Quickly Test Your Mobility With These 3 Important Stretches
We all know that mobility and flexibility are vital aspects of physical health. But for many people, these aspects come second, third or even last in their list of priorities.
The Problem That Can Lead to Disability
Even people who are dedicated to maintaining high levels of fitness will often neglect their mobility tests and stretching routines. It’s understandable—we’re all busy these days, so finding an hour for a workout is hard enough already.
And what about those of us who don’t yet have enough physical activity scheduled in each week? You might be stuck behind a desk for 8-10 hours a day (plus a commute), if your work demands it, leaving you barely enough time to rest, eat and sleep. So putting fitness and flexibility far down your list of priorities might seem to make sense.
But as lifespans lengthen and awareness grows about the potentially-debilitating effects of bad modern habits (too much desk work, junkfood & stress, too little exercise and variety in movement), more of us are wondering how many hours we’ll end up spending with doctors and physiotherapists. Or perhaps even on the surgeon’s table?
As Professor Anthony Woolf, a rheumatologist at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, tells the BBC: “Around 30% of all disability in the UK is due to [musculoskeletal, i.e. muscle, bone and joint] conditions.”
Is it inevitable that we’ll all be suffering impaired mobility and increased pain as the years slip by?
The Easy-to-Implement Solution
Fortunately, we don’t need to accept a future of pain and restricted mobility. There is a solution and it’s easy to do (especially if you start now).
By taking regular stretching breaks every day, we can look forward to a future of increased overall wellness and vitality. Even if a musculoskeletal problem occurs, you will be much more likely to notice it early and to seek effective treatment quickly.
The more variety of movement we can practice, with the aim of gently improving our flexibility over time, the better off we’ll be.
The First Step
It can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to mobility. So we recommend beginning with a quick mobility test.
Below, we’ve put together a short routine that you can follow on a regular basis, to check in with your body and get a sense of its current mobility status.
Follow this routine now to see whether you have good core strength and overall flexibility, or whether you need to start with a beginner-level stretching routine.
Make sure to practice each part of this routine carefully, starting with very small and slow movement so that you can stop if you notice any pain or discomfort.
There is no need to push yourself too far. A small effort made today (and every day) will bring you incredible results over time.
The Forward Bend
The forward bend stretches your Erector Spinae muscles, which are the very long muscles that sit alongside your spine.
You can imagine why it’s vital to carefully build strength and flexibility in these muscles. If they are not well looked-after, problems with these muscles can cause restriction of spinal movement and severe back pain.
So take your shoes off and stand on a yoga mat with your feet hip-width apart. Take a deep breath to relax and focus yourself on performing the following movement very slowly and gently.
Let your head roll forwards first, then allow your neck and shoulders to follow. Keep your legs straight and let your arms hang from your shoulders. Remember to breathe deeply and stay relaxed.
During 3-6 deep breaths, let your body drape forward and relax towards your toes, allowing your spine open and stretch naturally.
How does this stretch feel?
If you feel comfortable enough in this stretch to start reaching for your toes or the floor, then your mobility levels are good. Make sure to keep up your healthy movement habits!
But if you quickly start to feel discomfort in your neck, spine and/or legs during this stretch, you’ll need to address these areas with more gentle stretches.
Take a look at Option 2 on our Erector Spinae Stretch page, as an easier way of gently increasing your spinal mobility.
Then try this Upper Trapezius stretch, to improve the flexibility in these muscles at the back of your neck.
Finally, try Option 2 from our hamstring stretch page. But use a lower surface to rest each foot on while practising this stretch. And your movements slow and your breaths deep! This stretch requires patience to improve.
The ‘Stand at Ease’ Posture Check
This stretch is a subtle one, focused on finding alignment in your body rather than on extension or movement.
But it’s nonetheless a vital step in any mobility test. If you’re not able to quickly and easily find the best position for your legs, hips, spine, shoulders and neck, then you’ll struggle to keep in good posture throughout the day.
A lifetime of slouching can lead to tightness and pain in the neck and shoulders, and these complaints are all-too-common now that so many of us are spending long hours sitting in front of computers.
One of the simplest ways to gently alter your posture, progressively change the way you hold yourself and relax the tight muscles in your chest, is to practice this ‘stand at ease’ stretch.
With the feet in an open stance, grasp one hand in the other behind your back, allowing them to rest upon the posterior pelvis. This will naturally pull your shoulders into a more neutral position and take the pressure off of your neck, shoulders and upper back muscles.
Take a few deep breaths in this position, allowing your shoulders to ‘open’ the chest area around your heart.
How does this stretch feel?
If it feels easy and natural to arrange yourself in perfect posture, then that’s great. Keep reminding yourself throughout the day to avoid ever falling into a habit of slouching.
But if you find it uncomfortable or strange being in this position, you’ll know you need to start paying attention to your posture.
Being able to relax your shoulders gently, with your shoulder blades moving slightly down and towards each other, is essential in avoiding future pain around the chest, neck and shoulders.
So if you have to spend hours at your desk, set an alert to remind you to check your posture every 30 minutes. And stand up at least once an hour to perform the full mobility test routine that we’re covering in this article.
(As an additional benefit, these bi-hourly breaks will encourage you to practice deep breathing. This can have a positive effect on overall stress levels, which is something most of us could do with.)
The Back Bend
This stretch should be performed very gradually if you haven’t done it before. You’ll need to focus on breathing while engaging your core muscles, so don’t rush.
Whether standing or kneeling, raise your arms above your head and take one or two deep breaths to bring all your attention to your body.
Slowly tilt backwards while keeping your chest open and high. Pause often to check that you’re still breathing deeply, and that every area of your back feels comfortable.
It’s important to notice how your lower back feels when you’re doing this stretch. If you feel any tightness or discomfort there, the stretch is not being performed correctly so you should reduce the stretch until you get back to a comfortable level.
How does this stretch feel?
If you have no problems with this stretch (including maintaining relaxed, deep breathing throughout), then your current fitness and mobility routines are working well.
But if you experience discomfort or struggle to maintain a smooth and relaxed stretch, then your core muscles may be tight and/or weak.
In that case, switch to Option 1 on our Rectus Abdominis stretching page. It’s a safer way for beginners to start improving the strength and flexibility of their back.
Once again, perform this easier stretch slowly and pay lots of attention to how each part of your back feels throughout. Don’t over-extend yourself and pause often to breath deeply and scan your body.
For Tomorrow (And Every Day After That)
This quick mobility test has hopefully given you a good idea of your existing flexibility levels.
Add this test to your morning and evening routines to keep an eye on how well your body is coping with the stresses of excessive desk work and other modern threats to our musculoskeletal health.
Once you’ve got these stretches in your daily routine (allow at least 21 days for the habit to form properly), you can begin to extend them with more quick and easy routines like these.
When you’re ready to find even more stretches to scatter throughout your day—because mobility and movement feel so good, they can become addictive (in a good way!)—use our interactive Muscle Map to Stretching to find lots of new ideas for keeping your muscles and joints happy.