A SIMPLE MOVEMENT ROUTINE TO IMPROVE FLEXIBILITY AND MOBILITY IF YOU HATE STRETCHING

I’m severely pressed for time.

Right now I coach 40+ hours a week, have 2 internships with Precision Nutrition, and I do my best to research and write for this blog once per week. Thank goodness I’m not married, have kids, go to school, or play a competitive sport anymore – but I know you do.

Scheduling workouts and creating time to pursue personal interests like rock climbing, learning a new language, and taking cooking classes and improve my relationships can get fricking tough. 

Lately, I’ve tried to improve my flexibility and mobility but adding another 15 to 20 minutes to stretch after those workouts is the last thing I want to do.

Today’s article features some of the movement routine I do every day that has helped me improve my flexibility, mobility, and wrist and shoulder strength. This routine can be done in 5 minutes. It’s perfect as a warm-up, while you’re waiting for your coffee to brew, or as a way to get around your house (I’m serious. It’s fun to do in the house).
GMB Fitness - Elements

WHY A MOVEMENT ROUTINE?

Some tightness and limited mobility is due to your body trying to protect itself. 

Because of inactivity it doesn’t think it can achieve certain positions and when you try to it doesn’t want to let you because it fears it will get injured.  Each time you practice this routine you’re convincing your body that nothing bad is going to happen to it. Eventually your body will trust you and say, “I’m down with this man. I think I’ll let you touch your toes today.”

The aim of this movement routine is to help you build safe ranges of motion and flexibility that will keep your joints, ligaments, and muscles injury free.

The key is daily practice. Let me repeat that. The key to improvement is daily practice. You’ll need to schedule in 5 to 10 minutes a minimum of 5 days per week to reap the rewards. You can start your day with this routine, begin your workouts with it, end your day with it, or even mix it in at random times during your day. I like using it as a movement break after sitting and working for an hour.

With all that said your body is different from mine and in the long-run it may eventually require you to develop separate movement methods that fit your needs. But for now, if improving overall flexibility and mobility is a goal the simple daily movement routine that I outline below will have you touching your toes, sitting deep in a squat, and fixing your shoulder and lower back pain in no time.

WHAT YOU’LL BE WORKING ON

Most people I know don’t care much if they ever achieve the splits, can do a crazy back bend, or pull this off. They just want to feel better in their own body. To be able to tie their shoes without having to bend their knees, and to achieve normal body positions during the day that don’t feel as if they’re going to rip themselves in half.

The movement routine outlined in today’s article is designed to improve general “stiffidness” related to a number of things.

  • lack of activity
  • sitting for long periods of time
  • Weak muscles
  • soft tissue scaring
  • high muscle resting tone
  • joint hypomobility
  • previous injuries
  • poor training technique 

With consistent daily practice you’ll be able to improve flexibility, mobility, and strength in the following areas.

Hips:

The hips are a super important part of your body. Without them being strong and mobile it’s tough to run, produce power and force, jump, and even carry your own bodyweight. 

Shoulders: C-Spine

Sitting for long periods of time can lead to thoracic spine flexion and scapular protraction, otherwise know as the “C-Spine Effect.” When your shoulders are tight and immobile it can be tough to do cool things like handstands, overhead squats, and pull-ups but also everyday things like reaching for stuff on a high shelf or lifting your kids over your head.

Hamstrings and calves:

You may be wondering why I lump hamstrings and calves together. Tight hamstrings are often related to tight calf’s. Your calf muscle crosses the knee-joint which can make straightening your knees when you want to tie your shoes or bend over to pick something up difficult. 

Hamstrings being tight is an interesting one. If you sit most of your day your hamstrings and glutes are never being activated which means that they’re getting weaker. Tight hamstrings may actually be because they’re weak.  While you can strengthen them through exercises like the glute-ham raise and deadlifts. Improper range of motion may inhibit you from doing the exercises with correct form. Case in point, this shitty deadlift technique.

