This is the third of a 5 part series on what you can do outside the gym to maximize your progress and overall health. In part 3, we’ll look at doing daily joint mobility exercises. This is not a new concept, but it seems to be finally gaining popularity. In spite of that, it’s still not on the radar for many fitness enthusiasts.
This may actually be the most important thing you can do for a healthy, functional, and long life. It will likely contribute far more to your daily well-being than any conditioning or strength work will. Those with good strength and/or endurance usually still stiffen up and have painful joints as they age, just like the sedentary. This isn’t a inevitable part of aging, it’s just inevitable if you do nothing to combat it. The problem is, almost no one actually takes action, or is aware they can and should.
Some form of stretching or Yoga is what most do as an effort to retain mobility. However, since there is little or no actual movement, it does little if anything to maintain joint function or quality of movement. Joint mobility exercise requires no equipment, very little time, and has many benefits. It reduces the resting tension in the muscles, teaches the nervous system to use and control new ranges, can develop useable mobility, lubricates the joints, strengthens tendons and ligaments, breaks up calcium deposits that can become bone spurs, and even moves lymphatic fluid thru the body. It will speed your recovery between workouts, as they can break up adhesions and may reduce soreness in the muscles. You can also use your morning session as a sort of self assessment, noting any areas that seem more sore or stiffer than normal.
Historically, nearly every culture has forms of dance that would have achieved some of these benefits. Later, targeted methods of joint mobility were developed in Russia, where they were referred to as “Articular Gymnastics”. I personally began to practice joint mobility exercise in about 2003, and it has been a part of my physical practice ever since. I have studied several different systems over the years, and each of them have slightly different takes on how they are best done.
What are these exercises? In a nutshell, they are just standing, unloaded joint circles done with a specific intent. It’s best to do these not long after waking, as some of the increased range of motion will stay with you thru the whole day. If you wait until evening to do them, you only get a few hours of better movement! This routine is also great to do as part of your warmup, or it can be done as an evening chill-out/recovery session.
These are easier seen on video, so to see how to perform a quick 3-4 minute joint mobility session, see the video. To conclude, this is a short version you can do as an introduction. There are benefits to longer sessions, or sessions with more (or less) complex movements, or done with different intents. If you wish to learn more, you can always reach out to me.
1) just one – do the program, every single day!
There are 2 videos. In one, I show details of each of the 8 different movements. (plus a very short bonus “flow”. Start there to make sure you are doing them correctly to get the most benefits. The second video is a follow-along you can do until you have the routine memorized. I do both sides and at real-time in this video.
A few notes: Always stand with good posture and weight balanced over both feet. Create some tension through your whole body and stay fixed except for the joint you are planning to move. 20-30% of maximal tension is enough for these. This both helps to reduce the movement to the intended joint and it increases the intensity of the signal to your central nervous system. With that said, don’t hold your breath or “scrunch” up your face!
Move slowly, with full control. Don’t go to 100% maximal range of motion, but where there is good tension. If there is pain, slow down and reduce the range of motion so that there is nothing more than light tension. This may take you far from end range, but that’s your starting place. Try to “shave” off just a little bit of tension with each rep. Use common sense, if there is a painful pinch or something that feels like an injury, don’t do that movement and go get it checked by a professional. Be smart.
1) Cat/Camel – on all 4s, cycle between extension & flexion. Don’t hold your breath. For most, try to extend your upper back and flex (round) your lower back.
2) Neck circles – keep your chin tucked in, imagine you are drawing a big circle with the tip of your chin. Teeth stay together.
3) Scapular circles (shoulder blade) – keep your arm straight and body still!
4) Shoulder Circles – reach long thru the arm. Think rotating the arm bone in it’s socket. Watch how the hand rolls a full 360 degrees thru the circle – thumb points behind at the top, then turns a full circle to again point behind when by your side.
5) Elbow circles – keep elbows in place & thumbs up, extend, flex, and rotate as much as able.
6) Rib circles – go slowly. Hips stay facing forward. Round, rotate to the side, extend (arch) backwards, rotate to opposite side, end rounded forward.
7) Hip circles – only hold something for balance if you need to – use this to also train your balance. Try not to lean to the side, stay standing tall as you do these.
8) Ankle circles – slow circles to start. Rotate only from the ankle; keep the knee out of it.