For those who are dedicated to fitness and making the most of their bodies, working out is not just a way to improve your health, but it’s a way of life.
Spending hundreds of hours a year toning and shaping your body can take a toll, which is why you want to exercise smarter, not harder. In fact, if you focus more on technique and skill rather than balls to the wall insanity, you can get better results in a shorter amount of time.
When it comes to fitness, there are a number of things that you have to do to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your workout. Strength, flexibility, and endurance are major components of your exercise regimen, and today we’re going to talk about mobility and recovery. Mobility is making sure that your body can move in all the different ways it has to to make sure that you’re following proper technique, and recovery is making sure that you don’t injure yourself by giving you everything you need to bounce back from an intense workout.
Even if you’re just starting out in your fitness routine, this guide is designed to help everyone. For those on the amateur side of the spectrum, feel free to test the waters with these exercises and find out what you are capable of before committing to them all the way. For veterans, we hope that this guide will provide you with some new information that can help upgrade your fitness status and help you get to the next level.
The reason that we are starting with mobility is that it’s more important to make sure that you can do the proper technique before trying to do your workouts. If you are not able to do them correctly, then you’re shooting yourself in the foot before you even begin. Thus, to help you make sure that you’re as mobile as possible, let’s perform some tests to see where you’re at. These tests come from fitness legend Kelly Starrett, so pay attention.
Tests For Runners
One of the most common cardio workouts is to jog or run, which makes sense because it can have the best results concerning stamina and heart rate. However, although humans are more than capable of running for long periods, modern society has not evolved in such a way to help us reach our full potential. Because we do a lot of other things that don’t involve running, such as sitting, walking in shoes, and driving, our feet and legs are usually at a disadvantage when we first start out.
For most people, we tend to squat on the balls of our feet, with the heel raised in the air. That means that our ankles do not have a full range of motion, which is troublesome if you want to be a runner.
So, this test is as simple as seeing if you can keep your feet flat on the ground as you squat. If you have to lift your heel, then you are not as mobile as you should be. If that is the case, you will have to work on pivoting your ankles to get a fuller range of motion. It may take some time, but once you can do that, you should notice a marked improvement in your running.
“I would add that the toes should also stay pointing straight forward with the feet about shoulder width apart and the heels on the ground. Many people will externally rotate their feet when they squat so they are squatting around their ankles instead of through the ankle. Easy, dead give away that they don’t have that mobility.” –Derrick McBride
It’s not clear where this name came from, but it’s what Kelly calls it, so we’re apt to keep the name. The purpose of this exercise is to see how loose and flexible you are with your legs. Most new runners are tight and constricted, meaning that they aren’t able to get a full leg extension while running. If that is the case, then it can lead to major problems later on as you are pulling short with your strides, which can cause muscle spasms or cause your foot to hit the ground at the wrong angle.
To practice this stretch, stand against the wall with your back, butt, and one leg pressed up to it. The back of your knee should also be touching. Then, take your other leg and lift it up with it bent at the knee. If you’re fully flexible, then you should be able to get your knee to at least your waist without any problems. If your other leg shifts or bends and you can’t straighten it out, then that means you are not as mobile as you should be.
If that does happen, then it’s imperative that you start stretching your legs to get them to be looser. Having a full stride while running will make the whole experience much easier and will ensure that you are getting the most out of your workout.
Tests for Lifters
If strength training is your main focus, then focusing on technique is far more important here than it would be with any cardio workouts. If you don’t have a perfect form when you lift, then you are at risk for pulling a muscle or impeding your progress. So, to ensure that you are getting the most out of your routine, try these two tests.
If you aren’t already doing squats as part of your regimen, then you should start immediately. This exercise is perfect for molding your body into peak fitness, as it will test many different muscles and, more importantly, your balance. For beginners, you can start by using a squat machine at the gym which will keep you in line. However, you should move to free standing squats as soon as possible so that you can get the most out of them.
For the most part, when guys squat they do it from the back. That means that they rest the bar on their shoulders and behind their neck. While this is great for a lot of reasons, it shouldn’t be the only kind you’re doing. A front squat is similar, but the bar is in front of you, resting across your clavicle.
