Working on and increasing range of motion does not often hold a high priority in most people’s fitness routine—but it should. Not only because it will help you obtain better results in your strength, muscle gain and endurance goals, but most importantly, increased range of motion will help keep your joints healthy and prevent injuries.
Whether you are a fitness buff or not, having healthy, pain-free joints is vital for enjoyable aging and longevity. If you are someone who works out and has fitness goals, healthy joints, and optimal ranges of motion will increase your ability to perform better and see results.
What is range of motion - and why is it important?
Range of motion is the movement of a joint and your body’s ability to move that joint. What is possible for joint movement is different for each person and is based on anatomy, flexibility, mobility and whether or not you have dysfunction or muscular imbalances.
If you have a limited range of motion that is less than what it should be for a joint, this can lead to pain, injuries, more dysfunction and more significant imbalances. You also will not be able to get the most out of your training.
How range of motion training protects your joints
First, it’s essential to understand that the range of motion you can perform is not the only aspect. You must also have three other elements through the entire range of motion:
Without these three aspects, using your entire range of motion can cause damage, pain and injury to your joints, muscles and other tissues. For any range of motion that you train in or use during daily activities—bending to tie your shoes or pick something off the ground, reaching overhead, twisting to put away groceries, lifting children—if you do not have stability, strength, and control through the entire range of motion, you can very easily injure yourself and cause chronic pain.
To prevent this, it is vital to practice range of motion exercises that build these three aspects. Furthermore, routinely practicing range of motion exercises will encourage a healthy amount of protective synovial fluid in the joint. Synovial fluid is found in any moveable joint and contains nutrients for your joints and connective tissues. This fluid is critical for joint health and pain-free movement.
Range of motion exercises also helps to move lymphatic fluid through the body, disposing of waste byproducts and toxins that lead to inflammation, making joint stiffness worse.
Range of motion exercises for healthy joints
Try these range of motion exercises to help build stability, control and strength.
The 90-90 stretch increases mobility in the hips and knees. It will help improve any stiffness or range of motion issues for your back, knees, and hips.
- Sit on the floor and place one leg in front of you and one behind. The front leg is bent at 90-degrees, and the back leg is behind you, also bent at 90-degrees.
- Use the hand on the same side as your front leg to support you by placing it by your side. Extend your other arm out in line with your back leg to keep your back and hips in the correct position.
- Sit tall and straight with your chest up.
- Lean into the stretch by slowly leaning forward with your chest tracking over the middle of your bent front leg.
- Drive the front knee and ankle into the floor, using active pressure to push downward to create tension—this is a dynamic, not passive, movement.
- Hold for 5 to 10 seconds and return to starting position.
- Repeat 5 to 10 times and then switch sides.
Lizard with rotation
The lizard with rotation encourages mobility in your thoracic (upper) spine and hips. It also opens up the chest and shoulder muscles to relieve stiffness and tension, enabling better range of motion.
- Starting on the floor on your hands and knees, take a step forward with your right leg, placing your foot flat on the floor on the outside of your hand if you can. If you can’t get your foot to your hand, put it as close as possible without discomfort.
- Take your right arm and bend your elbow, pointing toward the ground.
- Lower your elbow toward the ground, open up, and slowly rotate, stretching your right arm toward the ceiling. Open as far as you can, looking at your pinky finger.
- Slowly rotate back to the pointed elbow position.
- Keep tension and strength through the body. Push into the ground with your back leg and your left arm.
- Try 10 repetitions and then switch sides.
The shoulders are often an area of poor range of motion and have high injury rates. Practicing shoulder mobility exercises like this one will increase your range of motion.
- Take a broom handle or mobility stick in a wide grip, wider than shoulder-width. Keep your shoulders down and depressed.
- Place it at your hips, and keeping your arms straight, lift the stick in an arch over your head and behind your back. Keep your arms straight. If you cannot go all the way over your head to your back, go as far as you can comfortably. A wider grip is easier.
- Maintain tension and go slowly. Keep your core and glutes engaged, and do not arch your back.
- Return over your head back to the starting position.
- Perform 10 repetitions.
- Stand 3 to 4 feet from a wall and take a step forward with your right foot.
- Place your hands against the wall and lean forward, allowing your knees to bend as needed.
- Bend your elbows, allowing your weight to come toward the wall; with your right foot staying flat on the floor, bend your front knee so that it tracks beyond the toes of your right foot. The heel of your back foot may rise off the floor.
- Stay in this position, with your knee bent for 3 to 5 seconds, and then push yourself back up to straighten the right leg.
- Return to the active lowered, bent-knee position and hold for 3 to 5 seconds.
- Repeat 10 times and switch legs.