacus muscles in the front of the hip which will open up the hip and allow the glutes to become awake and active again. It also works on the flexibility in the rectus femoris of the quadriceps (muscles in the front of the thigh), allowing it to relax and take the pressure off the knee which tends to become overactive with deactivated glutes. This is an excellent stretch for anyone who spends a lot of time in seated positions.
Hip Thrusts and Fire Hydrants
These two exercises are meant to focus in on your glutes. Now that we have done such a great job working on our hip mobility and hip flexor flexibility, we need to wake up our glutes. When doing these exercises deliberately squeeze your glutes during the movement. Eventually you will build a strong enough mind-muscle connection that you will feel your glutes activating when you walk, climb stairs, etc. Building your glutes is going to take a LOT of pressure off of your lower back and knees and improve your hip control and allow you to build a lot more strength and pain free fluid movement.
This can be done as a circuit, or one exercise at a time. It is also low intensity enough that it can be done daily, but it is not necessary. Anywhere from one to three times per week will offer great results in joint stability, mobility, and strong, fluid and pain free movement.
Featured image courtesy of Glen Scott and used under a Creative Commons license.