Mobility training for midlife exercisers | what, why and when

You lift weights Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Go to spin class on Tuesday and Thursday. And squeeze in some yoga time wherever you can. You warm-up before you exercise and stretch at the end.

All the things the professionals tell you you should be doing to keep your midlife body healthy, supple and strong.

Yet despite regularly conquering the three main components of a well-rounded fitness program, you still suffer from occasional joint pain and find certain exercises awkward.

In particular those exercises that require good range of motion at the shoulders, hips and ankles (e.g., squats, lunges, dead lifts, shoulder presses, push-ups).

Due to a combination of too much sittingpoor postural patterns, age-related joint deterioration and not enough rest and recovery between workouts, many midlife exercisers suffer from restricted mobility.

That is, they’re not capable of moving their joints through as wide a range of motion as they could when they were younger.

Maintaining good joint mobility is particularly important as we age:

  • It reduces your risk of injury.
  • It reduces minor aches and pains.
  • It improves your athletic performance (both in the gym and while engaging in other non-workout activities like tennis, golf, kayaking and cycling).
  • It enhances your body awareness.
  • It makes the movements of day-to-day life easier and more fluid.

Note that while mobility and flexibility training are related, stretching alone isn’t enough to improve joint mobility.

We stretch to lengthen muscles (preferably by holding static poses after a workout or in a slow, Yin-style yoga class).

We train for mobility to increase the degree to which our joints can move before they’re restricted by the surrounding ligaments, tendons, muscles and nervous system controls (ideally prior to a workout or as a workout, in and of itself once or twice a week).

Recently, I’ve started incorporating more mobility work in my warm-ups.

And on weeks when I’m teaching a lot (or my body just feels tired), I substitute a longer mobility workout for a scheduled strength session.

Already I’m noticing an improved range of motion in my squats (bye-bye ‘butt wink’), better balance in my lunges and an increased ability to stabilize my shoulders during push-ups, chin-ups, bent-over rows and overhead presses.

All requirements for lifting heavier without injury.

Mobility training for midlife exercisers: 5 moves for better all-over movement

Before your next strength training session, perform the following sequence of mobility exercises, one after the other, circuit-style.

Aim for 1 minute of movement per exercise, with 15-30 s rest between exercises. Repeat a second time, then get on with your lift.

  • Body weight squats

Start with feet under hips. Sit your bum down and back as if you were perching over a port-a-potty. Push through the heels to return to standing. Use arms to counterbalance. Work on increasing depth over the duration of the interval.

 

  • Walk-out plank

Walk hands out into high plank. Retract shoulders, tighten belly and contract glutes to keep your body in a straight line. Pause before walking hands back in towards feet and returning to standing.

 

  • Lunge plus rotation

Step forward into a lunge. Drop back knee down towards the ground. Place back leg hand on the floor to the inside of the front foot. Extend opposite hand towards the ceiling, rotating to open the chest and the front of the shoulder. Return to starting position and repeat on the other side.

 

  • Lateral bear crawls

Come on to all fours, hands directly under shoulders and knees under hips. Keeping back flat and bum down, walk hands and feet to the right (either a set number of ‘steps’ or using as much space as you have). Switch directions, walking hands and feet back to your starting position.

 

  • Fast feet in-and-outs

Stand with your feet together. Quickly step right foot out to the right, then left foot out to the left. Step right foot back to start, then left foot back to start. Move as quickly as you can. Switch lead legs half-way through the interval.

Looking for more pre-workout warmup ideas? >> A real-time pre-workout warmup for midlife exercisers

Need some ideas for post-workout stretches? >> Essential stretches for  midlife exercisers

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