After taking some time away from regular exercise, it might be tempting to jump back into activities you used to enjoy. Maybe you used to run more, lift weights, or play your favorite sport. If that’s what kept you fit in the past, that could be the first choice, right? This is where things can go seriously wrong. First off depending on how long it’s been, your joint, bones, tendons, and ligaments have probably atrophied more than you think.
Your body’s connective tissues start to de-train as soon as you stop using them. There is a familiar pattern in nature that what is not used disappears (“use it or lose it”). Although the actual effects of de-training vary from person to person, it’s safe to say that if you’ve been away from exercise for a while, you’re probably weaker, stiffer and more crispy than last time you pulled off those moves. For example, muscular strength begins declining after about 10 days. It takes time to build up other connective tissue too, that’s why most personal trainers craft 90-day training protocols for their clients. It takes about that long for your muscles to adapt to new demands. In the case of tendons (that anchor your muscles to your bones) and ligaments (that connect bones together), the process of adaptation to new challenges can take 6-9 months or more. I can’t tell you how many of my clients have injured themselves straight out the gates when starting back to exercise or sport…and starting back too hard.
The Answer: Mobilize Your Joints Before Adding Higher Demands
Consider the range of motion you need to perform the movements needed
in your chosen form of exercise. Even simple activities like running or biking can be rough on stiff connective tissues. That’s why I always incorporate a ton of mobility exercises for the whole body prior to rigorous work and after every workout session. Examples of both pre- and post mobility exercises include joint rotations, progressive stretching, and myofascial self-massage.
When beginning a new workout routine, mobility exercises should be the bulk of what you do. When considering loads, think exercises with very low intensity and high repetitions. Ideally, mobility exercises should be done everyday–even on days when you don’t perform other exercises.
Even after you start adjusting to the demands of exercise, mobility should remain an integral part of the warm-up and cool-down of every workout. If you skimp on mobility, you’ll regret it. I’ve put some beginning mobility tutorials on my companion Movement Menu YouTube channel. Click these links to watch:
Give these mobility exercises a shot and start building a lasting foundation for a more agile body. Let me know what you think in the comments below. Also, I’d love to hear your other ideas for maintaining youthful movement long into life.