Joint Mobility Routine

The goal of the Wild Body Series is to help you develop a resilient body full of strong joints, muscles, and bones. The first step of this journey is to prepare your body for movement across all planes of motion. In other words, we must enhance your physical mobility. 

Specifically, this article provides the following:

  • 10-min joint mobility routine to stimulate your muscular, nervous, and skeletal systems.
  • Instructional video and photos of each exercise in the sequence.
  • A printable handout to serve as a helpful reference.

Although I developed this routine for the Wild Body program, it can be used to supplement any type of fitness program.

What is Mobility?

As we discussed in the previous article, our modern world can confine our bodies to specific positions and movements (or lack thereof). This deadens our systems and consequently our bodies, stripping away our ability to move freely. Our ultimate goal is to reverse this process and return to natural movement patterns.

Our mobility routine is focused specifically on joints, as they are the central connectors of the muscular, nervous, and skeletal systems. Without them we simply do not move, just like a car cannot move without its wheels or axles. Specifically, we are developing (i) joint range of motion and (ii) joint capacity.

Mobility Routine Joint HealthJoint Range of Motion

Range of motion (ROM) refers to the ability of a joint to move in space, which is crucial to any physical movement. ROM is dictated by joint structure, muscle length, and the nervous system (proprioceptors). To maintain optimal ROM, we must frequently use our bodies to their full capacity.

For example, the hip joint is designed to move in multiple planes. Therefore, it is not enough to simply perform linear squats. Rather, we need to perform lateral squats and rotational squats in addition.

Joint Capacity

Capacity refers to taking the joint to its end range of motion and applying a load. This is sometimes referred to as loaded stretching or alignment training. The goal is to prepare connective tissues for compromised joint positions.

For example, ACL tears are the result of a tendon’s inability to handle a compromised knee position. In other words, the tissue is not prepared to withstand a load at the knee’s end range of motion. To prevent this, we must progressively prepare our tissues to handle loads across a broad range of motion.

How to Use this Joint Mobility Routine

This routine will condition your body to withstand the rigors of physical training as well as modern life. It is one of the best tools to preserve the health of our musculoskeletal and nervous systems. For best results, it should be performed 2-3 times per day, every day.

These exercises can be completed without perspiration and in almost any type of clothing. Therefore, they can be performed as part of your morning ritual, as a break from work, before meals, and especially as a workout warmup.

The routine does not follow a set/rep scheme, but rather should be done to “feeling”. Perform each movement until you feel a slight loosening of your joints and muscles, but before the point of fatigue. Each cycle will noticeably increase your range of motion. As a result, it will be be easier to perform on your second and third time.

A printable pdf of the routine is provided through the link below. I suggest first viewing the video/photos to ensure proper form. Once you get a feel for the exercises, then print the handout and throw it in your gym bag, on your office wall, or wherever else you might need a reference.

Joint Mobility Screenshot

Routine Demonstration

The video and photos below walk through each of the 17 exercises in the mobility routine. Don’t be discouraged if you cannot perform a movement right away (e.g. “x squats”). Start slowly and add the more complicated exercises over time.

Video Instruction

This is a real-time demonstration of the mobility routine (with labels for each exercise). It generally takes me about 6-7 minutes to complete. However, beginners may take closer to 10 minutes.

Photo Instruction

The photos below are provided as supplemental instruction. They follow the same sequence as the handout and video.

1. Up-Down Arm Swings

Up-Down Arm SwingsSwing arms with momentum up and down. Keep arms straight (i.e. do not bend elbow) and as close to your ears and hips as possible. Start slowly and increase speed/amplitude as you go.

2. Front-Back Arm Swings

Front-Back Arm Swings

Keep arms loose and cross them over each other to reach with your fingers back to your shoulder blades. Then uncross and reach behind your back to slap your palms together. Focus on keeping your shoulders down during the movement.

3. Elbow Circles

Elbow Circles

Move wrist and elbows in circles in both directions.

4. Arm Circles

Arm Circles

Perform large circles while keeping your arms straight. Perform in both directions until you reach a smooth motion.

5. Front-Back Leg Swings

Front-Back Leg Swings

Keep your legs straight. As the foot rises, focus on squeezing the quadricep muscle and pointing the toe. Relax and then swing down. Increase speed/amplitude as you reach your max range of motion.