If you can’t do a front squat or you start arching your back too much, then that means that you aren’t getting the full range of motion. If you are struggling, then start with a lighter weight and practice until you can match your back squat level.
The important thing to remember with squats is to keep your feet planted and your back straight. Take note, newbies. If you are arching or lifting your heels, then you are doing it wrong. Start with less weight and focus on technique before you increase.
While the name is something of a misnomer, this is an exceptionally easy exercise that will tell you if you have a full range of mobility for your shoulders and back. All you have to do is hold two dumbbells above your head with your arms straight and a relaxed grip. While Kelly suggests these weights should be about fifty pounds, you will want to lift whatever you’re comfortable with so that you don’t risk injury.
If you can hold the dumbbells straight up for a couple of minutes without your elbows buckling or your back hurting, then you are good to go. If that sounds impossible, then try doing it with less weight and see what happens. If you’re still bending and breaking with smaller bells, then you need to work on your mobility. To improve in this area, start with as little weight as possible and then see how long you can go, then try to beat that record.
Avoid Static Stretching
You’ve most likely seen people stretch before a workout. While that seems like it would be an important thing to do, it turns out that it can have an adverse impact on your body. In fact, studies have shown that static stretching can lead to a decrease in overall mobility when compared to no stretching at all.
Instead, try a dynamic warmup that gets your blood pumping and makes you sweat. Whether you are doing cardio or weight lifting, a dynamic warmup can have a much more positive impact on your mobility overall. Things like lunges, squats, and Carioca are all great to get your body more limber and ready to go. Even if you’re new to the fitness game, start off by doing a few of these exercises initially and then move into your routine. The difference between a novice and a veteran is practice, so start with whatever you’re comfortable with and then go from there.
Improve Your Stance
We’ve already pointed this out, but it’s so important that it bears repeating. Form and technique are essential when exercising. Someone who has perfect position lifting twenty-five pounds is going to get much better results than someone who is lifting forty pounds with sloppy movements.
In this case, it’s actually better for you if you’re just starting out, as you can train yourself before you start to learn bad habits. If you’re a veteran, then hopefully you have perfect form for all of your routines. If you don’t, then that should be your priority before anything else.
The best way to get your technique and position down is to start with less weight and focus on that, rather than “feeling the burn.” Until you can keep your form straight and perfect without thinking about it, don’t worry about increasing your weight or changing things up. Technique is the foundation upon which all of your fitness goals lie, so make sure that it’s precise before moving on.
Even if you are only interested in cardio training, form and position are also important. Too often, when we do cardio, we tend to relax our upper bodies and let them go wherever they please. If you’re working out at the gym, this manifests itself as leaning on the bars while you run or do the elliptical. Ideally, your upper body should stay relatively rigid, regardless of how fast you’re going. Maintaining a tight form will make sure that you get faster results and will help you improve your endurance.
Focus on Problem Areas
If you’re noticing that some parts of your body are more mobile than others, that is all too common. When that happens, make sure that you are focusing on the areas that are giving you trouble so that they can catch up to the rest of your body. The most common points of issue are the shoulders, hips, hamstrings, back, and ankles. If you can’t get a full range of motion for each of these sections, then you have to focus your attention on them to get them in peak performance mode.
There are plenty of exercises out there that concentrate on each body part, but the overall basis of them is that you should push and pull your joints and body in every direction until you can get a full range of mobility. Best of all, even if you suffer from things like back or shoulder pain, doing these exercises will benefit you in the long run.
Now that we’ve given you the tools to help improve your mobility let’s turn our attention to recovery. Just as positioning and form are crucial to making sure that you’re getting the most out of your workout, recovery is imperative so that you don’t lose out on your gains. With that in mind, here are the most important things you should know.
Don’t Rest on Your Rest Days
While it may seem like a good idea to crash on the couch on days that you’re not at the gym, the fact is that that can have an adverse effect on your body. To help your muscles and internal systems stay up to speed, give them some light, low-impact exercise on your off days. This will get the blood flowing and help your muscles repair themselves much faster than if you stayed static all day. One particular workout that is great for recovery is swimming. It has no impact on your body but will increase your heart rate and help you get the most out of your normal routine. Swimming a couple of times a week should do the trick.
CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine)
If you’ve never tried these treatments, then you are missing out. While some were originally thought of as pseudo-science from the old world, several are actually becoming well-known and respected methods to relieve pain and aches around your body. More and more evidence is coming out to support these treatments, and nowadays you can find high-quality clinics and centers in almost every major city in the US.
Some popular treatments include:
Fascial Stretch Therapy™ (FST™) is a revolutionary pain free method of assisted stretching that creates lasting change in the body. It can help to reduce or eliminate tight muscles and or stiff joints that are caused by our tissue being under stress from poor posture, injury, and lack of exercise or over training. FST™ focuses on lengthening and re-aligning the body to relieve pain, improve performance and achieve flexibility and strength.
Sports Massage (also known as sports specify therapy) is a massage technique designed for the elite and professional athlete. Each session is designed for the athlete based on the sport and individual needs. A functional movement evaluation can be used to help the therapist determine areas of compensation and faulty motor patterns. This treatment may consist of multiple modalities, cupping, corrective exercises and self- treatment strategies.
Acupuncture is a therapy that uses natural laws and energetics with the application of needles and pressure to specific “points” on the body. Acupuncture is practiced based on discerning a “pattern of disharmony” and treating accordingly. Acupuncture treats to strengthen the physical body, prevent disease, control pain, and achieve longevity. The goal of acupuncture, as practiced in oriental medicine in general, is not only limited to ridding or relieving symptoms but also to increase both the quality of life and ability to function.
If you’re suffering from aches and pains, then these treatments can help immensely. Obviously, you don’t need them every time you work out (that would get expensive), but a couple of times a month should be more than beneficial. These are just a few of the many options available. Explore a few and find out what works for you.
For some athletes, aches and pain forces them to wear compression gear on parts of their body. Usually, this is for joint pain, which is why you see some athletes wearing sleeves over their elbows or knees.
Well, if you want to improve your gains and help your body recover faster, then using this gear is a great option. Compressing your body helps stimulate blood flow, which helps your muscles rebound after an intense workout. That doesn’t mean that you should wear a full-body compression suit, but instead wear pieces on parts of your body that are usually sore. Having it on during the workout means that you should recover faster, meaning that you will see a reduction in pain almost immediately.
This term comes from another fitness guru Ben Greenfield. The concept of deloading is when you take a week off of your normal routine and make things a little easier. Yes, you are still following your same regimen, but you’re pulling back and using less weight or doing fewer reps so that your body isn’t under as much stress.
This process is ideal for anyone who is training or is a full-time athlete, but anyone can benefit from deloading. Depending on your age and the intensity of your workout, you should partake in a light week about once a month or every other month. If you start to notice that your body is getting sore more often, then it’s a good time to deload.
Other activities that you can try during this period include yoga and other low-impact exercises. However, the best thing to do is to follow your same routine but pull back on the amount of weight and the number of reps. Your body will thank you.
As a side note, you don’t have to worry about losing any gains by taking a week off of your normal workout regimen. It takes up to three weeks for muscle mass to deteriorate with lack of exercise, so one week won’t do any damage. You should be able to pick up where you left off without any trouble.
Finally, the best way to ensure a proper recovery is to get plenty of sleep. If you are going balls out with your exercise, then you need to be sleeping around eight to ten hours a day for your body to repair yourself adequately. If, however, you can’t get enough sleep for whatever reason (job, family, responsibility), then be sure to get regular massages to help the recovery process. Don’t wait until you are so tense that you can’t move. Massages are great at any time and can help you even if you don’t feel sore.
To wrap this up,
Don’t feel like you have to do it all. Explore a new option, and if it helps, add it to your routine.
I’d love to hear what mobility and recovery methods work for you. Please feel free to comment below and share this out with anyone who could use it.
To your health,
Denver Movement Center – Denver
Denver Sports Recovery – Denver
The Renovation Room (Project Move) – Littleton
Enhanced Movements Chiropractic – Lafayette
Colorado Springs Center for Human Performance & Rehabilitation – Colorado Springs
5280 Cryo & Recovery Clinic – Denver/Englewood/Fort Collins
Rx Sports Recovery – Highlands Ranch