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On Purpose or by accident

I find it interesting how the fitness industry continues to change its focus on what is important to the human body. When I first became a personal trainer, “functional fitness” was the buzz term. Exercise programs were “core” focused. Free weights were being chosen over machines. I guess at some point machines were the hot ticket item because free weights have been around forever. Now the focus is shifting to body weight exercises, specifically to joint mobility. I am grateful for this change but I would guess that the fitness equipment companies are not.

Range of motion is defined as a measurement of the distance and direction a joint can move to its full potential. Here’s the thing, that potential is reduced if the joint is not moved to the extremes that it is capable of. One of the best examples is this:   think of a highly trained gymnast doing the splits. We may think “ugh” when they do them but they pull them off without any trouble. Our reaction is because we think “that would hurt”. That is the difference between doing them on purpose or by accident. Movements that happen by accident often result in an injury. The idea behind mobility training is to increase the range of motion of joints a little bit at a time. The closer the range gets to the joint’s full potential the more the risk of injury is reduced. That’s why I love this focus. It is so logical and much more functional that sitting on an exercise ball. Not that sitting on an exercise ball is a waste of time. It’s still valuable.

Here are a few things you can try to see how you are doing when it comes to range of motion in various joints:

  • Neck: Let your head drop forward for a few seconds. Return to neutral. Next left ear to left shoulder. Back to neutral. Let your head gently fall back. Back to neutral. Lastly right ear to right shoulder. 
(Hold each position for a few seconds).
  • Shoulders: Test your range by gently swing your arms up over your head. Then move them forward and back. 

  • Hips: Either standing (and holding on to a table) or sitting on the floor, see how far you can spread your legs apart.
  • Knees: Try a squat with your knees together and then jutting out. Only lower yourself as far as you can without pain. 

  • Ankles: While standing on your left foot, position the right foot so the outside of the foot is on the floor. As much as you can tolerate, shift your weight on to your right foot. Next try it with the inside of your right foot on the floor. Now repeat those two movement with the left foot. 


These types of challenges can be done on every joint in your body. The idea is to tap your current range of motion. Doing this regularly will increase your range regardless of age or activity level. That’s the idea behind doing them on purpose!

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