Seven Essential Mobility Drills for Those Who Sit at Work

We all have some joints that feel stiff on certain mornings and we might think, "Man, I'm getting old, I feel so inflexible, but I guess that's just what happens." I'm here to say that maybe, just maybe, we can stave off a little rigidity with some daily (or mostly daily) mobility drills. Much of the working force now sits at a desk or in a car for a majority of the day. When you maintain one position for hours on end without any conscious input of posture or movement, your muscles and joints can get stuck in sub-optimal alignment leading to a feeling of stiffness because your "gears haven't been greased." Not only do we need mobility drills to maintain, or increase, our range of motion, these drills will also help lubricate our joints. Our joints are full of an extremely slick lubricant called synovial fluid, but if you don't move your joints through a full range of motion, then this fluid will not reach all of your joints surfaces.

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If you are one of the many who sits for hours on end, then read on for seven essential mobility drills you should do most days to keep your joints feeling a little more free and smooth. If your job requires you to stand for most of the day, these can also be helpful, but next month will be more focused on the mobility that is needed for those on their feet for hours on end.

As always, with any exercise routine, make sure you have been cleared by your doctor to perform these activities, listen to your body, and modify as needed to prevent injury. If you do experience pain or have any health issues during the activity, stop the movement and follow up with your doctor. These drills should not lead to muscle soreness, but your joints and muscles may feel stiff so be careful at your end range especially with the first rep of each drill. If discomfort is severe or lingers, be sure to follow up with your doctor.

While these seven mobility drills are simple, remember that simple does not necessarily mean easy. Each of our bodies have been through different things in our lifetimes and each of our skeleton's are slightly different so always listen to how each exercise feels for you and modify as needed. Nonetheless, our bodies are amazing machines and we can get many benefits from moving our body through full ranges of motion. Love, listen, and give back to your body and it will continue to do some pretty amazing things day in and day out in return.

1. Thoracic (mid back) Extension

Do support your head and low back, allowing your mid back to move

Don't over-extend your neck or low back

  • use a roller or yoga block
  • start just above lower rib cage, use your hands like a basket to protect your head and neck and allow your upper back to extend over the support, then curl up -- focus on the point of connection to the support being your fulcrum of motion, i.e. the motion should come from your lower mid-back not your low back or neck for this first round
  • do this 3-5x
  • then move the support to the bottom of your shoulder blades and repeat, then move the support up to the top of your shoulder blades and repeat, making sure the fulcrum of motion moves as the support moves
  • one section may feel tighter, so be careful and be sure not to over extend your head and neck or your hips and low back

2. Sidelying Thoracic Rotation

Start on your side with your joints stacked

Ensure motion comes from your mid back - not hips or shoulders

Try not to move just from your arm to touch the ground

  • use a yoga block, pillow or blanket to support your head as you lay on one side
  • stack your hands, knees, and hips with knees bent
  • keep your knees and hips stacked as you pull one hand to your chest and rotate your chest, spine and gaze to the sky (ceiling), open your hand and arm (while protecting your shoulder), then circle your arm overhead, if your shoulder allows or just bring is straight back across, to return to a stacked position
  • repeat 5-8x, then switch sides
  • it is not uncommon for one side to feel tighter than another with rotational movement
  • if you have low back pain or issues, then allow your knees and your hips to move keeping the drill pain free

3.  Seated Sidebend

Ground through both hips, keep both sides long, and relax bottom shoulder

  • start in a seated position in your chair or on the ground (if comfortable), ground both hips and reach over to one side with your top arm, your bottom arm and shoulder should remain relaxed
  • if you feel compression on your bottom side, come up and think of reaching UP and over
  • always remain grounded through both hips as you do this, you want to move like your bending over a ball not tipping over to one side
  • hold in the position that is most comfortable for a breath or two, then repeat 3-5x before switching sides

4. Hip rocking (hip flexor to hamstring stretch)

Hamstring stretch on front leg

*note: my grounded knee should be a little wider to level the pelvis and get a better stretch

To hip flexor stretch on back leg

  • start in a low lunge ("on a knee"),  with a blanket under your knee if needed
  • reach your front leg straight forward, with toes up, to get a stretch in the back of your thigh (hamstrings) without shifting your grounded hip forward, hold and adjust here as needed -- you can keep a slight bend in your knee, you can reach your tailbone (butt) back slightly, and you can reach your chest slightly forward with a strong core to support your spine
  • then rock your body weight forward, allowing the front foot to come down with a bent knee, this should provide a stretch in the front of your opposite hip (hip flexors), you might also try to squeeze that glute (butt)
  • move back and forth 3-5x and hold for as long as feels good for you
  • I like to use yoga blocks for support and balance as I move through this

5. Windshield Wipers

Rock knees (and hips) from side to side with shoulders grounded

Hold with bottom foot added to increase stretch if desired

  • lay on your back with knees wide
  • flop knees from side to side, allowing your pelvis to lift and rock, but grounding your shoulder blades and arms to the side
  • reach long through your top side and move back and forth 3-5x holding for as long as feels good for you
  • you can hold this stretch using your bottom foot as added weight to encourage relaxation and promote more stretch (see picture)

6. Wall Ankle Mobility

Start with front knee away from wall and back leg comfortable

Then tap knee to wall while the heel remains down

  • start standing with one foot in front and hands at the wall for balance as needed, your front foot is where the focus is so make your back foot and leg comfortable
  • begin to tap your front knee to the wall while keeping your heel down, if this is easy move back little by little, if you cannot reach the wall with your heel down move in little by little
  • find your sweet spot, then tap to the wall 10x being aware that your knee moves straight forward not in or out

7. Supported Squat

Supported squat with blocks

Supported squat with blocks and rolled mat

  • use yoga blocks, blankets, pillows or a low stool as needed to support you
  • start with feet wide and turned out if need to make your hips feel better, try to stay on the outer edges of your feet so your knees and feet don't cave in
  • try to keep your heels down and make sure you don't feel a pinching in the front of your hip, roll a blanket or mat to support your heels if needed and/or add more support so you don't go so deep into this
  • hold this low position for 3-12 full, slow breaths; stand up slowly pressing through your heels like you were standing from a chair or place your hands on the ground, lift your hips then stand up slowly --either way take your time so you don't get light headed as you return to standing

These mobility drills target the areas of our bodies that get tight after sitting for hours on end -- thoracic spine (mid back), hips, and ankles. You may have heard sitting is the new smoking so do what you can to stave off the detrimental effects that your desk (or driving) job may have on your health with these simple mobility drills.

Comment with any questions or feedback. If you are someone who stands all day, check out my post on that here.

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