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Range of Motion: Why You Need to Use It or Lose It

Good range of motion is the key to living a mobile, active, and fit life. But range of motion can decrease after an injury or as we age. Expert Shane Dowd joins Get-Fit Guy to talk about the three exercise pillars that will help you get and stay fit and flexible.

By
Brock Armstrong
12-minute read
Episode #527
The Quick And Dirty
  • We can lose range of motion suddenly due to an injury or we can lose it slowly over time. 
  • Having a consistent movement practice can help us notice when we are tightening up. 
  • To maintain a good range of motion you need to look after your soft tissues by doing self-massage and stretching. 
  • We must also maintain a good level of strength to be able to enjoy the full range of our motion. 

My guest on this episode is a Certified Massage Practitioner (CMP), Strength and Conditioning Coach, and Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES). His name is Shane Dowd, and he's the CEO and founder of GotROM.com. Shane is truly passionate about (or maybe even obsessed with) keeping your body moving at its best. 

Eleven years ago Shane was told that his hips were so messed up they needed surgery. The X-rays and MRIs confirmed it. He was told "You're screwed, son. Get the surgery before it gets worse." He didn't listen ... and he's glad he didn't! Now, he believes almost anything is possible when you upgrade your passion to an obsession. And Shane's obsessed with helping people who are injured (or simply getting older) get and stay fit.

It all started with deep squats

A few months ago, I was getting frustrated with my deep squat. (That's the kind of squat where you can just chill out with your butt right down near the ground and your heels planted firmly beneath you.) I have been working on and off for years to make my squat more comfortable. And after some initial success, I plateaued.

So, when I heard about Shane's website, I signed up for his 45-day program to Master Deep Squats.

I was so impressed with his approach and my results that I knew I had to have Shane on the podcast so we could nerd out about Range Of Motion (that's the ROM in gotROM.com). If you're able, I encourage you to listen to the audio using the audio player at the top of the page or by checking out the episode on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. But if you prefer to read, here's a transcript of our conversation that's been lightly edited for clarity.

Interview with Shane Dowd

Brock

So, Shane, what the heck is ROM or R.O.M and why is it important?

Shane:

Basically, in plain English, it's the Range Of Motion of the joints of your body or your body as a whole. You need range of motion to do anything in life. If you're going to bend down to pick something up, you need a certain amount of hamstring flexibility or hip range of motion. If you're going to climb up something or use your arms, you need a certain amount of range of motion.

Even if you're not an athlete, daily life requires some degree of flexibility or range of motion.

Every sport has range of motion requirements as well. If you're a jiu-jitsu athlete, you need a certain amount of hip range of motion to play your sport. And even if you're not an athlete, daily life requires some degree of flexibility, some degree of range of motion.

Brock

That actually leads really well into what I was going to ask next, which is: Is this something that only a jiu-jitsu kind of person needs to worry about? But you did say that just picking something up off the ground requires a certain amount of range of motion. So, this really sounds like it applies to a broad part of the population.

Shane

Yeah, of course. I mean, unless you're someone who has no need to ever, you know, sit down—sitting down requires range of motion. In our modern life, all our chairs are higher and our toilets are higher and you can get around it. I have even seen some ads for a hand—like a big stick with like a pincher on the end—and if you can't physically reach the floor, you can buy the stick and pick things up. But obviously, that's not ideal. We'd all love that our bodies can move freely enough and they have enough range of motion to pick up our kids, pick up the groceries, reach up and get something out of the cupboard. All of that, even if you have zero athletic aspirations, requires range of motion.

Brock

That's really interesting. I think a lot of people, myself included, often think of losing your range of motion due to age. But you're saying that it can also just be due to the modern conveniences of everyday life.

Shane

Yeah, totally. It's the 'if you don't use it, you lose it' principle. We live in a society where, for example, we sit in chairs most of the time, like I'm doing right now. We don't often sit in a full squat. 

The loss of range of motion comes on slow. It's like a slow, insidious freezing up of the body.

I saw one of your videos on YouTube where you're practicing a squat in the woods, and that's a really healthy thing for people to do because if you don't do that regularly, you will eventually lose that range of motion. And then you won't be able to do things that you really want to do, like pick up your grandchild or tie your own shoelaces. Anyone who's lost the ability to do that recognizes the importance. But the loss of range of motion comes on slow. It's like a slow, insidious freezing up of the body. But with just some stretches and some exercises and some regular movement, you don't have to lose those key ranges of motion.

