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Exercises To Maintain Mobility As We Age

Surely you know an older women who cannot twist to buckle her seatbelt?  Or one who has trouble bending down to reach a skillet in the lower kitchen cupboard?  Maybe a friend who avoids going up and down the stairs?

After talking with Adam Lee about how to combat the aging demons, I am all in and determined to work on my joint mobility.  Mobility refers to the ability to move freely and easily.  Mobility is defined as good range of motion in the joints.  According to Adam, “when a particular area of our body lacks mobility, other parts of the body start giving us issues and causing problems.  Areas try to make up for another’s lack of mobility.”  This compensation leads to stress and strain. 

The Nashville fitness guru emphasized the importance of including mobility work in a regular fitness program.  Mobility exercises should be done to prevent joint issues.  You shouldn’t do them only after you have a problem to solve.

I asked Adam to recommend exercises that are simple to perform in my living room, bedroom, or in a hotel room.  He suggested focusing on hip, ankle, spine, and shoulder mobility.  He designed the following routine as a warm up before strength or cardio training. It can also be performed alone or, ideally, following a foam rolling session

ANKLE MOBILITY – Strong and stable ankles make those pretty red suede shoes with the high heels easier and more comfortable to wear!  Good ankle stability also helps prevent knee issues down the line and gives our knees better range of motion.    I sprained my left ankle years ago and don’t seem as loose on that side.  According to Adam, this is a perfect example of less than full ankle mobility and a very good reason I really need to do this exercise.

  • Align your right toe 3 inches away from a wall, left foot directly behind and touching your right foot – see photo below. 
  • Stand straight up and push rear end out.   
  • Drive your knee towards the wall as much as you can. 
  • Make sure you are dropping straight down and not forward.   
  • Goal?  To get knee to the wall, focused on front heel not coming up. 
  • Do this 10 times, then switch feet. 
  • Keep front heel down.  It is ok for back heel to come up.   

Good ankle mobility helps prevent knee issues in later years

SHOULDER MOBILITY – This simple looking exercise is harder than it appears!  By lengthening the muscles in front and strengthening the muscles in the back, this movement leads to better posture and less of the stooped shoulder syndrome. 

  • Lay on your back and press low back into mat, as shown in photo below. 
  • Bring arms up and lay forearms and wrist against the floor, similar to the letter Y.
  • Keeping shoulders down and back, extend arms as high overhead as you can. 
  • Move them back down to original position, bringing elbows as close to rib cage as you can. 
  • Remember to keep your forearms and wrists down and low back to the mat.
  • Keep shoulders down and back.
  • Range of motion is only impressive if you can keep your wrists and elbows down.
  • Aim for 10 reps.

With shoulders down and back, extend arms overhead & then back down to original position, bringing elbows as close to rib cage as you can

After mastering the floor version, the progression exercise is standing up against a wall.   Stand less than a foot away from the wall and press your low back into the wall. Continue with the exercise, just like on the floor.

HIP MOBILITY – As Adam explained, “when we remedy hip mobility issues, we often remedy and prevent a great deal of low back pain.”  When performing this exercise, he reminded me to keep my hips squared to the front.  Hips that turn out are compensating for immobile hips – and one more thing for me to work on.   

  • Grab a resistance band(or towel) and lay on the floor, as shown in photo. 
  • With one leg extended on the floor, raise the other leg and wrap the band around your foot, just above the arch. 
  • Keep good tension in the band,  elbows into the floor, feet flexed, and legs straight.
  • Straighten this leg overhead.   
  • Slowly lift the other leg to join it. 
  • Although it may not happen, try to not bend the legs.   
  • Exhaling, lower the leg back down to the floor, keeping low back in contact with the floor. 
  • Lift back up again; continue for 5-10 reps.

Since there is no “give” in a towel, you may not be able to drive your elbows into the floor when using one.   Why do we keep our feet flexed?  Pointing our toes creates a shortened muscle; flexing lengthens the muscle. 

Try to keep hips square to the front and legs straight

SPINE MOBILITY   Our thoracic spine (upper and middle back) is meant to be mobile – this series of 3 exercises, along with foam rolling, helps keep it moving as freely as possible.  When it lacks mobility, our shoulders start doing work our spine should be doing.  Back to the older woman who can’t twist around and buckle her seat belt –  lack of spine mobility.

  • Sit in a yoga child pose – back on heels, chest on thighs, arms extended overhead.
  • Place right hand on small of back with knees about 3 inches apart.
  • Exhale and rotate to look up toward the ceiling to your right. 
  • Bring it back down; continue for 5 reps.
  • Next position – place hand on back of head. 
  • Continue rotating and remember to apply a bit of pressure through extended left arm.   
  • Do 5 reps and then move to next position.
  • Reach right arm under rib cage, aiming for your shoulder blade.  Rotate 5 times to your right, trying to pull rib cage up and to your right. 
  • Really work toward turning the mid section, Not just using the head
  • Now switch and do the series on your left side.

    #1 – Hand on small of back

    #2 – Hand behind head

    #3 – Hand across chest

ANKLE AND HIP MOBILITY   This 3 part matrix goes a long way to improve and strengthen ankle and hip mobility.   “For a lot of women,” Adam adds, “this is going to be more than enough strength training for their lower body.”  This series enables the body to work in various ways. Do squats on both sides, working up to 5-10 reps.  Fewer reps with better form is best.   

Split Squat

  • Set up so that back knee and front knee are basically at a 90 degree angle. 
  • Hands behind head, chest up, engage that back glute to push your hips thru.   
  • Push thru your lead leg. Down, tap, and up.   
  • Keep elbows back even more, you want to engage muscles in upper back.

Split Squat

Lateral Squat

  • Stand with feet about 3 feet apart.  The wider you go, the easier this becomes.
  • Shoulders back and down, hands behind head, keep hips squared to front.
  • Lunge to the side with feet forward and then push back up
  • Butt out?  Yes!  Stick it out quite a bit and show off your goods!

Lateral Squat

Rotational Squat

  • Slightly awkward feeling set up – feet are perpendicular.
  • Hold lead leg straight, arms extended out front, squat into other leg. 
  • Once again, stick your booty out!
  • No need to reposition feet when switching to other side. 

Rotational Squat

“Foam rolling and mobility work are a great bare minimum in a fitness regimen,” Adam emphasized.   He encourages women, even on a busy day, to  find the time to do at least some combination.  Keeping good range of motion in these joints will keep us bending down, reaching up, and twisting in our later years.  And – it’s easier to do them before we have a problem to solve. 

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