Disclaimer: don’t read this post unless you intend on getting off your butt and trying these moves out for yourself!
I’m only half kidding since a big part of re-teaching your body its natural movements is using those movements throughout the day instead of just switching to the ‘off’ button again once your 60 minutes of exercise are up. And it’s surprising how many of us do have to go all the way back to the beginning to get our chair-and-desk-stiffened bodies moving freely again.
I find watching and mimicking to be the most helpful learning tool, so we’ll turn to a demographic that cycles through these foundational movements (rolling, crawling, getting up and down, maybe even hip hinging) with ease and not much conscious thought: babies. Just try to mimic a kid’s movement for, say, ten minutes and you might realise A). how exhausted that made you, B). how it seemed ten times more difficult for you than for them and C). how much more you had to concentrate and think about how to move than the they had to. If that doesn’t convince you then try reading more on that from Movement as Medicine.
So without further ado, here is a list of a few movements I would consider basic.
If you can do them all with ease, then that is fantastic news and you should keep doing whatever it is you’re doing, because it’s working to keep your body fluid and functional. If you find certain movements difficult but haven’t really been exercising or moving much up to this point, maybe this will be a little reminder to start taking care of your body by integrating a few of these into your daily routine. If you find these movements difficult but have been considering yourself pretty active and gym-savvy, take some time to think about whether it’s a good idea to do more complicated or loaded movements when you can’t even do them with your own body weight and try to address your weaknesses in your program.
Dr. Perry Nickelston is a good source to turn to for more detailed instructions on how rolling relates to core stability and why it’s important. Just try lying on the ground and rolling from face up to face down firstly by keeping the upper body still, then the lower body. I should add that this should be done without pushing off the ground. You’ll find that you have to actively engage your core (and maybe for the first time actually know what engaging your core feels like) in order to do so.
There’s no better proof than babies that crawling is one of the movements we were born to do. It was our gateway between lying helplessly in a crib to becoming a walking, self-reliant person, so why do most people find it so challenging to do now? Again, our sedentary lifestyles have turned any movements which aren’t familiar (i.e. sitting, standing or walking forwards) into monumental challenges.
If it’s been a while since you’ve gotten on your hands and knees (no not in that way, get your mind out of the gutter!), try starting out with bear crawls. Get on your hands and knees, making sure your shoulders are packed tight (think of pressing down on the ground and not letting your shoulders hunch up to your ears), then just barely lift your knees off the ground. Try to keep them as close to the floor as possible without actually touching, then crawl forwards maintaining this position, making sure that your back and hips aren’t shifting side to side. You can have someone balance a light object on your lower back so you can be more aware of whether you are keeping that balance as you crawl forward. When that feels easy, try crawling sideways and backwards keeping the same things in mind.
Image via The Physio Detective
Once you feel like you’ve got bear crawls down, try having fun with some animal flows, for example just adding five minutes to your morning routine to get the blood flowing. You will definitely be feeling much looser and lighter throughout the day!
Dan John was the first to clue me into the importance of these.
My first reaction is probably what yours is now – this can’t be that hard.
If you think about it, though, the use of chairs and beds and such means that we have done away with the habit of getting up and down from the ground. As they say, it’s use it or lose it. What should be a no-brainer kind of movement has become a wearisome action that we try to avoid at all costs.
And this isn’t just a do-it-if-you-can-but-otherwise-no-loss-anyway type of challenge. You’ve probably heard of the the Stand-Sit Test, where participants who scored low were more likely than the high scorers to have a shorter life span (the test is as simple as it sounds: sit down on the ground then try to stand up again without any support from the hands. Points are deducted for every additional assistance that you need to stand back up again.)
Image via Discover Magazine
The action of getting up and down in itself isn’t significant, of course. It’s that the inability to do so points to weaknesses in basic strength and stability. If you can’t even manage to support your own bodyweight, how can you expect your body to last you healthily to a ripe old age? After all,as an elderly person the biggest fear one has is of falling, but if you have the basic strength to catch yourself before you fall in the first place then you’ve already drastically improved your chances of longevity.
If you want to take it to the next level, try integrating Turkish Get-Ups into your routine, either on their own, as a warm up or as part of a circuit. It’s a great exercise as it rolls most of the basic movements into one neat package: rolling onto the elbow, maintaining core and shoulder stability while pushing up into a side plank, hinging up onto one knee, then again testing the core and shoulder stability as well as leg strength with the lunge up.
If I had to pick one movement for everyone to work on until they’ve got it down, it would be the hip hinge. This is also what I find myself having to re-teach clients the most in the gym, even somewhat experienced gym-goers who have been doing more advanced exercises such as squats.
The hip hinge is the basis for most anything to do with the lower body. It’s what we should be doing in order to get out of chairs or leaning down to pick something up. It’s how one should be initiating a squat or lunge or kettlebell swing in the gym. It’s how you should be powering most of your movements as the glutes are one of the strongest muscles in our bodies, but also the least used (again, blame the sitting).
Try this: stand with your heels an inch or two in front of the wall. Keep your legs straight and push your hips (just your hips!) back until you feel your butt touch the wall. Did you lower or round your back in order to get there? Lift your chest and keep your back flat and try again. If that felt okay, then step another inch forward and do the same thing. You should ideally be able to hinge back without actively bending your knees, and a good gauge for this is feeling the hamstrings stretch as you push your hips back. Where the glutes come into play is when you push the hips forward again, as the movement should come from squeezing your bum.
Image via Breaking Muscle
Problems with hip hinging usually stem from overactive quads resulting in using the knees to bend forward rather than the hips to hinge back, or tight hamstrings which mean that you find it hard to push very far back. Again, just starting by getting out of your chair and doing these a few times a day can go a long way towards teaching your body to hinge again, even if it might feel silly or unnecessary in the beginning.
Stand with your back against the wall with the back of the head, shoulder blades, butt and heels touching the wall the whole time. Lift your arms to shoulder height, elbows and the back of your hands touching the wall so that palms are facing out. Then just try and straighten them overhead making sure that your elbows keep in contact with the wall the whole time.
If you have managed to get your arms all the way up while keeping your elbows touching the wall, there’s just one more thing to keep track of. Look down and see if you’ve been pushing your chest out in order to get there. Now think of tucking your ribcage down so that you aren’t arching your back. Can you still get your arms overhead the same way?
A sign of healthy, functioning shoulders is the ability to reach overhead without compensating by arching your back. If you think about it, the back arching means that you haven’t really used your shoulder’s range of motion in order to reach up, you’ve instead compensated by moving your torso in order to shift your arms further up and back.
Again, this won’t come easy to those of us who are used to static positions every day, because modern life and all the conveniences it brings means that we rarely have to lift our arms overhead any more. It might be why you find things like stuffing your bag into the overhead compartment on planes so challenging when in fact it’s us who have made our body complacent by not challenging it day to day!
Dr. Zach Long’s post on Improving Overhead Strength and Stability is a good place to start introducing movement to your shoulders and strengthening them again.
What are really basic movements won’t come easy to many people just because we’ve conditioned our bodies to a set template of positions throughout the day, so any positions that fall outside of that range will seem foreign and unnatural. But if you did it once, even if it was a very long-ago once when you were a baby, you can do it again, so it’s just a matter of when you decide to start!