Brock

We're going to get into this in a little bit, but I have to credit you with the video that I did of squatting in the forest. My squat was not that good until I actually did one of your programs. But I don't want to get ahead of myself, and we'll touch on that in a little bit.

But I did want to bring up the fact that a lot of the stuff that appears on your website and that we equate with a loss of range of motion, we often think of having more to do with things like injuries or something that has happened to us suddenly. But is that true? Is that where we should be focused or is there a better way to view this?

Shane

It happens both ways. I mean, if I just look at my own life as an example, and if I look at my mom and dad or grandma and grandpa—and most of us—if we look at that, we can see how they kind of get stiffer and tighter over time. And then that limits them and starts to either cause their pain or cause them to compensate because they can't get all the way down to touch the floor. And so they start rounding their back even more and they end up hurting their back and they might attribute it to say a weak back or something like that when really it was a range of motion, a flexibility problem. They weren't moving in the right places.

Loss of range of motion can either happen all at once after an injury or it can creep up on you over the years.

So it can be something that happens traumatically all at once—like you suffer a knee injury playing your sport or something. And then a lot of range of motion is lost immediately after a traumatic injury. Or it can be a slow onset where you just haven't used those ranges of motion in years and years. And then all of a sudden.

It's kind of like the common weekend warrior story where someone hasn't gone out to play Frisbee or play basketball for a while and then they try to get back into it. But they haven't used those ranges of motion in so long that they're taking their body beyond what it's capable of. So it can either happen all at once really fast after an injury or it can creep up on you over 20, 30, 40 years.

Brock

So, the one way is really easy to recognize. Obviously, we're going to notice when we get injured, even if we're just shoveling the walk and turn our knee the wrong way and do something bad to it. But how do we recognize that we're starting to lose that range of motion if it doesn't happen in one disastrous moment?

Shane

That's a great question. Basically, you catch it earlier by having a movement practice—whether it be yoga or a few sequences of stretches that you learn from me or from someone else or online—but just taking your body through some key ranges, or some key patterns, like squatting, bending over to pick things up, or raising your arm up over your head. Whether you're doing it with or without weights, putting your hands behind your back. For women to be able to take off their bra or change you need to have shoulder extension and internal rotation. And you don't need to know that those are the ranges you need, you just need to know: "I need to put my hand behind my back sometimes." So having a movement practice where you take your body through full ranges of motion will allow you to catch earlier when you're getting tighter and losing flexibility and range of motion.

Having a movement practice where you take your body through full ranges of motion will allow you to catch a decline in range of motion earlier.

Brock

I guess, arguably, that the movement practice you're talking about would have been filled by everyday life in past generations where we had to work a little bit harder, or we weren't necessarily, again, using the modern conveniences that are making us a more and more sedentary.

Shane

Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Brock

Now, OK—I did your deep squatting program. You know, I was really surprised. First of all, it was great. And I actually have really improved my squat. I've still got some distance to go, but I'm turning 50 this year and I definitely did the old "I didn't use it so I 'losed' it" thing.

But I was really surprised during the program by how much of it was actually soft tissue work like foam rolling. And even more aggressive than foam rolling, using things like barbells and stuff to roll out the soft tissue. And there wasn't all that much of actually getting into a squat, at least at first. Now, why do you spend so much time working on soft tissue?

Shane

A lot of the people who are interested in a deep squats program are usually athletes: cross-fitters, bodybuilders, powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, some team sport athletes...

Brock

Ex ballet dancer right here!

Shane

Ballet dancer! And they often do lots of squats in their training. So they're taking their body through that range of motion. But where they need a little bit of help is oftentimes that they're doing it with compensation. So, for example, they're trying to get in a really deep squat, as a powerlifter or a CrossFitter or Olympic weightlifter, and they're getting deep into the squat, but with a huge amount of lumbar flexion. Which are your low back rounding and kind of tucking under your pelvis, posteriorly tilting, which kind of looks like your back rounds at the bottom of your squat. In exercise culture, they call it the butt wink, which just means your pelvis is tucking under. That's not that bad unloaded, but when you start adding a bunch of weight and speed and effort, then it can create a lot of shearing forces on the spine and stuff like that.

