My morning routine
This is the mini-workout I like to do in the morning. I consider it my body’s essential maintenance.
Don’t have time to read my rambling explanations? Just do this as many mornings as you can manage:
Leg swings forward:
- Reach for your toes, then reach overhead
- Rotate torso left and to right
- Arm swings (10 forward and backward each arm)
- Leg swings (12 forward, backward, sideward each leg)
- Drop into a 3rd world squat for a second
In total, this should take less than five minutes. It requires no equipment and very little space. Doing this routine consistently will improve your posture, resist the hunchback that comes from desk work, and make you move better all day. Blindly following it and ignoring everything else I say on this topic will gain you 80% of the benefit of all my advice.
If you’re interested in the “why” or you’re chasing that remaining 20%, read on.
The Rambling Explanations
That sample routine above is my “minimum”. I don’t manage to do even that minimum every day, but it’s what I’ve found to be what I need to do to prevent my body from atrophying into a decrepit, hobbled hunchback as I slide inexorably down the spiral that pulls us all to death. ☠️ 😃
This routine is, I repeat, merely maintenance. I try to do it in the morning so that it improves my movement quality for the entire rest of the day, but it’s OK if I get to it in the evening. Either way, it maintains my ability to move normally. One should therefore categorize this routine as mobility work, which I consider distinct from the other major categories of physical maintenance: strength Strength here includes power and explosiveness., cardio, and skill For simplicity, I lump a variety of other athletic qualities, such as agility, balance, or reaction time, into “skill”.. I work on those in separate lifting, running, or sport workouts. My morning routine is solely to maintain and develop mobility, flexibility, and movement quality.
One obstacle to sharing this routine is that it varies substantially day to day. In fact, that tl;dr prescription above is a lie–there’s no routine that I would truly recommend everyone do. This is as it should be: the movements a person needs differ not just from person to person, but for the same person day to day and month to month depending on their current abilities, stresses, other workouts, drink, diet, and injury status. One must constantly listen to one’s body and adjust accordingly. The movements I recommend seem to be particularly rewarding, but the most valuable part of my recommendation is consistently checking in on one’s body and making sure to move at least a little bit each day.
The routine varies because it is part warm-up for the day, part stretching routine, part self-evaluation: I use it to ask myself what I need to do to move pain-free today. How many movements I do, and how long I spend on a given type of movement, is a push-and-pull between how much time I have, how creaky I feel, and what I expect my day will require of me physically. Therefore the routine’s hidden format isn’t a prescription of exercises, but rather a diagnostic set of questions, in rough order of priority:
- Does my back and neck naturally fall into good posture?
- Are my shoulders open and pain-free?
- Are my hips open and pain-free?
- Do all my joints move properly without pain or restriction?
Everything I do in my morning routine follows from these questions. Therefore as well, each movement has a dual purpose.
First, to ask my body one of these questions.
Second, to coax my body into answering positively.
The Fundamental Movements
I have a core set of movements I use to ask these questions:TODO gifs
- the third world squat
- leg swings
- arm circles
- trunk twists
- touching the ground
- reaching overhead
It doesn’t matter what order these are used. There is not even a requirement that they be done all at once. In fact, this morning I did a couple, then took a break to write this very sentence. I will leave the computer now to go back and do some more.
The movements I just listed are only my most essential diagnostic tools. I supplement these fundamentals with any number of movements tailored to my body’s specific needs of the time. For instance, this year I find extraordinary benefit from the following exercises, several of which I’ve tried in years past and found nearly useless:
Arm swings sideways:
Double arm circles:
- side-to-side arm swings
- double arm circles
- ankle circles
- shoulder rolls
- lunges with arms overhead
- sitting glute stretch
This illustrates the central idea of the routine: one should develop a core set of movements to do every day, and use those to identify which supplementary movements are needed to fix a particular need of the day. One must constantly be on the hunt for gradual immobility all across one’s body.
The Other Approaches
There are many paths to the same place. I arrived at this particular set of movements through trial and error while suffering the physical slings and arrows of aging, playing judo, and lifting weights Tom Kurz's work, particularly Scientific Stretching and Flexibility Express, was particularly useful during this iterative process.. This is what works for me. But the differences between this approach and another are small. For instance, Steve Kotter, an excellent and respectable physical culturist, demonstrates his mobility routine on fast-forwarded video.
One could also shortcut figuring out the movements I use and just do whatever warm-up you do for regular workouts, whether they be lifting, running, or CrossFit. That’s plenty helpful.
Furthermore, remember to go easy on yourself. Stick to the routine, but don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day because you ran out of time. Everybody misses workouts. I rarely have the time to cover every movement I’d like to do. Each of us has responsibilities that intrude on our personal priorities. But I find it’s helpful to set aside just a few minutes each morning to prioritize my body.
The Movement “Grab Bag”
Here are some exercises I keep handy. This section is very much a work in progress.
It’s confusingly hard to find a good video/gif example online of the leg swings I recommend. This video clip is OK for the moment:
Generally I prefer a more dynamic effort, as demonstrated by Tom Kurz in these gifs:
All sorts of squats are useful, as both static poses and as transitional movements. For instance, I like to just sit still in a third world squat for several minutes, but I also like to spend thirty seconds leaning onto each ankle, pulling my knees to my chest, and just generally moving around from that position. I also enjoy doing goblet squats, Cossack squats, wide parallel-stanced squats, one-legged “pistol” squats, overhead squats, and so on. These are all fantastic for developing strong knees, as well as mobile hips and ankles. GMB is a beginner’s resource.
”Teacups” exercise from Qi Gong
Here’s a fine example:
If you’re interested in watching lots of people mangle this exercise beyond usefulness, browse YouTube. Martial artists are the worst.
- extending arms out to opposite sides, internally rotate one, externally rotate the other
- opposite-direction arm circles
- simultaneous arm circles
- shoulder rolls, alternating or together
Ankles, wrists, knees, neck–everything benefits from being rolled out 5 to 10 times in each direction.
As shown in this (lovably ridiculous) Tom Kurz clip:
Specific yoga poses
I found it extremely helpful to go to a yoga class nearly every day for a few months. I still use many poses and movements I learned in that time. It’s important to view yoga classes as education, not just a workout, so that you can harvest the techniques to use later, tailored to your own needs.
— Dave Liepmann, 21 January 2018