“Mobility versus stability is an old trope. What you should really ask yourself is, ‘Do I have access to my natural, native range of motion, and can I control my movement through these ranges?’ says Starrett, co-author (with Juliet) of Built to Move: Ten Essential Habits to Help You Move Freely and Live Life to the Fullest.
Starrett explains that range of motion, or ROM, is how your joints and limbs move through their available space, while mobility is able to express those ranges with control to complete tasks. Starrett likens native ROM (the ROM we are born with) to a wide, spacious hallway that begins to shrink if we don’t maintain it.
“Most of us in our twenties have a large movement corridor,” he says. “As we age, our hallway becomes narrower and narrower due to injury and disease, until some people can barely move. If you retain access to your native ROM, your movement hallway tends to to stay open.
We use ROM in our daily lives for everything from squatting and sitting to lifting and climbing stairs. But range of motion and mobility mean “use it or lose it,” and most of our lifestyles don’t require us to move continuously like our ancestors did.
“What we often see is that if we don’t expose our tissues and joints to their ranges of motion, our brain takes away our ability to access that ROM,” he says. “Our bodies are constantly adapting and can adapt in limiting ways until you can’t get up from the couch or the car.”
When ROM is restricted, it affects mobility, stability, and ease of movement, which, in turn, can lead to pain and injury. Starrett cites the example of a runner whose restrictions mean he can no longer maintain good form in their stride.
“Imagine that I lack the ability to move the leg behind the body (correctly). If I lack this form, when the leg is behind, the foot rotates outwards,” he says. “This position allows me to solve a movement restriction because I don’t have access to my native range of motion. Then the hip is not in a stable position. The body contouring strategy involves creating a range of motion that is considered less efficient and where the motion is not as stable.
With age, our joints tend to stiffen, which can also lead to compensating for positions that have less stability and strength. “That’s when people struggle with simple tasks,” Starrett says. “The main reason people end up in care homes is because they can’t get up. It’s usually a knee or hip problem, not a strength problem.
How to maintain your range of motion over time
Starrett’s book contains 10 tests for evaluating ROM, including the sofa test and the sit-and-rise test: Standing, cross one foot in front of the other, bend down to sit cross-legged on the floor, then stand up again, without using your hands. A recent study found that the most successful participants sitting and standing test had a higher probability of surviving six years later, while those who struggled the most were more likely to have died.
To retain and restore ROM and mobility, you don’t need to go to a gym or class, although Yoga and Pilates are beneficial, but instead focus on targeted movements that train your joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and brain to work together in harmony, so you move freely and effortlessly throughout. life, says Starrett. His book contains 10 simple “physical practices” for mobilization at home – there are also Mobility workouts of the day on his Youtube channel— and while you don’t need to go through the list daily, Starrett says it’s best to do mobilization work every day.
For example, one of the most effective things you can do is sit on the ground for 30 minutes a day while watching television. “You will have to change positions a lot to be comfortable. It creates an opportunity to spend time in ranges of motion that you’re not used to,” says Starrett, who also recommends walking at least 8,000 steps a day.
While you may not think of falling and not being able to get back up in your 20s or 30s, our bodies are our homes and working to maintain a spacious “corridor of movement” throughout life is really about “playing the long game” to live. as well as we age, says Starrett.
“Your range of motion doesn’t need to change,” he says. “It’s something we can control at any age. If we think of body movement as a language, we are capable of Shakespeare, but most of us use a language like Dr. Seuss.
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