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Move freely: Back-to-basics exercises to increase your range of motion

By Bri WilsonSeptember 17, 2015

Woman exercising
Woman exercising iStock

Do you remember what it was like to play on a playground as a kid? How easily you could swing from one monkey bar to the next without losing your grip; how you could hang upside down and see the world from a new perspective like it was nothing; how you could climb ropes, jump over tires and slide down poles without breaking a sweat? 
The other day when I was visiting with friends and their children at a local park, these fond memories compelled me to relive my childhood. I hopped up on the monkey bars, expecting to be able to swing like a chimpanzee from one bar to the next. I should be able to, right? I’m a personal trainer and a marathon runner, plus I lift weights regularly and do yoga. Monkey bars should be a piece of cake. 
Uh, nope. 
I couldn’t even get to the next bar. My hands hurt. My arms felt like they were going to pop out of their sockets. I had barely any grip strength and was having a hard time holding my legs up off the ground. 
What gives?  
Although our joints tend to lose flexibility and range of motion as we age, our sedentary adult lifestyles are largely to blame. The way we live is not compatible with the free and effortless movement we once experienced as kids. Our Westernized culture has shifted so far and so quickly from how we once spent our days on the planet that our bodies have not been able to catch up. We sit at desks instead of physically using our bodies to make a living; we drive cars instead of walking to get around; we have easy access to all the salt, sugar and fat we want all around us, instead of finding it occasionally in nature as we once did. Since our bodies cannot change fast enough to keep up with modern culture, we must continue to move and adapt to stay healthy, happy and balanced in our environment. 
Unfortunately, a regular exercise program is just not enough to negate the effects of our current lifestyle. No matter how much you run during the week or how hard you hit the weights, if you sit behind a desk for most of the day and plop down in front of the TV at night, you won’t be able to move as you’re meant to move. Since we can’t all quit our desk jobs and move into the wilderness to live like hunter-gatherers, there are a few basic mobility exercises you can perform to help increase your range of motion, stability and general movement. If you perform them regularly along with an exercise program—which is something I clearly need to do—you’ll have no problem keeping up with your kids next time you’re at the playground. 
Complete each of the following exercises every day. These moves can be performed by anyone, no matter your fitness level or ability. Do them at the start and/or end of your day or as part of a dynamic warm-up before your regular exercise program. 


Chest openers

Hold a light resistance band or tube in both hands in front of your body with a neutral grip (like you’re holding onto bicycle handlebars). Keep your shoulders down and back. Extend and open your arms out to either side using your back and shoulder muscles, while keeping your wrists straight and your arms level, stretching the resistance band across your body. Bring your arms back to center and repeat the movements for 10 reps.   

Leg swings

Stand with you feet shoulder-width apart facing a wall. Place one hand to hold on to the wall for balance and place the other on your hip. Start by extending your left leg slightly out in front of you while maintaining an upright posture. Swing the leg out to the side in a controlled motion, keeping your hips parallel to the floor. Next, swing the leg laterally across the body, in front of your right leg as far as it will go while maintaining level hips. Swing the leg back out to the left again. Repeat eight times then switch legs. Once you’ve completed eight reps on each side, turn to the right so the wall is on your left. Use your left hand to support yourself for balance, and swing your right leg out in front of your body using your hip flexors and core muscles while maintaining an upright posture and keeping your hips level to the floor. Swing your right leg back behind you in a controlled motion, again keeping your hips level. Repeat eight times then switch legs.  

Single-leg balance to backwards lunge

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Shift your weight to your left foot and raise your right knee up in front of you as high as it can go while maintaining an upright posture. Hold for five seconds then step your right leg backwards into a lunge. Once you are stable in the lunge position, reach your right arm up overhead and stretch to the opposite side, bending your torso slightly to the left. You should feel the stretch down the right side of your torso. Hold for five seconds before returning to a standing position. Repeat on the same side for a total of five repetitions, and then switch to the opposite leg. 

Body breaks

Set a silent alarm on your phone to remind you to get up from your desk every 50 minutes and take a 5-10 minute movement break. Go grab some water, wander over to a coworker’s desk to chat, take a 10-minute walk outside or around the office, or simply stand up and do a few arm stretches.