In previous posts, I alluded to certain exercises and some of their health benefits. I explained how moving your joints in 3-dimensions, such as circles or side-to-side can give you pain-free health and a better quality of life, as taught to elite military units. If you were a car, this would be your tune-up, lube job and battery recharge. You can also prehabiliate certain conditions that are bothering you with unweighted joint mobility exercises before they can develop into conditions such as,
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- elbow tendonitis
- neck/back pain
- shoulder rotator cuff impingement
as well, as addressing accumulated trauma, salt/calcium deposits, adhesions/scar tissue, daily wear and tear, joint deterioration. Joint mobility exercise returns lost nutrition, blood flow, lubrication, synovial fluid caused by inactivity or by physical impact, e.g. sports, running. If you had a ‘kink’ in your wrist like me for example, you can address it with making lateral, circular movements.
In 2007, I was typing so much on the keyboard, I developed a sensation in my outer wrists. I could feel the tendon inflamed and it impeded my ability to typed. This sensation travelled to my pinkie fingers. It was so annoying that I bought one of the those expensive $120+ Microsoft ergonomic keyboards. Suffice to say, I don’t have that problem today thanks to my exercises. I also threw out the keyboard, lol.
What do these joint mobility exercises look like?
Without further ado, here’s a whole-body, free, beginner program that covers the neck, shoulders, elbows and wrists that I’ve been using for years to get the *snap*, *crackle*, *pops* out. I’ll address the rest of the body down below in this article. I realize the exercises deceptively look simple to perform. This is not a hardcore workout, remember that! It is healing movement. We’ll start with Intu-Flow, which is a program by Scott Sonnon, a U.S. military physical fitness advisor. I have been doing this program and its predecessor, Warrior Wellness since 2004. Going to the local park early in the morning was a great time to start the day!
You can skip Part 1 and 2. Part 3: neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists as demonstrated by spec ops trainer, Scott Sonnon.
Speak to your medical physician first before attempting. Your doctor may say that moving the afflicted area is ill-advised, but moving the neighbouring joints is advised, e.g. you have a ‘bad’ elbow and you have been advised to let it rest, you can still move the shoulder and wrists. Other points include:
- Go slowly; ‘Baby steps’ in recovering your ranges of motion. You may feel clumsy or your body ‘forgot’ can’t move that far in a certain range. That’s okay.
- Don’t worry if you hear snaps, crackles and pops, that’s okay. Pain, numbness, ‘pins and needles’ sensation is another matter. See below about 3/10.
- This not a stretch and you may or may not feel a stretch. The focus is on movement and going to the end of your range of motion.
- Move towards the pain, but not through it. If the worst pain you ever felt is a 10/10, stop at a 3/10. Don’t force anything.
- Work from head to toe
- 10x repetitions per joint; 5x on the left side and 5x on the right side
- 8-14 minutes/day when you wake up or as a warm-up before an activity. For warm-ups before an impactful activity, you can perform for time instead of reps. Perform for a minute per joint (30 seconds left, 30 seconds right)
- Keep your mouth slightly open, let the movement expel your breath naturally
- A light sweat may be induced. If you have a heart-rate monitor, your pulse should be 40% of your maximum heart rate.
- Consume an extra gallon of water per day to assist in the flushing out of toxins when you do mobility work
What about stretching/other techniques ?
Mobility exercises are best done upon awakening or before an exercise as they prime the body’s nervous system for activity, re-feed the joints with nutrition and circulate blood for activity. When your joints are starved for nutrition, they become brittle and weak over time. More modern exercises programs have joint mobility built-in as a warm-up. You may know them as dynamic flexibility exercises, which is a bit of a misnomer.
Depending on your sport, specific mobility drills can be crafted, which would look different from the above video. I would consider this the realm of expert coaches, sport-specific or specific physical preparedness. For a runner, I would add in more hip mobility drills such as, high knees, butt kicks, leg swings and more dynamic exercises. If you were preparing for a specific event or against a specific opponent, you would tailor the drills even more to the athlete. I would save the static stretching towards the end of your physical activity. Static stretching before exercise to prevent injury has been widely debunked. Google it for yourself. Your workout should follow this general format:
- Warm-Up: Joint mobility
- Workout or activity
- Cool-Down: Static stretching
In the near future, I will cover vibration drills, static stretching, Yoga, biomechanics, breathing techniques and foam rolling in more depth.
What Mobility Is Not
Mobility is a critical and crucial part of human movement we’ve neglected. Most exercises programs only address strength, cardio, flexibility or physique. The body doesn’t come with an instruction manual when we were born. However, by reverse engineering the body, we can see that the body’s joints are meant to move in different ways (flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, supination, pronation, inversion, eversion, etc. for you technical types). If we don’t use it, we lose it! However, mobility is not a miracle cure-all for every known affliction to mankind. Think of it as insurance that reduces your likelihood of injury or pain. Give it a try for three weeks on a daily basis and let me know how you feel.
For the Office Worker/Student:
Perform the video drills in the morning. If you are short on time, spend 2 minutes, several times a day addressing the major parts, including the neck, spine, hips, shoulders. While sitting at your desk, address the wrists, fingers and neck.
Part 4: arms, thoracic spine, spine,
For the Dancer/Runner/Martial Artist/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Player:
Due to the specifics of your sport and any pre-existing medical conditions, you’ll need a more customized program done by professional coach. Issues manifesting may indicate the problem is actually somewhere else, e.g. knee pain is caused by overly tight hips caused by your sport. For dancers and runners, mobilize your hips, knees and ankles with the video drills along with hamstring, hip static stretches and dynamic flexibility.
For martial artists, you need a whole-body program combination of joint-mobility, dynamic flexibility for your warm-ups. Grapplers with bad shoulders have rehabilitated their shoulder injuries with quarter Turkish get-ups.
Part 5: hips; knees; ankles.
For The Soldier:
I will cover drills for the soldier, shortly. Due to the over-specializations of our occupation (e.g. wearing a helmet will cause your neck to be tense and jut forward), we require specialized joint mobility. As well, many of us are overly tight, immobilized or injured that prevents us from doing our job.
Everyone should being with the basic mobility program above. Once you’ve gotten the technique down and you don’t feel any discomfort after a few weeks, move onto the intermediate program.
We’ve talked about pre-hab to prevent conditions from developing into something worse or used to abate pain/discomfort. In the coming articles, I will talk about what happens if you require rehab exercises for already injured areas and how you can workout around injuries. We will use props such as, the ground or weighted implements, such as a light kettlebell.
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