I decided that my first blog post would be on mobility and my fear of losing it. I live to move, don't you? That feeling of freedom that comes when jumping out of bed or off the couch and go wherever you want. That ability to sprint for the train you hear pulling into the station when you're still on the street? No? Is that because you've been doing it for so long without thought? Could it be that you think of mobility as something of a given? Until it's not. What if that were no longer the case? Think about it.
Losing the ability to move about freely is my greatest fear. The idea of having to depend on someone to get me around is nightmare making. I’ve noticed the changes in my body as I’ve hit my mid-40s. I hit my stride a little later in workouts. I’ve noticed the loosening of skin around my middle, the reduced fullness in my face. I’ve heard all my life that black don’t crack. What that really means is that black (skin for those whose never heard this before!) takes a little longer than others to crack, but inevitably it does. While our exteriors take a bit longer to lose the facade, we use creams and makeups to hide those effects, the body ages. In fitness, part of our motivation is not to only look good, it is also to slow down the eventual process of decline; making sure our hill has a gradual downward slope. I speak from the viewpoint of a woman of color, and a person who has worked in the fitness industry for over 20 years. Regardless of how great you present the package, an observant eye can see ageing from the viewpoint of one's mobility.
You see those people, you know who I’m talking about. The youngish ones who walk with an aid. The youngish ones who stop in the middle of the staircase coming up from the subway, blocking rush hour traffic to catch their breath. The youngish ones dressed nice trying to camouflage a stooping posture way too early in their lives.The walk is a little halted. The lean in at the hip from sitting to standing is at a more acute angle with greater emphasis on hand placement for assistance. It can be heard in the breathing when performing everyday actions. Slowing occurs and strategizing takes a little longer in preparation to lift that heavy object off the floor. That could be who I am now. They can be where I end up. And that scares me.
Yeah, I know. There can be many reasons for lack of mobility, such as disease or an accident. That’s not who I'm referring to. I refer to those who thought young was forever and didn’t see their future in the faces of their parents. To be clear, this is not about judgment, it is about observation and the understanding that it can happen and it can be corrected.
In my bodybuilding days, my priority was esthetics; musculature, proportions, leanness. There was nothing sexier than a toned body. However, with every added centimeter of muscle gain, I felt my body tightening, but not enough to be concerned. I started bodybuilding at the end of my African dancing days, so I was pretty limber and still in my late 20s, early 30s. There was no pre-stretch mobility warm up in those days, at least not for the average gym rat. The most was a five-minute walk on an inclined treadmill, then on to putting plates on the bar. It was years down the road where I felt the beginnings of restrictions through my body. Not until 40 did I care.
Suffering from back spasms since I was a kid stemming from a fall; more accurately being launched off the swing and landing on my back, it took a major spasm a few years ago, leaving me bedridden for a week to finally acknowledge that something needed to done. Spasms are a result of an underlying condition, acting as a defence mechanism to immobilize the affected area to prevent further injury. However, they are very painful and debilitating in their protective nature. I had to rely on my mom and daughter to wait on me because I could not move, needing help to get food and make it to the bathroom. I’d never suffered a spasm so severe and started to believe my life in fitness was over.
Once the spasm subsided and I was able to stand then walk, it took me another few days to be completely upright and able to walk without the forward lean that signals to the world a bad back. Your perspective of the world is different when your body is at a downward angle, forcing you to turn your torso in order to turn your head to look up. I was walking but my mobility was restricted. It was then my perspective on mobility changed and swore never to take it for granted again.
It was then I started a regular yoga practice, I’d always done it on and off for years. I saw my peers getting injured on the regular from stupid ordinary shit. Bending too quickly to tie a shoe. Wrenching a shoulder on the standard bench press. Box jumps began to injure knees and hips. Sure, it could be due to getting older, but I was positive it was due to years of lifting heavy things without the proper preparation and recovery. I added yoga to my fitness life for just that reason, to prevent injury; I could feel it coming and as I practiced more often wondered why hadn’t I started earlier. I knew I would never stop lifting heavy things; this just had to be a part of that whole process. The ratio of my fitness program from strength to yoga/mobility changed to a 50/50 split.
I combined mobility and agility drills to yoga to add a dynamic nature of my strength training to the subtleness of my yoga. As yoga has lengthened my muscles and tendons and loosened up my joints, I added agility drills, animal flow and balance asana to build fluidity along with stability that would transfer to whichever discipline I worked on that day. The combination boosted my overall workouts and daily life. Now my squats are deeper, my posture strong and tall and most importantly no back spasms in over a year.
I find myself moving to a more 60/40 mobility/strength training ratio nowadays with my mobility training encompassing more bodyweight movements to build strength. I know I will never stop lifting heavy things, including myself. It is never too late to add mobility to a fitness/training program. I am now focused on not only lifting those heavy things but being able to move around with them too.