“Mobility versus stability is an old trope. What you should really be asking yourself is, ‘Do I have access to my natural, native range of motion, and can I control my movement through those ranges?’” says Starrett, co-author (with Juliet) of Built to Move: The Ten Essential Habits to Help You Move Freely and Live Fully.
Starrett explains that range of motion, or ROM, is how your joints and limbs move through their available space, while mobility is being able to express those ranges with control to perform tasks. Starrett compares the native ROM (the ROM we are born with) to a wide, spacious hallway that starts to shrink if we don’t maintain it.
“Most of us in our 20s have a great corridor of movement,” he says. “As we get older, our hallway gets narrower and narrower due to things like injuries and illnesses, until it gets to the point where some people can barely move. If you keep access to your native ROM, your movement corridor tends to stay open.”
We use ROM in our daily lives for everything from squatting and sitting to lifting and climbing stairs. But ROM and mobility are “use it or lose it,” and most of our lifestyles don’t require us to continually move like our ancestors did.
“What we often see is that if we don’t expose our tissues and joints to their range of motion, our brain takes away their ability to access that ROM,” he says. “Our bodies are constantly adapting and can adapt in limiting ways until you can’t get off the couch or car.”
When ROM is restricted, it affects mobility, stability, and ease of movement, which, in turn, can lead to pain and injury. Starrett cites the example of a runner whose restrictions mean he can no longer maintain proper form in his stride.
“Imagine I lack the ability to move my leg behind my body (properly). If I lack that form, when the leg is behind, the foot externally rotates,” she says. “That position is me resolving a movement restriction because I don’t have access to my native range of movement. So the hip is not in a stable position. The alternative strategy of the body is to create a range of movement considered less effective and where the movement is not as stable.
With age, our joints tend to become stiffer, which can also lead to compensating with positions that have less stability and strength. “That’s when you see people have a hard time doing simple tasks,” Starrett says. “The main reason people end up in nursing homes is because they can’t get up off the ground. That’s usually a knee or hip issue, not a strength issue.”
How to maintain your range of motion over time
Starrett’s book contains 10 tests to assess ROM, including the couch test and the sit-up test: stand up, cross one foot in front of the other, step down to sit cross-legged on the floor, then stand up, without using his hands to help himself. A recent study found that participants who did better on the sit-up test were more likely to survive six years later, while those who struggled the most were more likely to die.
To maintain and restore ROM and mobility, you don’t need to go to a gym or class, although yoga and Pilates are beneficial, but to focus on specific movements that train the joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and brain. to work together in harmony, so that they move freely and effortlessly through life, says Starrett. Her book contains 10 simple “physical practices” for mobilization at home; There’s also Mobility Workouts of the Day on her YouTube channel, and while you don’t need to go through the list every day, Starrett says it’s best to do a little mobilizing. I work everyday.
For example, one of the most effective things you can do is sit on the floor for 30 minutes a day while watching TV. “You’re going to have to change positions a lot to feel comfortable. This creates an opportunity to spend time in ranges of motion that you’re not used to,” says Starrett, who also recommends walking at least 8,000 steps a day.
While you may not be thinking about falling and not being able to get back up in your 20s or 30s, our bodies are our homes and working to maintain a spacious “movement corridor” throughout life is really about ” play the long game” to live as we age, Starrett says.
“Your range of motion doesn’t need to change,” he says. “It is something that we can control at any age. If we think of body movement as a language, we are capable of Shakespeare, but most of us use language like Dr. Seuss.”
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