Core:

When most people hear the word core they think abs and six-pack. However, you can have abs for days and still have a weak core. When I talk core I’m talking about the multifidus muscle. A small but powerful muscle located on your back that extends up the vertebrae, as well as the transverse abdominus. A muscle found underneath the oblique muscles. When you see dudes or dudettes doing stuff like this – the transverse abdominus is involved.

Although this routine doesn’t directly work the “core” in a traditional sense it will require you to activate it during some of the movements. For example, your multifidus will be used as you lift up through the chest in your deep squat.

THE MOVEMENTS

Squatting, reaching, grabbing, standing up, sitting down, rotating, twisting – these are just some of the movements we do every day in work, life, and training. The idea in this simple movement routine is to get better at them by doing them more often. 

Before we jump in I want to give a big shout out to Gold Medal Bodies. The animal exercises you see below were learned after I went through their Elements training program
GMB Fitness - Elements

Exercise 1: Deep squat with external rotation

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Step 1: Start from the standing place your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. 

Step 2: Drop into the deepest squat that you can. Your heels should remain on the floor the entire time. If they come up you’re squatting a little too deep for what your body will allow right now and that’s ok. See the tips below. 

Step 3: Keeping your toes pointed straight ahead bring your elbows to the inside of your knees and drive them out. As you do this lift up through the chest so that your spine straightens up. You ay feel a slight stretch in your upper back when you do this. If you have a hard time balancing see the tips below.

Step 4: Keeping your right foot pointing forward turn your left foot out at a 45 degree angle. Using your left elbow drive your left knee out. You can place your right hand down on the ground to help balance.

Step 5: Return to your normal squat position. Once here keep your left foot pointed forward and turn your right foot out at a 45 degree angle. Using your right elbow drive your right knee out. You can keep your left and on the ground to help balance.

Step 6: Return to your squat and stand back up and shake out your legs.

Trouble shooting: 

Q: I have a hard time getting that deep into a squat without my heels coming off the ground or my upper body leaning forward.

A: Try using a stable object like a chair or table in front of you to hold on to as you squat. Slowly work your way down and find a spot that challenges you but that you’re comfortable with.

Q: My toes want to turn out when I get into my squat

A: It’s cool. If you can use your hands to place them forward again. Leave your hands on the outside of them to hold them in place. If this feels too uncomfortable just let them turn out a bit – it’s all good 🙂

Q: When I lift up through my chest to flatten my spine I have a hard time balancing and fall backward.

A: Try dropping it like it’s hot (squatting) up against a wall to support you. 

Exercise 2: Wrist work

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Step 1: Position yourself on all fours on the ground. Your shoulders should be over your wrists and hands and your hips should be directly over your knees.

Step 2: Screw your hands into the ground by rotating your bicep or the eye of the elbow joint so that it points straight ahead. 

Step 3: With your elbows locked out slowly lean forward over top of your wrists. Make sure to keep your palms on the ground. If they begin to come up or your elbows bend you’ve gone too far.

Step 4: Come back to the all fours starting position but now turn your fingers so that they are facing you. This time you will shift your weight back so that you feel a nice stretch into your forearms.

Step 5: Come back to the all fours starting position. Now you will slowly roll your hands over so that the tops of them are on the ground. Warning: This will most likely hurt like all get up especially if you spend a lot of time on the computer.

With the tops of your hands on the ground and your fingers facing you slowly begin to straighten your elbows out as much as possible. If you’re able to keep them straight without much discomfort you can slowly begin to shift your body weight back.

Trouble shooting:

Q: I can’t seem to keep my elbows from bending in one, two, or all three wrist positions. 

A: It’s ok. Just work with your body. No need to force anything now. Try straightening your elbows as much as you can. It will feel a little uncomfortable. When you get tired of the discomfort allow your elbows to bend again. Repeat this process 5 to 10 more times. 

Exercise 3: Bet arm-chair and straight-arm chillin pose

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Step 1: Sit down on your bum with your hands slightly behind you at about shoulder width. Your feet will be on the ground with your knees bent so that they are pointed towards the ceiling.

