Improving flexibility and general joint mobility is critical to feeling good. Our busy world has us sitting too much and moving too little. As a result, we begin to lockup and just not feel as good. Below are a few handy suggestions to get yourself moving. And as with anything, don’t overdo it! Listen to your body and allow proper rest and recovery.
Exercise is great for improving range of motion and flexibility. Getting off of your butt and pushing around heavy stuff works wonders. Exercise improves strength, bone density, cardiopulmonary fitness, helps you sleep deeper, keeps your weight in check and improves general flexibility and joint mobility. What can I say, exercise is essential to thrive. It’s like giving the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz his oil can!
2. Body Massage
I recommend not stopping at just exercise to improve flexibility. Treat yourself and get some body work done! Not only do you benefit from the extra oxytocin, but the end result is you feeling more loose and relaxed. Doesn’t sound bad, right? I prefer getting deep tissue massages. They can be painful, but I try my best to hold back my man tears, because I know afterwards I will be feeling great!
And if you really feel you are locking up and need that little extra push I highly recommend checking out ART or active release technique. It’s super useful for those looking to increase healing an injury and/or improve range of motion. A lot of chiropractors and massage therapists are certified in ART.
3. Personal Massage Devices
As much as I appreciate getting some bodywork done, I can’t afford going 2-3 times per week; therefore, seeking out self-massage tools tends to be a good happy medium.
In the CrossFit circles, people are into using the lacrosse balls. These work well, but I still feel like they are too soft and kind of a pain to use when I want to get in those hard to reach spots on the back. I personally like the self-massaging tools like the Thera Cane or Body Back Buddy.
Another useful thing you can do elongate tight muscle fibers is use a foam roller. My personal favorite is the Rumble Roller. This thing is a beast and will make you squeal out in pain the first time you use it. It hurts so good and finds all your tight and sore spots. It’s almost magic.
4. AIS – Active Isolated Stretching
AIS or Active Isolated Stretching is a particular stretching modality that I found to be both interesting and effective (double whammy). We have all tried to touch our toes or do some sort of static hold while stretching. AIS practitioners will argue that doing these long-hold stretching postures can actually be harmful. Their reasoning is when you do a long hold while stretching, the tension in the muscle fibers actually begin restricting blood flow; this effect can actually exacerbate injuries and cause additional tissue trauma. In addition, when you stretch a tissue area for too long the golgi tendon reflex is activated, limiting range of motion even further. Not good. Stretching with the AIS method is purported to increase flexibility and general joint mobility in less time, but circumvent some of the issues that tend to occur while doing normal stretching.
Grab yourself a yoga mat and do some yoga movements or as the hip kids like to say Asanas. Yoga’s a great way to get in touch with your body and improve flexibility, strength and joint mobility. And for an added bonus, once you get into it, you’ll feel super mellow after the class.
6. Improve your workspace!
Most people spend their day on their butt. We sit at our desk at work, we sit in our car on the road, and then we go home and lay down in our bed. Maybe in the future we will evolve to not have legs, but for now we should probably use them more. The American Cancer Society conducted a 14 year study, tracking the health of 123,000 Americans and found that men who spent more than six hours per day sitting had an overall death rate increase by about 20 percent; and women by 40 percent! Sitting is a silent killer!
In addition, there’s also the postural issue when we sit versus stand. We generally have better posture when standing. Sitting also increases the likelihood of developing nasty habits such as what chiropractors call dysponesis, which basically is when we use a part of our body when it is not necessary. A prime example is when we unknowingly raise our shoulders when we are sitting in front of our computer or stressed out sitting in traffic. There’s no need to raise our shoulders, but we do it – sometimes for hours; this drains our energy and even increases stress! So you’re probably sitting on the edge of your seat asking, “well what should I do then?!” Well first, lower your shoulders, take a deep breath and keep reading… I will show you.
Standing seems to be the best plan of attack to stay more active while working. There are a plethora of standing desks out there and even the treadmill types if you really want to class it up, but I personally don’t have the space or money to go crazy with something that fancy. As a result, I opted to make my own.
A while back I stumbled upon this interesting IKEA hack to make a standing desk-like podium for $22. The plans can be found here: http://iamnotaprogrammer.com/Ikea-Standing-desk-for-22-dollars.html
I loved the idea, but decided to make a couple of small design tweaks. For one, the coffee table used in the original design wasn’t my taste. I felt it was too large. So instead I used the smaller IKEA EXPEDIT shelving unit. In addition, the current model I made had a fixed keyboard shelf. I’m kicking myself now, because it would have be so much better to use a collapsible shelving unit to save more space. If anyone out there wants to make this desk, use a collapsible shelving unit!
Here’s a picture of the first unit I designed. I think my computer monitor actually needs to go up a lot higher since it is recommended that you should maintain a neutral head position and your glance should meet the upper third of the screen… but you get the idea!
A side note: I found that using an inversion table after a long day on my feet feels really good. The effect of hanging upside down brings the blood from my feet to my head and I get a nice little stretch along my back. Bonus points if you can do some inverted crunches while hanging.
The Balance Disc Method
If, for whatever reason, you can’t add a standing desk to your workspace, there are ways to at least get some decent posture with your current set up. Sitting on an exercise balancing discs is a great way to maintain good posture while working at your desk. You can find an example here. Just remember to stand up every 30 minutes or so, take a sip of water and do some light stretches or walk around. If you own an Apple computer, I found this app to be extremely useful – Time Out Free; it’s basically a timer to take a break from your computer.
I hope everyone out there in internet-land found this useful. Feel free to add any other suggestions in the comments below!