Disclaimer: I am not talking about running marathons, lifting weights to exhaustion, or even making sure you glisten with sweat as seen on TV. I am not even talking about making sure you eat a supersize ANYTHING after a workout.
This time it’s about range of motion – big MOVEMENTS when you exercise, or at other times like when you are stretching, warming up, or even going about your day.
Why? Because making a habit of small or not-quite-all of a motion can lead to you not being able to pull off a big movement when you may need it. Examples: Reaching to the top shelf to grab something in your kitchen. Or, being able to step over a puddle or a patch of ice. If you are maintaining an athletic habit like tennis, it’s about being able to take big strides to the ball or reach out for a tricky shot.
There is something else (isn’t there always?). As we get older, the tissues that help us move tend to tighten up and become shorter and thicker. Is that bad? Good question!
Here’s the thing. When that shortening happens, it may not be uniform. Meaning, you may have spots that are extra tight. Eventually, these can lead to aches and pains because your muscles can’t be uniform and coordinated as you move. It’s sort of like driving a car with misaligned wheels. This can seem fine for a while – until damage occurs.
Often I see older adults using short movements instead of the full range of motion when lifting weights. Actually, older adults are not the only ones. The tendency can be there because lifting a weight in the mid-range of a movement often means that more weight can be lifted comfortably. That is because our muscles often taper at both ends, which means that there is not as much muscle to help with the lift at the end of the full range of motion.
If you are going for full range, the weight needs to be lighter. This does not sit well with some people. But please note: you will get strength improvements at the end range by using the lighter weights. And, you do not need to limit yourself to strength training for the end ranges. You can still use heavier weights for the mid ranges.
What About Stretching?
When you stretch, it is important to focus on taking your time and getting the most out of it you can. Taking your time is important because as you stretch, your muscles will get used to the stretch and let go a bit more. This usually occurs after about ten seconds. At that point, you can go more deeply into the stretch. In fact, you can do this several times during the same stretch. This gives you optimal stretch, and can keep you from staying “short”. So please note: Getting an optimal stretch will not happen with a token stretch of a few seconds.
There are certain areas in our bodies that tend to tighten up more than others. For example, hip flexors (muscles in the front of our hips that contract when we kick a ball) can get shortened from sitting a lot. When that happens, your back and hips can be pulled out of optimal alignment. Back problems can ensue, which can lead to tight shoulders as they compensate for poor posture.
I mention this particular one because it afflicts so many people. A few examples of how to stretch the hip flexors are included below.
There are many other muscles in our bodies that tend to be tight, and that can cause us to have low-level (or high level) pain in those areas. That would be upper back (trapezius), back of the neck, upper chest (pectoralis), and calf muscles (which can lead to cramps in the night). If you are doing a stretching program already, you can pay particular attention to these areas. If you are not doing a stretching program, it’s a good time to start!
Another time to think big is when you are warming up before a workout or other activity. The concept behind warming up is to get as much of your body ready for the activity as possible. A good way to think about getting this done is to move each major joint in your body as if doing a lubricating job for them. When you do this, remember that your muscles are what move your joints, so they will be getting warmed up as well.
Example: Stand next to a chair and hang on to the back. Stand tall, and swing your leg front back several times. You do not have to start big, but work up to it slowly as you do more swings. See below for a photo of this.
Bottom line: When you exercise, stretch, or warm up, paying attention to how big or small you are doing each movement can make your efforts more beneficial and keep you in better shape for the long haul.
Hip Flexor Stretch: Whether sitting or standing, give it your best posture with shoulders back and abs engaged. Press forward while maintaining good posture (do not lean forward) to get the stretch in the front of your hip and thigh. See positions A and B. To target the powerful psoas hip flexor, raise the arm on the side of the lengthened leg over your head. Do not lean to the side, but maintain your upright posture. See position C. Hold all these positions for 20-30 seconds. Repeat if desired.
Leg Swing: Stand tall, and hang on to the back of a chair for stability. Swing your outside leg front to back 8-10 times, getting a slightly larger motion each time. Do not sway, but hold the position of your back and hips relative to your torso.
All the best
© 2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.