How many times has “This year, I will exercise more” or “This year, I will join a gym”, appeared in your New Year resolutions? In a random survey in our Delhi office, eight out of 10 people listed one of these in their resolutions for 2019. Clearly, it is that time of the year.
But as January turns into February and then March, the resolve weakens and the crowds at gyms start thinning.
“Most people push themselves too hard in the very beginning without understanding their conditioning levels,” says Delhi-based Vinay Sangwan, trainer and owner of Anytime Fitness gym. “But then chances of injury become higher.” And the next thing you know, the person is out of the gym again. It is a vicious cycle.
This happens because people start doing intensive workouts without getting their posture right or their muscles mobile, says Kamal Chhikara, head coach and owner of Reebok CrossFit Robust gym in Delhi. There is more to workouts than six-pack abs and bulging biceps. “But people are slowly realizing the importance of mobility. They are also shifting focus from muscles to joints, which is good,” says Chhikara.
Mobility, as Chhikara explains, is the ability of the joints to move freely through their intended range of motion. The shoulder joint, for example, is shaped in such a way that an individual should be able to move their arms backwards, forwards, side-to-side and in circles. If you are unable to do any of these movements, you are not mobile enough.
This is different from flexibility, which can be defined as the ability of the muscles to stretch. Think in terms of stretching an elastic band when you think of the human body and flexibility.
“You can be flexible but not mobile enough and vice versa. But to become fit, you need both,” says Sangwan. “It is also extremely subjective and differs from one person to another. So you need to treat each person differently. But mobility is the first thing we need to work on.”
Young children are mobile. But as we grow older and settle into a largely sedentary lifestyle, or get used to certain incorrect postures, we tend to limit the movements of certain muscles and joints.
Sangwan says the biggest lifestyle change that has happened in the last couple of decades is that people have stopped moving.
“In the contemporary urban lifestyle that is mostly sedentary, almost all of us suffer from incorrect postures, be it standing, sitting, whatever,” says Shailendra S. Raane, fitness director at Mumbai’s Reset Gym. “This happens because of work and lifestyle or injuries. In fact, many accomplished athletes also have incorrect postures.”
The first step to fitness, therefore, is getting the posture right, says Raane.
“If your shoulder or spine is bent, or pelvis tilted, for example, workouts are not going to help you. In all likelihood, they will stress those muscles further and increase the chances of injury,” says Raane. “So we suggest ‘corrective exercises’ such as stretching and rolling to get the posture right and removing functional limitations and bringing the body back to neutral before you start working out.”
Using foam rollers for myofascial releases—movements that involve applying sustained pressure to connective tissue to alleviate muscle pain—also help a lot in correcting posture, says Sangwan.
“If a person has a desk job and slouches 8 hours a day and has been doing it for years, there will be stiffness around his pectoral. He will also have a weak upper back. Then I will suggest a lot of myofascial releases around the person’s chest and make him do a lot of rowing movements to correct his posture and improve his mobility around the back,” he says.
Raane sees mobility as an extension of correct postures and as the stepping stone to building strength. The key, he says, is to train the stabilizing muscles of the body, the ones surrounding the spine, or core muscles. The best thing about these exercises is that you don’t need any equipment to do them. Free-hand exercises that involve the full body, such as push-ups, lunges, squats, jumps, are a great way to start. “Planks are great for mobility. Standard plank, knee plank, planks with shoulder touches, all of them are great for mobility,” says Raane.
Chhikara also suggests full-body moves such as the lizard crawl, yoga or mixed martial arts for better mobility. “It can also be activity based. A sport like squash, for example, is great for mobility because it involves the whole body,” he says. “Whatever your fitness goals are, mobility is at the core.”