Step 2: Bend at the elbows and slightly lean back into your armpits. Try your best to keep your elbows from flaring out on you. You’ll want them to be pointed straight back. You may need to move your hands a few more inches away from your body in order to get into a comfortable position.

Step 3: Straighten your arms and begin sliding your butt away from your hands. As you do this lean into your arms pits again. Once you’ve found a nice stretch take a big inhale and as you exhale try to slide your butt a little further away from your hands and too lean a little deeper into your armpits.

Exercise 4: The Bear

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Step 1: Position yourself on all fours on the ground. Your shoulders should be over your wrists and hands and your hips should be directly over your knees. Lift your knees off the ground by straightening out your legs as much as you comfortably can. Eventually the goal is to have your legs straight with your heels on the ground but if you can not currently do that – it’s ok, just do what you can.

Step 2: Your butt should be pointed towards the ceiling – you’ll sort of look like a teepee. If you can, lock out your arms. If not, that’s ok, just do what you can. Slightly shift your weight on to your hands.

Step 3: Position your head so that you are looking at your toes. You’ll want to maintain this position the entire time you do this exercise so that you do not strain your neck.

Step 4: Keeping your arms and legs as straight as you can move your left hand forward followed immediately by your right foot. Make sure to keep your weight on your hands. Now repeat this process with your right hand and left foot. Keep on movin man.

Note: Their can be a tendency to keep the weight off of your hands and instead place it on you’re feet. Just be aware of this. If you find yourself doing it simply shoot your butt up towards the ceiling and shift your weight forward. If this is difficult for you may need to bend your knees more, improve upper body strength, or increase flexibility. 

Troubleshooting:

Q: I can’t seem to lock out my arms and or legs.

A: It’s ok, you may need to work on strength and or flexibility in order to do this. Just get into what ever position you comfortably can. As you move through the exercise slightly try to straighten out your arms and legs. This will begin to teach them that they’re safe and not going to get hurt.

Exercise #5: The Frog

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Step 1: Drop down into the deepest squat that you can get into. Lift up through the chest and place your hands down on the ground in-between your legs and directly in front of you. Keep your heels flat on the ground. If you are not able to do this lift your butt up a little so that you are not as deep in your squat or try turning your toes out a little more.

Note: Your feet should be slightly outside of your shoulders when in your squat.

Note: Watch for your knees crumbling in. If this happens, use your elbows to drive them out so that your knees are aligned over your big toe.

Step 2: Lift your hands off the ground and place them back on the ground about 6 to 12 inches in front of you. As you do this shift your weight onto your hands so that your feet come off the ground. As they come up you’ll whip them forward so that you are now in your starting position.

Step 3: Repeat this process

Exercise #6: The Monkey

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This exercise is similar to the monkey but now you’ll be moving laterally instead of forward.

Step 1: Drop down into the deepest squat that you can get into. Lift up through the chest and place your hands down on the ground in-between your legs and directly in front of you. Keep your heels flat on the ground. If you are not able to do this lift your butt up a little so that you are not as deep in your squat or try turning your toes out a little more.

Step 2: Move your hands so that your right arm is now to the outside of your right leg and your left arm is on the inside of your right leg. As you do this shift your weight onto your hands so that your feet come off the ground. You’ll then whip your feet laterally so that your left arm is now on the outside of your left leg and your right arm is on the inside next to your left leg.

Step 3: Repeat this process so that you moving like an animal.

Exercise #7: Crab Reach

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Step 1: Start by sitting on the floor with your hands behind your back at about shoulder width (your fingers will be pointed away from you). Bring your feet about 6 to 12 inches in front of you. Bend at the knees so that your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are pointed towards the ceiling.

Step 2: Lift your butt off the ground so that you create a table top position. If this is hard for you to hold just lower your butt back to the ground. 

Step 3: Lift your hip up as high as you can and slightly shift your weight back to the hands. Take your right arm and extend it as far up and back as you can over your left shoulder. 

Step 4: Come back to your table top position and repeat on the other side.

PUTTING THESE MOVEMENTS INTO PRACTICE

Let me be real with you for a second. These movements are weird and if you do them in front of people they will consider you weird. But most people are not as healthy and fit as they want to be because they’re afraid of being the weird one.

These movements will burn and you will burn. Not literally but figuratively. Doing these exercises will not cause you to burst into flames… as far as I know. If this does happen please have someone video tape it and send it to me. I will be amazed and will feature it on my Instagram

When should I do this movement routine?

Lets not make this complicated. As one of my coaching clients Calvin (say that three times fast) say’s, “If it’s convenient I’m more likely to do it.”

So let’s make practicing these movements daily super easy for you to do so that you can start improving basic flexibility mobility, and strength.

I start every single workout with them. You can do them to start your day while waiting for your coffee to brew. Another great opportunity to practice these movements is at random times during the day. Lets call these movement breaks. Dr. Kelly Starrett in his book Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World, recommends taking a 2 minute movement break for every 30 minutes that you sit. Once you become familiar with the technique you can easily run through a quick movement circuit it 2 minutes. 

How do I run through this movement routine?

Move from one exercise to the next with as much rest in between exercises as you’d like. I like to flow through the movement circuit as quickly as possible.

If you’re having a tough time getting into each position, stretch, and movement try easing in and out of them often. You won’t be holding them but instead you’ll be putting into the starting position and then going back to a resting place. You’ll then repeat this a few more times. For example, in the bear exercise you may just want to start on all fours and get into the teepee position by straightening your legs and lifting your butt up. Then going back down to all fours and repeating a few more times.

There’s no need to force anything now. That may lead to injuries and you spending more time sitting and less time moving. Be mindful of your movement practice and listen to your body is trying to tell you.

  • Squat with external rotation – 2-3 sets x 30-60 seconds: Hold your deep squat for 15-30 seconds. Then externally rotate your left foot and hold for 15-30 seconds. Repeat this on your right foot.
  • Wrist work – 2-3 sets x 30-60 seconds: Hold each wrist position (fingers facing away, towards you, and tops of hands on the ground) for 30-60 seconds.
  • Bear – 2-3 sets x 30-60 seconds: To goal is to keep your body moving in the bear position for 30-60 seconds. 
  • Frog – 2-3 sets x 30-60 seconds: To goal is to keep your body moving in the bear position for 30-60 seconds.
  • Monkey – 2-3 sets x 30-60 seconds: To goal is to keep your body moving in the bear position for 30-60 seconds.
  • Crab reach – 2-3 sets x 5 reaches to each side: Try and push those hips up as much as you can and really reach back to stretch out those lats and obliques.

I want to emphasize playing in each position. Although I’ve given some general guidelines to these movements – by all means have some fun with them. Play and try moving your body in unique ways as you do them. Lift a leg up towards the ceiling as you do bear, twist at your hips when you sit in your squat, make noises and turn your knees in and out as you do monkey. As long as your body is feeling good and can safely do these things you’ll be training the neurological connections between your body and brain. That means these things will just keep getting easier and more fun as you keep doing them.

If your flexibility is keeping you from achieving any of the positions detailed in this article I highly recommend picking up either GMB’s Elements program or GMB’s Focused Flexibilty Course. I have done both and between the two have dramatically improved the way that my body moves and feels on a regular basis.

Any questions about this movement routine? Or do you have your own movement practice that you’d like to share? Comment below and lets start a discussion.

Live Limitless,

Justin

Inspiration for this post and gratitude:

A special thank you to the team over at Gold Medal Bodies who over the last year have taught me how valuable moving my body in fun but challenging ways is to my development not only as a “wannabe athlete” but as a human being. I have taken just about all of their courses and the animal movements in this article were taught to me through their Elements course. Elements as been one of the most valuable things I have done for my body.

Also, a big shout out to my internet friend Jonathan Mead and Uncagedman. His passion for uncaging your body and finding unique ways to move in and out of nature have been inspiring me to do the same the last few months.

Photo Credit: Danny Vitalis

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