Some days, I don’t feel like working out. And some days, that’s perfectly ok, but when it’s not, I have a few things I think about to get me going. One of my especially motivating thoughts is my belief that after a certain age – say, 25 or so – we have two choices: (1) we take regular steps to maintain and even enhance our strength, flexibility, and balance; or (2) we gradually, oh so slowly lose these youthful properties, until one day we move as if we’re wearing an extremely tight pair of jeans, only we’re not. So I ask myself—which direction am I choosing today? Am I building myself up or am I wearing down?
The Road to Stiffness
My focus on “building” evolved after seeing I had lost a step or two. At the ripe old age of 40, I started working out with a trainer. I thought I was in decent shape, but my body told another story. For example, I couldn’t do a side lunge with any kind of depth. I remember my trainer first giving me 10 pound dumbbells to hold during the lunge, and then when that didn’t work so well, trying the 5 pounders. Ok, how about just bodyweight? It wasn’t pretty. Always a tad dramatic, I immediately pictured myself unable to get out of a chair without using my arms to hoist myself up.
Around this time, I hurt my shoulder, and after a regular doctor told me to stop lifting weights so intensely, I sought the help of a sports chiropractor. This was another eye-opening experience. Years of sitting hunched over a computer had tightened my chest and frozen my shoulders in a rather unattractive, forward facing position, almost certainly contributing to my injury. Part of my treatment was Active Release Techniques (ART)—imagine a really targeted, extremely painful kind of massage—to unglue stiff, knotty tissues. It hurt like nobody’s business, but I was feeling and moving better pretty quickly.
Fitness = Motion
These and similar experiences got me rethinking what it means to be in good shape. It’s not just about looking good, or even being strong, but also about moving well. To move well, we have to keep moving!
I’ve been able to regain a lot of my lost mobility by adding drills to my workouts, usually as part of my warmup process. Instead of just walking on a treadmill, why not do a dynamic warmup that does double duty – warms you up AND keeps you pliable? On upper body days, it can be helpful to focus on shoulders, chest, triceps, and forearms; on lower body days, emphasize hips, calves, and even ankles. Other great ideas are yoga, self-massage with a lacrosse ball (ouch!!) and foam rollers, and engaging professionals like a sports chiropractor on a regular basis.
Yep, moving well feels good, prevents injury, and even keeps you looking young. But what if you’re not sure where to start? I am all about keeping things manageable, so can suggest starting with two simple movements that can be done daily.
First, squat as deeply as you can, as if you’re a toddler looking at something really interesting on the ground. Maybe a fascinating ant hill. Or, like my daughter Stella, have a heart-to-heart talk with that someone special.
Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.
Second, stretch your upper body by holding your arms straight out to a “t” and stretching them back. Think of this as reversing what we tend to do when we’re typing on computers—computers bring our shoulders in and forward, so do the opposite and take your arms and shoulders out and back. Do this 30 seconds several times a day.
You can see both of these stretches, plus some other cool mobility ideas, in this excellent “5 things you should do everyday” blog by Bret Contreras. A great resource!
- Appreciate mobility for the gift it is, and use it! If you’ve lost a step, no worries; just get it back with some time and TLC.
- Move in any way you can, even if you’re not working out. Start simply, with basic movement patterns like a full bodyweight squat or a good upper body stretch.
- Get help if you need it. There are awesome resources out there, from online stuff, to motivating personal trainers, even sports chiropractors.
As always, keep at it!