Between the inevitable decline in balance and mobility all men of a certain age face, and having to sit cross-legged on the carpet with your kid, marking farm animal noises, you’ll have to come around to improving your flexibility with balance and mobility exercises. If for no other reason than so you can get to your kid when they’re stuck in the Chuck E. Cheese maze.
Holly Perkins is a strength and conditioning trainer who’s worked with everyone from Howard Stern to presidential candidates. She understands you don’t have time for 90-minute yoga sessions, but you do have time for 9-minute, 6-exercise solutions. So you don’t have to take much time out of your day to be sure you can touch your toes. Here are the balance and mobility exercises you should do everyday, or at least whenever you can.
Start With Light Cardio
Despite often being described as a “warmup,” this brief period of activity isn’t there to shake off the chills, but prep your body for additional movements. “We don’t need to ‘warm up,’” says Perkins. “We need to prep for optimal movement either for our everyday — walking, standing up, sitting down — or for a workout.”
Begin your routine with 30 to 60 seconds of jumping jacks, followed by running in place, followed by mountain climbers. Repeat for a total of 5 minutes. Also, just to be explicit, breathe continuously.
Now you’re ready to start working on your flexibility.
Roll Out Your Upper Back/Thoracic Spine
Foam noodles are good for more than making oversized lightsabers or obscene gestures at the community pool. Spending some time on a foam roller helps with the mobility of your fascia — that layer of connective tissue that surrounds the muscles of your body. When that isn’t stretched, fibers of the fascia bind to muscles and nerves, causing pain and the mobility of a marionette. Rolling muscles out basically breaks up scar tissue and the binds between the skin, muscles, and bones.
To work on that, roll out out your upper back:
- Position a foam roller horizontal and lie on top of it with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- With arms either crossed over your chest or open to a “V,” roll back and forth, starting from your armpits and ending down to the middle of your back.
- Perform for 45 to 60 seconds. “Find the areas that feel tight or feel good,” Perkins says. “There’s an intuitive aspect to this — you’re really not going to do it wrong.” (Unless your kid jumps on you in the middle of it.)
Roll Out Your Quads
“Most problems with hip flexors relate back to the quads and sitting too much,” says Perkins. That means poor quad flexor mobility is a problem all office drones deal with.
To get at your quads, move into a push-up position with a foam roller lengthways under your quads. Lower yourself down onto the roller and then roll up and back, rolling from your hips to your knees. Perform for 30 to 45 seconds per leg.
Squats With Arm Movements
“This is a critical exercise,” Perkins says. “It’s important for ankle mobility and stability, glute and hip flexibility, pelvis flexibility, and core control.” To do it:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms to the sky, and, if needed, toes pointed outward.
- Sit into a squat — chest up, bottom down — as if you could put your butt in between your heels.
- Once in the position, lower your arms to the floor in front of you, in between your knees.
- Raise your arms up as high as you can.
- Stand up and lower your arms.
- Perform this 10 times.
This simple variation on the classic lunge increases flexibility in trouble areas like hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, and glutes. To do it:
- Start on the floor in front of a couch, facing away from it. Move onto your hands and knees so your toes touch the couch.
- Push your right knee back so it’s at the bottom of your couch, your shin is on the cushion and your foot pointing up to the ceiling.
- Using your hands, step your left foot in front of you into a lunge.
- Hang out in that stretch, moving around as you wish for 30 seconds.
- Next, raise and lower your hips and bring your hands onto your left knee.
- If this feels comfortable, sit upright and use your left foot to push away so your hips move towards the couch.
- Switch legs and do the other side.
Pro tip: If you’re flexible enough, you can do this stretch without the assistance of a couch.
Single Deadlift Variation
“This is a fantastic active flexibility move for hamstrings, which don’t respond very well to static stretching,” says Perkins.
- Stand with your feet together.
- Shift your weight to your left foot, keeping the knee soft and slightly bent, arms hanging at your sides.
- Rotate from your hip, letting your right leg reach behind you, but stay in alignment.
- As you rotate, tilt forward by slightly deepening the bend in your standing leg. The point is to try to get as close to parallel to the floor with your upper body as you can, airplane-style — or until you feel a definitive stretch in your left leg.
- Power into your left heel to activate your glutes and return to stand.
- Do this 15 to 20 times on one leg, then switch.
Don’t have time to perform these 6 exercises as a series? Break them up into individual movements and bust ’em out whenever you can. However you use them, they’ll help loosen you up and offset the negative impact of sitting. And even if you’re as nimble as Spider-Man, these moves can still help you maintain mobility. Because you’ve got years of shoelace tying, tree climbing, and pizza restaurant maze extractions ahead of you.
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