As soon as they wake up, dogs take a luxurious stretch and invigorating shake to prepare their bodies for the day ahead, whether that includes hunting and running (like they evolved to do), or playing with toys and lazing about in the sun (like my dog does every day). We can learn a lot from their canine instincts: Getting the lead out first thing with a morning mobility workout has benefits for humans, too.
Any kind of physical activity in the morning, whether stretching or working out, will get our blood flowing, which helps our organs (including our brains) function properly, and sends oxygen to parts of our body that might be stiff after a night of sleep. More intense movement can reduce that a.m. brain fog, while gentle exercises can awaken our “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system, setting us up for some calm and focused hours ahead.
Another benefit of getting some movement in those joints before breakfast? "Teaching your body and your nervous system how to move properly first thing will set the body up for success throughout the day," physical therapist Jacob VanDenMeerendonk, DPT, previously told Well+Good about the benefits of adding a little mobility to your morning.
Well, this morning mobility workout from Charlee Atkins, trainer and founder of Le Sweat, made for Well+Good's Trainer of the Month Club, both creates space in our bodies and activates our muscles, setting you up for a better day ahead. In this 10-minute workout video, Atkins zeroes in on helping your hips, spine, chest, and shoulders move throughout their full ranges of motion. To do that, she combines stretches with strengthening exercises to get the benefits of both types of movement.
For example, a set of isometric split squats works your lower body and increases mobility, since the position includes a front-body stretch. And the more you activate the muscles in the back of your body (aka your glutes), the deeper of a stretch you'll get in the front of the hips.
“We’re really firing up that back glute to open up the hips,” Atkins says.
Okay, but what actually is mobility, and how do you train it?
Mobility is defined as a joint’s ability to actively move through a range of motion. Think of how you use your core muscles to arch then contract your spine in a cat-cow exercise—you're moving your back in as big of a range of motion as you can, using your own strength to do so. These are often called controlled articular rotations, or CARS.
Many people confuse mobility with flexibility, but this kind of work is not just about stretching. “Stretching and yoga are not mobility,” Atkins previously told Well+Good about mobility workouts. (She holds certifications in both yoga and mobility.) “Sure, there are elements of mobility that exist in stretching and yoga classes. Still, mobility is about control and working through full ranges of motion joint by joint, typically under tension or by creating tension. Stretching is passive, and I liken yoga to a series of movements targeting many joints at once.”
To put it simply, when you're doing mobility training, you're actively working to open up that range of motion in the joints, not just sitting in one position to increase muscle flexibility (meaning, the tissue's ability to get longer) like you would with a passive stretch.
The benefits of mobility training
There's so much buzz about mobility work these days not only because it's good for healthy joints, longevity, and injury prevention (when you lack mobility in one joint, another area is bound to compensate, taking on too much stress). Another major motivator is that mobility training simply feels really good to do, whether you're working on foot, hip, or shoulder mobility.
The less we move in our desk- (or couch-) based stationary lives, the tighter and stiffer our bodies typically become. Yet mobility work—whether you do it in the morning, at night, or anytime in between—can offer pretty immediate relief. “And the more frequently we do it, it starts to stick a little bit more,” Danny King, a top trainer with Life Time fitness clubs previously told Well+Good about mobility benefits.
Keeping up with mobility drills regularly means you'll be able to function more optimally in your day-to-day life. "If you don't have good mobility, you will not be able to perform activities to your fullest potential," Vinh Pham, physical therapist and founder of Myodetox Clinics, previously told Well+Good. For this reason, he suggests working on mobility daily for optimal health. It doesn't need to take long, though: All you need is to spend a few minutes a day to see benefits.
Here's what to expect from this morning mobility workout
Format: 10 minutes spent on nine mobility exercises
Equipment needed: None—this quick body wake-up consists solely of mat exercises
Who this is for: Anyone looking to add some full body movement into their morning with a quick workout. "You can roll right out of bed, and right into this workout," says Atkins.
Scapular CARS (40 seconds)
- In a quadruped position (hands and knees) with toes tucked, pinch the shoulder blades together.
- Then, push your chest away from the floor, opening the shoulder blades apart.
- When you're ready for a little more motion, shrug the shoulders, then pull them down toward the hips.
- Finally, make circles with the shoulders, while keeping your elbows straight.
Side-lying windmill (60 seconds each side)
- Lie on your side with knees bent and both arms straight out in front of you.
- Trace the top arm up and over your head in an arc until both arms are in a straight line.
- Return to the starting position, then continue opening and closing for 60 seconds.
- Repeat on other side.
Downward-facing dog (60 seconds)
- Come into an upside-down "V" shape, with just your hands and feet on the ground.
- Lift one leg up, then the other.
Isometric side plank (30 seconds each side)
- On your side, lift yourself up to balance on your shins and lower arm (with shoulder over elbow and palm flat on the mat).
- You can keep the knees stacked or extend the top leg in the air. But focus on pressing the hips forward and the knee down into the mat, says Atkins.
- Switch to the opposite side.
Isometric split squat (30 seconds each side)
- Start in a half kneeling position, with one knee on the floor (and toes tucked), the other foot in front, both knees at 90-degree angles.
- Lift the back knee off the mat and hold. (If it's too intense, take a break then come back to it.)
- Switch sides.
Sumo lean (40 seconds)
- Stand up with legs spread wide.
- Squat down, then lift one heel up, lower it down, then stand up.
- Switch sides, and continue alternating.
Air squat (60 seconds)
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Lower down into a squat, then lift up.
Standing windmill (50 seconds)
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees soft.
- Reach one arm directly in front of you and the other directly back.
- Switch sides, and continue alternating.
Step jacks (40 seconds)
- Take two side steps to the right, opening up both arms out to the sides each time you step out.
- Take two steps to the left, opening your arms with each step.
- Continue alternating sides.
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