One of the things I struggle with most on a daily basis is chronic stiffness in my muscles and joints. I work out regularly, but I almost always neglect stretching and mobility work. Yes, I know it’s important. But as soon as I’ve finished my run, strength training, rowing, or cycling workout, I just want to jump in the shower and get on with my day.
I was able to get away with this in my younger years—and it turned into a bad habit. But now that I’m getting older, I can feel the consequences: I am almost always stiff and my flexibility is nowhere near where it used to be. It’s a good five to 10 minutes into my workouts before I can shed my “Tin Man”-like rigidity and feel loose, fluid, and human.
Although I’ve recently been experimenting with using a massage gun before bed and after workouts with a fair amount of success, I am finally facing the music: I need to be more deliberate in consistently incorporating at least a short mobility routine into my daily life.
How I choose my morning mobility moves
There are any number of mobility exercises you can do for all of the major body joints, but ankle mobility, hip mobility, shoulder mobility, and mobility in your spine can be particularly helpful for people who sit most of the day or deal with chronic tightness (Hi! It’s me).
Because I seem to prioritize almost any other kind of movement over mobility work, I decided that I needed a super simple, quick routine that would be almost too easy to find excuses not to do. So I challenged myself to commit to just a five-minute mobility routine every morning for two weeks. I told myself that if I found the routine effective, it would encourage me to either continue doing it without it feeling like a burden, or even expand it to a more well-rounded mobility routine.
I chose just five mobility exercises, performing each for one minute:
Thoracic spine rotations
How I felt after my five-minute morning mobility routine
As predicted, I wasn’t super jazzed on the first morning. I was tempted to just skip to my actual workout rather than get down on the floor and perform these seemingly basic exercises. But once I forced myself to start, it was over before I knew it. And instead of taking the usual 10 minutes or so to fully warm up during my workout, I felt pretty spry and comfortable right off the bat. I was doing a HIIT series on my Bowflex Max Trainer and I was able to move into the high-intensity intervals more quickly and hit a higher RPM and resistance earlier than usual. The net result was that my workout was more efficient, maximizing my workout time—a win I hadn’t been expecting.
This worked as fuel for the fire over the next few days, and helped me keep at it. I continued to find that even in when I didn’t work out directly after the mobility routine, I felt more limber and loose throughout the day. When I would get up from sitting at my desk, for example, I didn’t feel the usual tightness in my hip flexors and calves.
One day during the two weeks, I missed the mobility routine because I needed to take my dog out right away (she obviously got into something!) and then I forgot to do it afterward. It didn’t even occur to me until later in the day when I realized I actually felt noticeably tighter and sore.
Now, to be perfectly honest, I can’t say that I feel inclined to add more mobility exercises at this point. Five minutes is about all that feels truly doable enough to make it a habit. But I am happy to keep up with those five minutes—they’re making enough of a difference in how I feel throughout the day without feeling like a hurdle to clear every morning.
If you find that you, too, feel stiff yet aren’t really inclined to do lots of mobility work, start with just a super basic routine like me. Give yourself a week of consistently doing the exercises and see if you notice a difference. My hunch is that you’ll find the payoff is worth the small investment. Your joints will feel healthier, your workouts will be more productive, and you’ll feel better as you move about the day.
Use this workout to start your own morning mobility habit: