Your Mom Is Probably Hypermobile, And It Can Be Your Problem, Too.
Pick a joint, any joint.
On your body, bro. Try an arm or a leg.
Now, see how it feels to take it into its full range of motion. With complete control of every inch of the movement, ask yourself if you can flex, extend, and draw pretty circles in the air with it.
Now, how much effort does it take to maintain that control?
Do you have to grit your teeth and squeeze along your neuromuscular fibers in order to feel like you’ve got a grip on yourself, otherwise the arm or leg feels loose and flippery, held in place only by the benevolence of your skin?
Believe it or not, Mr. Ripley, but this is a more common feeling than you might expect.
Having loose joints can be an expression of hypermobility, or excessive range of motion around a joint, and it’s definitely something to watch out for. Especially if you’re female. Women are more likely to be hypermobile, as one study estimates .5% of the healthy population, as opposed to .6% of healthy men.
This statistic is a bit odd though, since my experience has been with a significant portion of my clients — about 2 out of 5 — exhibiting hypermobility, and I’m hypermobile myself. So I prefer taking a look at this study, which estimates 40% of schoolchildren are hypermobile, and that makes more sense given my anecdotal reference.
Being hypermobile, no matter how cute it might look to do a split for pictures, is not an ideal characteristic when you’re trying to keep your body in one piece for the long haul.
Folks with less flexibility tend to romanticize the idea of folding oneself into origami. And sure, it’s a great party trick. But I wouldn’t advise trying too hard to perfect it, because the reality is that hypermobility presents greater risk for arthritis and similar joint conditions. Think about it: all that fluid space around a joint capsule means all the more room for inflammation to accumulate. (Inflammation = puffy pain = not ideal. It also masquerades as water weight or perceived bodyfat. Also not ideal.)
When your joints are less actively connected to the rest of you, then you need to build them in a way that makes them re-realize their role in your body.
Otherwise, you’re going to be damaging your ability to progress in any goal. Strength, weight loss, performance enhancement, pain management — all of these rely on tough, happy arthromechanics. Can you imagine walking to the grocery store, where for scores of steps you have to absorb and counter the impact of yourself on the pavement, with joints that have adapted to only withstand the pressure of an unweighted spin bike?
This also explains why some people, and women in particular, have more trouble getting the hang of exercise. Their joints are literally less tight, which means that many bodyweight movements have less of an effect, or less likely to build muscle or strength, because the body perceives it as little more than flopping around on the beach.
I’m sorry, but if that’s your feeling while you’re performing a movement, then it means that there just isn’t enough stimulus. Might burn a few calories, but only if you’re breathing heavy to go with it, and by that point, it’s miserable and a totally negative experience.
How to fix this?
Step 1) Add weight. Grab a free weight, sand bag, whatever. Don’t be scared of the number. There’s a popular misconception that letting your body communicate with an object that possesses a significant fraction of your own bodyweight (ie: 20–50 pounds), will lead to bulky muscle, or weight gain.
Read that sentence over and tell me if I need to explain what really happens.
(If you guessed, “positive adaptation that’s relevant to a living body’s needs,” then you win. Do a victory lap.)
Step 2) Hold the weight. Just get comfy with it. This is also known as isometric training. Do you have to pump a dumbbell to get powerful arms? No, you can pick up a dumbbell with steady breathing and calm exertion, taking your time to get the body get accustomed to it, and achieve greater sustainable strength when you finally move on to —
Step 3) Dance. When you start a movement, even if it’s as simple as a bicep curl, think of the minute finesse embodied by professional gymnasts and ballet dancers. Now allow yourself to do the repetition with the feeling of control in every muscle fiber. This helps ensure that you are, in fact, controlling every muscle fiber. Because you need those guys. They hold your joints in place.
Step 4) Well, shoot. Get out there and live your life. It’ll feel better and less flippery.