This is “The Lift,” where we break down simple fitness activities you can do anywhere — and not just do them, but do them right. With these helpful tips, you can take control of your exercise process at your pace.
“Get cut, get a butt.” “Move fast, lift heavy.” “Build bulk, get yoked.”
If these popular workout mantras work for you, carry on!
But many of these strength-, speed-, and physique-forward workout goals ignore the fact that the most important part of a workout routine actually isn’t the weight used, miles traveled, or body sculpted.
According to most fitness pros, challenging yourself to regularly move your body could have more long-term benefits than nearly any other fitness goal. The one thing more important than consistency is form (because hello, injury prevention).
Grayson Wickham, DPT, founder of Movement Vault, says it best:
Consistency is huge, but if you’re constantly moving with imperfect form, that’s not good.
There are many! Below, find five.
1. Movement gives you insight on your bod
“When you move your body in some way every day, you’re able to better notice the way things like your hydration levels, sleep quality and quantity, diet, stress levels, and where you are in your menstrual cycle affect how your body feels while it moves,” says London-based body-positive wellness coach and yoga instructor Donna Noble.
Being able to tune into yourself in this way not only allows you to best care for your body (i.e., “I feel best when I’m hydrated, so I’m going to prioritize drinking water throughout the day”), it also helps reduce injury risk.
Wickham explains, “When your body isn’t recovered enough to go full steam ahead during a workout, it gives you subtle cues indicating as much.”
Trouble is, many people don’t know how to listen to those cues, and therefore they ignore them.
“When we ignore our body cues, our risk of injury goes way up,” Wickham says.
2. Better, more restful sleep
What you’ve heard is true: Adding any movement to your routine will help improve your sleep, especially if you were more or less sedentary in the past.
“Moving your body in some way every single day can lead to better sleep every single night,” says Noble.
3. Increased awareness of your breathing
Fact: No matter your movement style of choice, your breathing matters!
Breathing, after all, sends oxygen to 1) your muscle-meat, so you can move, and 2) your lungs, so you can… not croak.
“The way you breathe (or not) while you move can either support that movement and make it easier, or make it feel way harder,” says Noble.
4. Reduced stress
A recent study found that consistent exercise actually strengthens the brain’s resilience to stress.
The rub: This study was done on mice. And humans (LOL) are not mice.
Still, it makes sense that consistently giving your body and mind something to focus on other than work and family obligations would result in decreased stress.
Movement also increases concentrations of a chemical called norepinephrine, which can moderate your brain’s response to stress.
5. Improved overall health
From improving biomarkers of health (like resting heart rate and cholesterol levels) to boosting overall mood, exercise has some damn powerful effects on your body, mind, and soul.
If you’re not sure how to move your body during this regular movement, Wickham suggests mobility exercises.
“Mobility work isn’t sexy work,” he says. “But because mobility is the foundation of all the movement we do in and out of the gym, it’s essential work.”
What exactly is mobility?
Mobility is the ability to move a joint through its full range of motion. Basically, that mobility is what keeps you moving and grooving freely and without pain.
The better your mobility, he says, the lesser your injury risk in workout and in life.
1. Active kneeling half-stretch
Also known as an active dorsiflexion stretch, this kneeling half-stretch is designed to stretch the back of your ankle and calf.
“If you have poor ankle mobility, it can cause issues further up the body,” Wickham says. Those potential issues include plantar fasciitis; hip, back, and knee impingement; and lower back pain. This stretch can help.
How to do it:
- Get into a half-kneeling position, with front foot directly under front knee.
- Tuck tailbone under torso to engage your midsection.
- Ground down through front foot while pressing knee out in front of you until you feel a stretch in the back of your ankle.
- Contract your calf muscle as hard as you can for 10 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds, then repeat 2 more times.
- Switch legs and repeat.
2. 90-90 hip stretch
If you sit all day, spend a little extra time in this targeted hip stretch.
How to do it:
- Sit on the floor with core braced, spine tall, and one leg out in front of you, bent to a 90-degree angle.
- Position your other leg at a 90-degree angle behind you, with your ankle in line with your hip.
- Maintaining a tight core, hinge at hips and lean forward to intensify the stretch. (Important: Your lower back should not round while you lean.)
- Hold for 30 seconds before switching sides.
3. Around the World
“This stretch is all about exploring the places that experience tension in your upper body and helping them become less tense over time,” says Wickham.
How to do it:
- Stand with feet planted at hip width.
- Punch both hands up straight overhead and tuck ribs down toward belly button to brace your core.
- Bend to the left, making a C shape with your side body. Contract your muscles and hold for 10 seconds.
- Think about making a half-circle with your torso as you rotate into a C shape on the other side.
- Repeat 3 times per side. Then repeat, rotating in the opposite direction.
4. Segmented Cat-Camel
If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you probably know the Cat-Cow sequence. Segmented Cat-Cow is that… but slowed wayyyy down.
“Moving slowly through the Cat-Cow positions helps stretch your upper and lower back muscles, as well as increase body awareness,” says Wickham.
How to do it:
- Start on all fours, pressing the tops of your feet into the floor.
- Tuck tailbone in and up toward your nose while punching spine up toward the ceiling. As you do this, lengthen your neck so your ears fall between your upper arms. (This is the “Cat” portion of the pose.)
- One vertebra at a time, slowly shift into “Cow” position, dropping belly toward the floor and drawing shoulders toward ears.
- Continue cycling between the two movements.
Also known as Corpse Pose, Savasana is yoga-speak for “Lie there.”
“Savasana is when you allow your body to settle, lie down in stillness, absorb the benefits of the work you’ve just done,” says Noble. “Your body will tell you when it’s time to get out of the pose.”
How to do it:
- Lie faceup with legs extended straight ahead and hands by your sides.
- Allow your limbs to feel heavy.
Moving consistently does not mean never taking a rest or recovery day again.
Wickham says the above mobility workout is low impact and low intensity enough that your body could do it every day, but if your workout is more intense than that, rest is essential.
Noble explains, “Your body needs rest days in order to fully reap the benefits of your activities. Rest, after all, is when your body repairs the muscles that got broken down during exercise.”
Fail to take a rest and your muscles can actually fail to get stronger.
“If you’re training consistently and at a high intensity without rest, it is possible to wind up with overtraining syndrome,” warns Wickham.
That’s a condition marked by declined performance, injuries, stress, and irritability. Pass.
Bottom line: Consistency is a damn good workout goal. Just don’t forget to give your body the R&R it needs to function (and flex) optimally.