6. Lateral Leg Swings

Lateral Leg Swings

Keep your legs straight and maintain a lordotic curve in your lower back. Increase speed/amplitude as you reach your max range of motion.

7. Kickbacks

Kickbacks

Plant your hands on the ground (or a chair) and swing your leg back while keeping your knee slightly bent. Increase speed/amplitude as you reach your max range of motion.

8. Trunk Twists

Trunk Twists

Squeeze your glutes and belly so that the lumbar spine is secure and rigid. Keep your shoulders and arms loose. Begin a rotation and increase to a rapid upper torso rotation. Notice that the belly really doesn’t move, simply the upper back, shoulder, and arms.

9. Hip Circles

Hip Circles

Keep your legs straight and work the hips in both directions. Think about drawing large circles with the outside of your hips.

10. Deep Lunge Rotations

Deep Lunge Rotations

Drop to a lunge position and place both hands in the instep of your front foot. Keep your back leg straight. Reach with one arm up while keeping a tight belly and tight quad of the back leg. The majority of motion should be happening in the upper back and shoulders. Rotate with both arms before switching legs. Ensure that your planted arm is straight and that you’re externally rotating the shoulder into position (open door knob motion).

11. March

March

Keep a straight, upright posture (i.e. do not round your back). Lift your knee as high as possible while keeping your belly tight.

12. Horse Stance

Horse Stance

Take a wider-than-hip stance and maintain a lordotic curve. Drop your hips at or below your femurs. You should be able to balance a stick across your thighs in this position – deepen your stance if this is not the case. Hold this positions for 15-30 seconds, then squeeze your glutes HARD and stand up to full hip extension (do not skip this step). Widen your feet and drop back down into the position. Only go as wide as you are able to balance that (invisible) stick on your thighs. Keep progressing until you hit your sticking point.

13. W Squats

W Squats

Take a wide stance and bring knees together while squatting down. You will notice a lot of pressure on the inside edge of your feet – this is good. Go as low as you can and play around with you foot width.

14. X Squats

X Squats

Cross one leg in front of the other and squat down so that your butt barely kisses the ground. Hold for a moment above ground and return to top. Again, you will have a lot of pressure on the edges of your feet.

15. Rotational Squats

Rotational Squats

Keep your feet and ankles together. Squat down and try to turn 90 degrees in both directions. At the bottom of the squat, the torso should be perpendicular to the direction of the feet.

16. Squat Hold

Squat Hold

Keep a tall chest and squat down as far as possible. It’s ok if your lower back rounds here. Drive your elbows into the inside of the knees and press the knees out while squeezing your glutes as hard as you can.

17. Wrist Position Sequence

Wrist Position Sequence

The wrist sequence can be performed quadruped (shown) or in a pushup position (advanced). Use as much pressure as you can handle, and do not skip on these. The wrists are VERY important to many tasks and are often forgotten.

a. Finger Forwards (forward hold, side to side) – shift body weight forward so that the shoulders are in front of the wrists, and move side to side.

b. Finger Sideways (forward hold, side to side) – shift body weight forward so that the shoulders are in front of the wrists, and move side to side.

c. Finger to Knees (lean back) – put pressure into the wrists by leaning your but back to your heels.

d. Back of Hand (fingers face each other) – place the back of your hands on the ground and hold that position, then move side to side. Play around with the amount of weight you can put on the wrists by shifting body weight forward (more) and back (less).

e. Back of Hand (fingers to knees) – place the back of your hands on the ground and hold position, then shift weight to your heels to increase pressure on the wrists.

f. Fist Roll – make a fist and get on your knuckles. Roll forward on those wrists so that only your pointer finger and thumb are touching the ground. Move back and forth.

g. 1st Knuckle Push Ups – in one motion, with both wrists moving at the SAME time, press your body up so that only your fingers are touching the ground (not your palms). Move up and down.

Next Steps

The next installment of the Wild Body series will cover the basics of locomotion. Specifically, we will work on our balance and lower body strength. In the meantime, please begin to incorporate this joint mobility routine into your daily life, as it will be the foundation for all future exercises and programs.

About the Author

Dan Houlihan Centered
Dan holds certifications from American College of Sports Medicine, MovNat, Functional Movement Systems, National Strength and Conditioning Association, and USA Weightlifting. Read his bio or visit Emergence Wellness.

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