5 Natural Movements You Should Be Able to Do at Any Age

In recent years, research continues to find that physical mobility is one of the strongest indicators of the risk of chronic disease as we age. In hospitals around the country, staff members at all levels are being trained to help screen patients for mobility upon admission and before their return to home. Walking is now considered a 6th vital sign and physicians are increasingly encouraged to screen their patients for their walking ability. 

In the clinic, we often aren’t seeing clients until they’re having a problem with their mobility. It’s our mission to make sure everyone has an awareness of subtle warning signs before there’s a problem. Upon every initial assessment, we screen our clients for 5 natural movements that give us a comprehensive picture of their mobility and help them guide their course of action. 

Below is the list of movements we perform at every initial assessment. If you can perform the 5 below movements AND maintain your ability to perform them, your risk of chronic disease is much lower. 

So get yourself in front of a mirror and grab a notebook and pen to take notes as you move. Learning how to study your movement and develop a strong mind-body connection is one of the keys to aging well. 

1. Squat

The ability to do a full squat is a good indicator that you’re also able to get yourself off the floor. A squat is both a functional movement and a resting position. Taking your hips, knees, and ankles through this range of motion is great for your mobility and strength. Squatting is also very important for a strong, healthy core.

If you aren’t able to or don’t feel safe to try a full squat, start by going from sitting to standing from a chair instead. As you improve on your strength and mobility, you can progress to a squat.

As you perform a squat, some points to note:

  • how far are you comfortably able to squat?
  • how long can you stay in a squat?
  • how far did you need to spread your feet?
  • how are your feet angled?
  • did your spine round?
  • did your pelvis tuck?
  • do you feel as though you have difficulty keeping your balance in a squat?

2. Stand on one leg

One of our favorite assessments for balance is single leg standing. Why is this skill so important? Because we spend over 80% of our time walking in single leg stance. If you can’t comfortably maintain your balance on one leg, it’s likely your walking has turned into controlled falling.

To try the single leg stance test: Take off your socks and shoes to try the test barefoot. You want to observe your feet so you have a clear idea of what is going on with your balance. If possible stand in front of a full-length mirror to help with your observation. And finally, if you aren’t so sure about your balance, try this next to a chair, table, or countertop for support.

Every healthy adult should be able to comfortably stand on one leg for at least 30 seconds without arm support. And we can gain more information from this test than just the quantity of time you can hold this position.

Observations to make:

  • Look down at your foot, are your toes clenching the floor or can you easily lift your toes off the floor?
  • Is your weight shifted back over your heel or the ball of your foot?
  • Is your knee bent to help you keep your balance?
  • Did your hip sway over to the side or were you able to keep your hip stacked in a line above your ankle?
  • Is your trunk leaning forward?
  • Are you holding your breath?
  • Did you stick your head forward?
  • Or are your arms swaying out to the sides to help you keep your balance?

Remember, you can gain qualitative information from each self-assessment. Try this a few times and take notes on what you notice.

3. On and off the floor

Your ability to get on and off the floor is a strong predictor of your future health as well as a reflection of your current strength and mobility.

This test is as simple as it sounds- just start getting yourself on and off the floor and take note of what you observe. If you don’t feel safe trying this test, revisit it later when you’ve gained some strength and confidence. Instead, focus on how you get in and out of a chair.

If possible, set yourself up in front of a mirror and watch yourself try this a few times. Also, focus on how comfortable you are sitting on the floor and explore the different positions you can get yourself in to.

Suggested things to make note of:

  • Can you get on and off the floor without using your hands?
  • If you do need your hands, do you use one or both?
  • How many different ways can you get on and off the floor?
  • How confident do you feel doing this?

We recommend writing down your observations. 

4. Quadruped

One of the most underutilized exercises for upper body and core strengthening is crawling. In order to crawl, we need to be able to get into quadruped.

If you aren’t able to get on and off the floor for this position, you can try this on an elevated surface like a bed or stand in front of a chair and practice weight-bearing through your upper body.

Your positioning in quadruped can tell you a lot about your mobility and strength throughout your hips, core, shoulders, elbows, and hands.

To start, keep some blankets and half foam rolls nearby for bolstering.

In quadruped, you want to keep your hips at a 90-degree angle directly above your knees and shoulders at a 90-degree angle directly above your hands. Keep your knees pelvis width apart, and hands shoulder-width apart.

As always, we recommend adding alignment in layers but some points to make note of:

  • Is your pelvis in neutral, tucked, or tilted?
  • Are your shoulder blades collapsed in toward each other or can you hold them in a broad position flat to your spine?
  • Do your elbows hyperextend? If so give them a little micro-bend.
  • Is your ribcage thrusting or are you able to hold it in neutral alignment with your pelvis?
  • Are you able to keep your palms flat on the floor with thumbs point toward each other at a 90-degree angle or do your hands pop up into a cupping position?
  • Are your elbow pits rolled in facing each other or can you keep them rolled forward to the wall in front of you?
  • How are your wrists tolerating this position?

There is a lot to dissect in quadruped, so don’t feel like you need to have everything in alignment right at the start. Just pick one alignment point to start and add more in later. 

5. Lift arms overhead

Reaching shoulders up overhead is a key indicator of upper body mobility. Having adequate range of motion in your shoulders not only allows you to easily perform your daily activities but also allows you to have better access to your breathing muscles and core strengthening.

The trick here is to make sure you are using actual shoulder mobility and aren’t hiding a lack of shoulder motion with ribcage thrusting. To assess your shoulder range of motion, this test is best performed along a wall and with the use of a mirror.

Position yourself in standing with your back to the wall, feet spaced a few inches away from the wall. Try lifting your arms overhead to see if you can reach them far enough to touch the wall. Repeat this a few times and watch yourself in the mirror.

Make note of:

  • Is your ribcage traveling away from the wall?
  • Is your low back arching?
  • Are you able to keep your pelvis in neutral?

Now, try this again but first anchor your pelvis in neutral and lower ribs to the wall. Maintain this core position while lifting your arms. At the very moment you start to feel your ribcage lift away from the wall, stop! Look in the mirror again. This is your ACTUAL shoulder motion. By stabilizing your ribcage, you’ve removed your compensation patterns.

 

Give all the above moves a try and let us know what you learned! Continue to practice and see what progress you can make in just a month's time. You can find video and further instruction on each of these 5 natural movements along with corrective exercise progressions in our Mindful Movement Collective monthly membership. Try your first 30 days FREE to have access to the mobility library today

 

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