Work It Out: Mobility exercises for mountain locals young and old
Many people do not understand what functional mobility means and the benefits it can bring to their bodies during a workout or even when performing everyday activities.
To understand the benefits of functional mobility, we first have to understand what functional mobility is. Functional mobility is the range of motion our bodies go through to perform invasive exercises, as well as perform everyday activities, with better stability, mobility and flexibility.
Think about a simple activity like getting in and out of the car. The small muscle groups in our ankles, knees, hips and lower back are activated to keep us from falling on the pavement when we step out. Those same muscles also allow us to bend over and sit in the car without hitting our heads.
Mobility injuries and aging
Humans naturally perform these muscle movements every day, but we hardly realize that our bodies are working harder than simply moving around. These movements are performed with ease — until we perform a strenuous movement or action that our bodies are not ready for and, subsequently injure or strain the muscles. When these muscles are injured and given the proper amount of time to heal, you will lose some of the mobility in that muscle.
Our bodies have a similar response when it comes to getting older and becoming less active. When we are young, our muscles are extremely flexible, which means that young athletes are often mobile in ways that older athletes just no longer are.
Over time, some of the muscles in the body experience atrophy. These muscles shrink from disuse because we no longer perform activities that help us become stronger and faster. When these muscles shrink, our stronger muscles compensate in order to perform everyday activities free of pain.
Boost your mobility
By performing simple mobility exercises at least two or three times a week, you might see that your body is not as functional as you thought. You can then start correcting these imbalances to live a happier and more functional life.
These exercises depend on where you go, what you need and whom you talk to. Many fitness professionals have different thoughts on ways to increase your functional mobility.
However, there are several beginning exercises that many personal trainers will agree on to boost mobility and lead a more functional life. As trainers, we typically start at the ground level and work our way up the body.
To bolster functionality in your lower body, start with a balance exercise that increases strength and stability in your lower body.
Begin by standing on your left foot. Lift your right foot in front of your body until it hovers six inches above the ground.
Slightly bend your left knee and hold for 15 seconds.
Slowly bring your right foot down to the ground.
Repeat with your right leg.
Gradually increase the exercise duration to 45 seconds on each side. Once you reach the 45-second mark, close your eyes to increase difficulty.
This movement forces your ankle to make small neuromuscular corrections to stabilize the knee, which also makes small corrections to stabilize the hips. Over time, you will notice that your legs are getting stronger and faster as you increase the duration.
Becoming more functional in the upper body will take time and patience for an overlooked reason: Most people don’t use small upper-body muscles as frequently as lower-body muscles. A simple movement to build upper-body mobility is a variation on the plank.
Start in a push-up position, with your hands placed on the ground. Keep your back flat and flex your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and core muscles, keeping your wrists in line with your shoulders.
Slowly walk your hands out (not forward) until you start to shake.
Hold this plank for 15 seconds, with your core and leg muscles activated.
After 15 seconds, carefully drop to your knees and bring your hands back in to relax the muscles.
Repeat the movement three times.
Gradually increase the exercise duration to 60 seconds.
The shaking you experience is your neuromuscular system activating to keep you stabilized — the same muscles that activate to prevent you from falling over when walking or getting out of the car. Over time, you will want to switch up your body position, as well as increase the length of time you hold the modified plank. Once your total time reaches 60 seconds, then progress to your knees for an added challenge.
These upper and lower-body movements require time and patience before you start seeing results. But, if you stick to a routine of two or three times a week, within a few months, you will see and feel noticeable changes in your mobility.
Trent Johnson is a personal trainer certified through the National Association of Fitness Certifications. As a trainer and runner, he has years of experience training people of all abilities, from athletes to Average Joes who just want to find better fitness.
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