Your Best Life: The power of functional movement exercise

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There comes a day for most of us, especially after years of deskwork, when we get up and make a sound. A groan, a creak, or a crack pops up, either from our knee, hip, or mouth, both unbidden and seemingly unavoidable.


The same way our mind gets stuck in mental grooves, our body, ever looking for efficiencies, gets stuck in physical patterns of movement – or stiffness.

If you walk with a purse or backpack slung on the same shoulder for a year or two, expect your opposite hip or knee to have something to say about the extra load soon enough. Conversely, the side that was not activated will become weaker from disuse. Your body has determined its resources were better spent on muscles and joints you are using.

I still don’t know exactly how it happened, but I developed a pattern like that at some point, somewhere in the Covid era, where much more sitting happened, and as hours reduced at my part-time nursery job, much less carrying of bags of potting soil. With the city’s proscription that we stay close to home, even my dog’s walks had gotten shorter. We weren’t hiking at Twin Falls or driving for a nice adventure at Marymoor dog park.

Then one day we did go hiking – after months of inactivity   – and the next day, my left knee really hurt. As I worked out in the months following, I realized the muscles around my right hip were nearly locked. I wasn’t able to do a full squat.  

After physical therapy, doing lots of sidekicks and clamshells, and relearning how to walk in a balanced way, sit with my feet flat on the ground rather than crossed, and to not lock my knees while standing, my knee is much more resilient.  I can do a full squat again, and it feels great to have that freedom of movement – it just feels right. I have my “hip hinge” back.

If you look at many cultures, squatting is a way of life. It’s normal to be able to go all the way down with your feet on the floor – many can even hold that position for hours, working, eating, chatting with friends.

Squats and glute bridge movements help support functions like using the restroom and getting up from a chair.

When you think about it, you’d like to be able to move under your own power, pain-free, as long as possible, right?  You probably want to be ready to play with grandkids.  The longer you keep moving, the longer you are telling your body “I still need to lift, run or jump!”

Prolonged sitting can lead to “inactivated” glutes for instance, which means they are not ready when you need speed or to get up a hill, making your knees or hips take added pressure.

The answer, exercise specialists, say, is to just keep moving. There are certain movements to focus on, though. Functional movements are the ones we need for ideal balanced strength that gives us the most freedom of mobility.

• You want to be able to push and pull both with your legs and your arms, so think push-ups/planks, rows for arms and squats, deadlifts and kicks for your legs.

• You also want to be able to get up off the ground unassisted. You may need to work up to doing a full Turkish get-up, where you lie down and basically sit up to a standing position, usually holding a kettle bell.

• Doing single leg and arm work when you are ready can help reveal and even out imbalances.

As always, find the modifications you need and check with your doctor if you have concerns about a new exercise. If a full push-up is too much, do an incline version leaning with your arms on the side of a table or couch, or bend one or both knees. For a get-up, you can roll toward your side, and use your arm to push off at first.  

Some places to start: look into functional movements, especially for seniors, which will start slow and offer modifications; look up the “New York Times workout” which has simple movements performed for seven minutes, (look for a version explaining modifications) as needed; try Qi Gong, which is composed of very gentle movements, or consider “primal” or “animal” training, which is based on slow functional movements. Online I’ve enjoyed Lee Holden and Scott Cole’s videos.  Katy Bowman ( has many books and videos on functional movement. Look into manual therapist Aaron Alexander’s book “The Align Method.”

Or simply practice gentle walking — you’ll get some steps in, burn some calories and hopefully set some new patterns going. What I was told by my therapist was to use your opposing glutes to push off with each step. If you bring a backpack, have it on both shoulders, and when you sit on a bench for a drink, keep your feet flat.