If the key to a long life is staying as healthy as possible, the key to a QUALITY life is to stay as functional as possible.
Functionality is all about your body and how it works. Is it a clunker, or a finely tuned machine?
As we go through life, our bodies accumulate wear and tear. Some things are minor, like tweaks, bumps and bruises. And some are major like bone breaks, muscle and ligament tears, etc. All of these things cause our mobility to decrease - mobility is most simply defined as your bodies ability to function at a given body part or range of motion. The ultimate goal of the Function phase is to improve mobility as much as possible.
So how do we go about improving mobility and functionality? It's a two step process, but it's fairly simple.
First, we need to be concerned with flexibility. Is your body flexible enough to go through a particular range of motion? The most common examples are an overhead press or a deep squat. In an overhead press, is your upper body (your arms, shoulders, and cervical/thoracic spine) flexible enough to safely extend your arms overhead? In a squat, is your lower body (your ankles, hips and lumbar spine) flexible enough to get down low without risking your knees or back?
If the answer is NO, then we can reasonably expect that if you do try to perform that movement, you'll likely hurt yourself (your body doesn't have the ability at the range of motion you want it to achieve). To prevent this from happening, we need to start by improving your flexibility. Your body needs to be able to travel through all range of motion, with the goal of as little friction as possible. Now, understand if you have had any of those major causes of wear and tear, you may never be able to regain full range of motion without medical intervention. We obviously can't perform surgery or overstep the professional lines of a physical therapist or chiropractor. We can, however, help improve your flexibility within the current limitations you have. We do that by stretching - both passively and actively - meaning we put the body in positions that help it to regain lost flexibility.
If you stretch consistently enough, your flexibility will improve, and you'll eventually gain the ability to move through a particular range of motion. An important note - please understand that if you've been sitting at an office desk for years, and relatively inactive, your flexibility won't improve in a few weeks. It takes time over a consistent basis. BUT stretching should be part of everyone's routine to help regain lost range of motion. With that being said, stretching alone is only the first piece of the puzzle.
This takes us back to the previous workflow - if you improve your flexibility to the point where you now CAN safely move your body through a particular range of motion, we now need to STRENGTHEN the body through that particular range of motion. Your strength determines the capacity to which you can move through a given range of motion - can you move through it holding 5 pounds? holding 10 pounds? holding 50 pound?
It's important to note that if you fix the flexibility piece - stretch to the point where you do regain lost range of motion - you will lose that range of motion again if you do not strengthen it! This is what I mean when I say that stretching is only a piece of the puzzle.
Tomorrow I am going to take you through a practical example about how this works in real life. We'll walk through how someone with low back troubles can use this two step process to improve their flexibility and then strengthen the surrounding musculature to fortify their low back and to reduce the chance of low back troubles in the future.