Wine, cheese, and Meryl Streep may get better with age, but our mobility is something that needs a little extra attention to keep it running.
“As we get older, we lose the ability to access all ranges of motions without pain or compensation,” says physical therapist Grayson Wickham, PT, DPT, CSCS, and founder of Movement Vault, a mobility and movement company. According to Wickham, compensation happens when there’s limited mobility in key joints, like your hips.
To compensate, “your knee and ankle joints will move more than they should, to allow your body to move the way you’re asking it to,” Wickham points out.
Similarly, if you have poor mobility in your shoulder, your back will over-arch. “We can thank a combo of nine-to-five desk jobs, lounging on the couch, and our posture when we use technology for that,” he says.
Injuries that can accompany poor mobility
- shoulder impingement (muscle injury or inflammation between bones in the shoulder area)
- pulled muscles
- decreased muscle activation, which can lead to loss of strength and muscle mass muscle tears
- back, knee, and neck pain
“Back pain is something 80 percent of people will experience at some point in their lives,” Wickham says. About 70 percent experience neck pain at least once. Some 50 to 80 percent of those with neck pain will feel it again within five years
Here’s another startling statistic: shoulder injuries comprise 36 percent of gym-related injuries, to which the lack of mobility in the shoulder joint likely contributes.
Luckily, it’s never too late to develop a mobility practice to get your full range of motion back.
Doing so right now, especially in your 40s, will not only help prevent injury and pain in the future, it can also help you stay active in your 60s, 70s, and beyond. “It’s what allows us to perform our daily tasks like do the laundry, play with the dog, and exercise without pain or restriction,” says Wickham. “Mobility is essential to our quality of life as we get older.”
Try the 5-move mobility routine
Whether you’re in your 40s or younger, incorporating some mobility moves into your everyday routine can help you for decades to come. Wickham put together a five-move mobility routine to improve movement and function in your key joints.
Try doing this as often as you can, or five or more times per week. Not only will it help you live your best life during old age, but you’ll also gradually see improvements in daily leisure activities and exercises.
1. Segmented cat cow
- Start on all fours with the tops of your feet pressed into the ground.
- To begin the cat phase, tuck your tailbone under to push your spine toward the ceiling, making the shape of a Halloween cat. As you do this, lengthen your neck so that your ears come down by your biceps.
- Then, slowly move into cow position so that your belly is dropped toward the floor, draw your shoulders away from your ears, and gaze up toward the ceiling.
Cycle through cat-cow at least five times.
2. Around the world
- Start in a standing position, with knees slightly bent.
- Punch your arms up toward the sky as high as you can.
- Next, side bend to the left, squeezing all the muscles on the left side of the body.
- Then, slowly begin to make your way to the right side of your body until you’re in a side bend on the right side. That’s one rep. The goal of this movement is to explore new ranges of motion and to activate the muscles in your spine.
Perform five reps slowly in each direction.
3. Reverse snow angel
- Start in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hinge at your hips, pushing your hips back, keeping a slight bend in your knee, until your chest is parallel to the ground. Then, with your arms by your side and your palms facing up, extend your shoulders as far as possible.
- Then move your arms as if you’re making a snow angel.
- To do that, first, bring your hands behind your back as far as possible. Then push your palms to the ceiling as high as you can go again.
- Finally, flip your palms down to the ground, squeeze your shoulder blades, and return to the starting position. This is one rep.
Aim for five reps total.
4: Hip flow
- Start on all fours.
- Place one leg directly out to the side. Drive your heel into the ground and think about flexing your inner thigh muscle (adductor).
- Keep this muscle flexed as you shift your hips backward as far as possible without arching or bending your spine.
- Then, hold here for five seconds before returning to the starting position. That’s one rep.
Repeat 10 reps per side.
5. Hamstring end range isometric
- Begin in a half-kneeling position holding onto an object or wall with your front knee extended. Push your hips back until you stretch out your front leg’s hamstring as much as possible.
- From there, lean forward to the point where you feel a point of stretch in your hamstring. At this point of stretch, contract your hamstring muscle as hard as you can for 10 seconds by driving your heel into the ground. You aren’t moving; you’re just flexing.
- Then, with your leg still straight, try to lift your front heel off the ground by flexing your quad as hard as you can for 10 seconds.
- Switch sides and repeat each leg three times.
Good news: There’s no need to make a massive shift in your routine
Benefits of working on mobility
- decreased risk of injury (prehab)
- increased quality of life
- increased muscle activation
- improved range of motion
- reduced pain during daily activities
“Consistency is key when it comes to improving the way you move. A few minutes a day is all it takes to see massive improvements over time,” Wickham reminds us. “We are weakest in these end-ranges of motions, but activating the muscles in this way helps increase flexibility, prime the nervous system, and strengthen the joint.”
Gabrielle Kassel is a rugby-playing, mud-running, protein-smoothie-blending, meal-prepping, CrossFitting, New York-based wellness writer. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or practicing hygge. Follow her on Instagram.