The Movement Minute is a segment I started a few weeks, movement goodness in under 2 minutes. It's a quick highlight of a movement practice to help bring more play and creativity to your fitness. I've been digging how it has been shaping up so I’ll start keeping them archived here in the blog.
This week, I was going to play with some handbalancing but during my warm up I took a detour towards hip mobility. There are worse places to get distracted. Stretching turned into stepping and this cool blend of practice was the result. The movements remind me of dance, martial arts, yoga, and hiking.
Historically, flexibility/mobility have been pretty much the most confusing pieces of my fitness practice. How long? What’s the right form? Stretch before or after? Does it cause injury? For years, I remember not being clear on anything about stretching.
I stretched more as a kid because it felt good and I was bendy. I look back now and see somewhere along the way I got the message that stretching is for women, dudes gotta lift. Also, that stretching put you at risk of injury, so said the studies. It’s crazy when your intuition can just get completely undermined by enough external influence.
The years passed and the training (read: damage & tension) added up I was slowly wound up tighter and tighter. Over time, all that tension just becomes our reality. We don’t even remember any other way, don’t know how much health we’re missing out on. We just chalk it up to the aging process and let out an obligatory sigh.
My biggest challenge was that stretching (as I knew it) was boring and had too many rules. It’s taken time and some experimenting but I’ve been finding ways to integrate more stretching into my life. As a basic template for my stretch sessions, I focus on just 1-2 stretches and set a timer for the length of practice. This simplicity goes a long way in producing results and preventing boredom.
In this Movement Minute, my two main patterns are the straight leg stretch and high step up.
The straight leg stretch is classic, but I want to train it like a dancer or a martial artist would…not like a weekend warrior trying to fit in a run before Sunday football. The stretch is active, I’m not just allowing the position to stretch me. I am using strength to pull my toes back and engage my quad. I’ll fold forward or hold myself upright and draw the hip back into socket. I’ll rotate through my shoulders to bias different parts of the hamstring. I'll rotate my entire body sideways to shift the stretch to my hips and inner thighs. These little “flossing” movements coupled with deep breathing make a huge difference in relieving tension. Additionally, I try to actively lift my leg on and off the platform. This active control is not really all that fun (get ready for some cramping) but damn it builds strong hips.
The high step up is a practical task turned mobility work. From a standing position, lift your knee as high as possible and find a platform just a little higher to step up to. You can see I use my arms to help me up but I am focusing on pulling from the crease of my hip. The idea is to express and build strength when the hip is in a deeply flexed position. This combination of strength and stretch is what build mobility. In the variations, I’ll try to hold the bottom position, bring the back leg up, move from sitting to squatting. If I let my hip open to the side, I get a stretch that feels a lot like the “pigeon” yoga pose. Gravity and resisting your own bodyweight are the secrets to unlocking the hips in this practice.
Other variations emerge from these two patterns as I continue changing positions throughout the 15-20 minute timeframe. Find the appropriate height for the platform and you'll likely see and feel improvements in a matter of weeks. The pay off comes when you go out hiking or climbing and you discover you're Spiderman. Open hips and hamstrings make everyday movements no big deal. You’ll actually enjoy physical tasks more when you feel a greater degree of control in your body. Enjoy the little things, like your mobility, and you'll retain these abilities for a lifetime. Want to defy your age? Get those hips moving and stretch a little bit everyday.