My Morning Movement Practice

I’ve written previously about the numerous benefits that come from moving your body and having a consistent movement practice.

The main issue with this for a lot of people (myself included) is the “consistent” part.

Consistency is not easy. If anything I consistently struggle with staying consistent with is exercise and movement practices.

The issue is that our bodies are plastic – they adapt to the activities we do each day. They build muscle when they need it, and lose it when they don’t need it anymore.
For me, chronic annoying joint pains led me to develop my own morning movement routine, one I wanted to share because of it’s simplicity and effectiveness. This 5 minute routine has helped me control my chronic joint issues and provide me with a quick pick-me-up each morning.

It also works as a meditative practice. These movements allow you to clear your mind and become one with your body and the movements

This quick, basic routine contains mobility and strengthening exercises called “macro-movements”.

Macro-movements are movements that incorporate both mobility/flexibility training with strengthening – two birds with one stone so to say. I learned the surprising effectiveness of this kind of movement from my Kun Khmer kickboxing training. By going through a series of these macro/plyometric movements, we built levels of strength hugely helpful to the actual training without even realizing.

I’ve used these same concepts in designing this routine.

  • Leg Swings: Front and Side: An active way to work mobility and flexibility in your thigh musculature. Front-facing works on the quads and hamstrings while side-facing works the hip adductors and abductors. Just let your legs swing freely, don’t push hard to stretch – don’t want to be tearing a muscle here. Over time, this kind of movement will gradually open up your legs/hips.
  • Arm Circles/Shoulder Dislocates: Similar to the leg swings above, but focusing on the shoulders. Slow, free flowing arm circles help you wake up your shoulder joints and upper chest/thorax – feels really good after waking up. If you have a dowel, broomstick, or theraband type thing, you can work on shoulder dislocates (sounds worse than they are). Grab the dowel in front of you horizontally with a wide enough grip that you can raise the dowel over your head and behind you. Find a grip that’s just wide enough where you can do this full motion without letting go of the dowel. This is great for opening up the shoulders, and again over time your mobility will greatly improve with this motion.
  • Hamstring Stretch: I do just a pure static forward fold here, working on stretching and waking up the hamstrings/calves in a more passive way. Hamstring and calf flexibility is generally the bane of my existence, and is something I need to work on constantly. I spend some time working back and forth from standing to a forward fold, trying to get a good stretch in both legs.
  • Down Dog to Up Dog: Moving back and forth slowly between these positions works your range of spine flexion and extension. Move slowly and feel each muscle and vertebrae as it moves and adjusts during the movement. I feel that moving slow and with control is key with this any all the movements below. It is easy to mask weakness and lack of mobility by moving quickly through movements. By moving slowly, you not only force your muscles to work, you also become more in tune with your body, how it moves, and what kind of movements it needs.
  • Down Dog/Bear Crawl: This is a moving version of down dog. Keep your arms and legs mostly straight as you take steps moving across the room. I normally do this forwards and backwards the length of my apartment. Move slow and focus on the mobility in your shoulder joints and hamstrings/calves.
  • Reverse Table/Crab Walk: Working on shoulder extension (moving the arm backwards behind you) and core stability/strength. Again I do this going forwards and backwards the length of our apartment. Move slow and focus on stretching out the shoulder joints. This basically counters the constant computer-hunch position that many of us spend our entire days in. (Puppy ride-along is optional, but encouraged)
  • Low Squat/Low Squat Mobility: The low squat is an integral movement for the human body. But with our society’s sitting epidemic, few of us have to joint mobility in our hips/calves to allow for a true low squat. The benefits of being able to maintain/hold this position are numerous (strength, mobility, pain-relief, injury prevention), enough to write an entire article about (actually, here’s a good one). Working towards a full low squat takes a lot of time and effort, but is well worth your while. Try to get down into as close to a full squat as possible. Maybe you need to sit on something like a yoga block to accomplish this at first. Or prop up your heels. Do what you need to get into the position and move around. Explore your range of motion. Moving back and forth from a low side-lunge position works well for this. The goal is gradual expansion of your range of motion to the point where you can hold a low-squat comfortably without support (this will likely take weeks to months).
  • Duck Walk: Basically walking in a low squat position. This is a quad-killer, and will be very hard the first time you do it. Don’t push yourself too hard to start – you can start out closer to a standing position at first and work your way to moving around in a lower stance. You will quickly build the strength to do this movement easily, and those benefits will translate to many other daily activities. This was a key exercise during my kickboxing training, and I notice a huge difference in how I feel when I’m not keeping up with this exercise.
  • Lunges: Lunges offer a similar benefit to the duck walk, in a slightly different form. You may have seen people doing lunges when carrying extra weights. To me, what’s most important is controlled movement. Having the base strength to carry your own body easily and efficiently is the main goal, and lunges do a great job and building that strength.

I catered these exercises to what my body needs – mainly hamstring and shoulder mobility with quadriceps strength and core/full-body stability. There are many exercises to be added in or changed depending on what you need. Listen to your body, maybe you need more of one movement, less of the other, or something different entirely. That is perfectly fine, this is YOUR movement practice. Listen to your body and give it what it needs.

My main point with this post is to point out the effectiveness of a quick daily movement practice, something that can be done in 5 minutes each morning. If you can make a practice like this part of your morning routine, you will reap in numerous benefits.

About the Author

Chris Goodrich, MD

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