How many times have you felt tight or sore going into a shift or workout? It is very common for most first responders. Lack of sleep, stressful shifts and carrying heavy equipment can leave your muscles tense and achy. This increased muscle tension then leads to pain in your joints. If you continue this cycle of beating on your body, you may experience injuries.
The good news: There are simple things you can do to help alleviate those aches and pains and keep your body moving and functioning properly. In this short video, I’ll introduce you to some techniques, including something I call the “mobility flow.”
Hydration & Pain
The first thing you should focus on before, during, and after each shift is hydration. Water is very abundant in the human body—at least it should be! In fact, water is present in tendons, ligaments and muscles, and it plays an important role in cushioning and lubricating joints and tissues so they remain elastic. Water helps you maintain an adequate blood volume so nutrients can move through your blood and into your joints. Water also allows waste products to move out of the joints. Combined, these functions improve joint mobility and reduce the pain you may experience during and after a long shift or workout. Aim to drink at least 80 to 100 ounces of water a day. Your joints and muscles will thank you.
The second thing you should focus on is improving your mobility. This is different than just being able to touch your toes. There is a difference between mobility and flexibility. Mobility is the ability to have a full range of motion in your muscles and joints and is one of the most important aspects of fitness. Flexibility is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to lengthen passively through a range of motion. Flexibility allows you to lengthen a muscle. Mobility allows you to move that muscle in many ways.
Improving your mobility can help you perform better, prevent injuries, reduce joint pain and improve the quality of your life and career. This is common sense: If you move better, you perform better and feel better. On the contrary, a lack of mobility can exacerbate joint problems, causing the muscles around the joint to tighten, which will lead to other stiff joints and more pain. Mobility is also a prerequisite to strength. When joints, muscles and nerves don’t move properly, we compensate elsewhere, which can cause injury.
To reduce your chances of injury and reduce the pain in your joints—especially your shoulders, knees and back—you need to incorporate dynamic exercises into your daily activities and workouts. I have four go-to exercises I consistently perform and recommend for all the first responders I work with. I like to perform them in a mini-circuit or “flow” before shifts and workouts or whenever I feel tight, tired and sluggish. It is easy to do, takes less than a minute, and can really help you feel and move better.
The Mobility Flow
Perform 3 to 5 reps of each movement, moving from one to the next without a lot of rest. Perform the circuit or flow as many times as needed.
Exercise #1- Standing Knee Hugs (perform 3 each leg). Start in a standing position with head and shoulders back and abs tight. Draw your belly button toward your spine. Hug your knee with both arms and slowly bring the knee up toward your chest. Don’t lean forward and don’t round your back. Hold your balance for 2 to 3 seconds and then return to standing; switch legs.
Exercise #2- Step Back and Reach Up (perform 3 each leg). Stand straight with head and eyes level. Slowly step back with one leg, reaching toward the ceiling with both arms. Extend as far as you can without arching your back; keep your abs braced. Hold your balance for 2 to 3 seconds and then return to standing; switch legs.
Exercise #3- Spiderman Step with Rotation (perform 3 each leg). Start in a push-up position braced against a firm surface. Take one large step forward, aiming for the outside of your hand. Keep your head and shoulders straight and don’t force the movement; your leg should swing comfortably. Then, reach your arm toward the ceiling as you rotate your body. Pause and hold for a couple of seconds then return to starting position; switch sides and repeat.
Exercise #4 – Waiter’s Bow (perform 5 times). Stand straight and draw your belly button toward your spine. Keeping your chest up and out, tilt forward from the hips while extending your arms out in front of you, rotating them so your palms face the ceiling. Keep tilting forward until you feel your hamstrings tighten. Keep your back straight and your shoulder blades down. Pause and hold for a couple of seconds then slowly return to starting position; repeat.
And that’s it! Four simple exercises that should only take about a minute. Repeat the circuit if time permits or if you are still tight and sore.
Being a firefighter doesn’t have to doom you to a life of stiffness, aches and pain. Hydrate and incorporate mobility movements into your workouts and shifts. Stay consistent and you will start to really feel the difference.