So the reason that we have a lot of self-massage and stretching in the 45-Day Deep Squat program is that we assume people are going to be doing their squatting in the gym when they're lifting their weights or playing their sport. And what they need to do is get some muscle extensibility, some range of motion via massaging the muscles.  It's like chewing the bubble gum up and then stretching it ... because it stretches better after you chew it up. And we do recommend that, at least for five minutes a day, you get in a squat-like position and just kind of play around keep greasing the groove—keep lubricating the joints and keep accessing those ranges of motion.

Tissue work is like chewing the bubble gum up before you stretch it, which can make stretching much more comfortable and effective.

So yeah, you gotta do tissue work and stretching to access the new ranges. And then you should cement those new ranges—I mean keep them—with your weightlifting routine or the other parts of your movement practice.

Learn more about why flexibility and mobility work in tandem with Get-Fit Guy's article, The Truth About Flexibility vs. Mobility!

Brock

Right! That's really where the idea in my squatting video came from. Just grabbing onto a tree and spending some time in that squatting position. I found myself doing that more and more because your program really encouraged me to spend more time in that position.

But like you said, the soft tissue work was really important for me, too. Especially as somebody who's almost 50 years old, with a history of sport and athletics, I have a lot of adhesions, some scar tissue, some injuries that have been lingering for years. So addressing those was key to getting that range of motion back.

Shane

And that's super critical because a lot of people are familiar with that. If you ask the average person "how do you get flexible?" they'll say "stretch" or "go do yoga" or something. Which is true. But it's missing, in my mind, a key component, which is the tissue work. Which is, like I said earlier, chewing the bubble gum up before you stretch it can make the stretching much more comfortable and much more effective.

When I first started stretching, it was painful and felt like my hips were grinding and just everything hurt about it.

Like for some people like myself, when I first started stretching, it was painful and felt like my hips were grinding and just everything hurt about it. And when I learned how to do really targeted soft tissue work, prior to the stretching, it just made the stretching much more comfortable. And a lot of people who are getting older, or like you said, have a lot of scar tissue, like old injuries that have just never healed.

Like when you pull a muscle or tear something, the muscle doesn't just perfectly reform, just brand new as it was before. It forms like a little scar ball. And if you have never gotten in there and kind of softened it up and chewed it up, it can't really realign as it did when it was a nice, healthy young muscle. And so that soft tissue work is extra critical for some people.

And for some people, it's not as necessary. Like maybe if you're younger or you don't have a lot of muscle mass and density, like you're not an athlete, maybe like a very slim young female Yogi might not need all that tissue work because just stretching gets them the range of motion they want. And that's fine. And that's why there's room to customize and inform your own routine. But I do find that for the majority of people, tissue work plus stretching is better than stretching alone.

Brock

I've definitely added a lot more of that to my evening routine. Generally, when I'm watching TV or watching a hockey game or something, I'll get down on the floor and be stretching away, but now I've got The Stick and I'll just go to town, rolling out my Achilles and getting in there on my shins. That's a real sore spot for me. So it's definitely become part of that routine.

Okay, I think like a lot of our listeners out there are probably thinking "yeah, when I reach out for something or when I'm picking something off the ground, it's starting to cause a little bit of difficulty. And it's actually getting in the way of me enjoying my life." That leads me to ask you: If someone is sitting out there thinking "yeah, I have noticed that this lack of range of motion is impacting my life," what can they do right away to start addressing these issues?

Shane

I would say there are three main things that they should start to explore. We've already touched on two of them—the tissue work and the stretching—because they'll teach you different things. Like I might stretch and it feels kind of normal, but then I go and do massage on my shoulder, and all of a sudden I find out that there's like all these knots and trigger points and densities in my left shoulder. And when I massage my right shoulder, they're not there. But when I stretch, it feels relatively the same. 

So, it's like some of the things that could cause you pain can hide. And just stretching might not reveal those things to you. So, include in your movement practice, whatever that looks like, some stretching. I've got hundreds of free videos on my YouTube channel that you can check out. Include some tissue work, some self-massage, and include some strengthening.

If you are massaging your body, stretching it, and strengthening it, you'll be a lot wiser than someone who's just doing one of those things.

That's kind of the third pillar of what I teach. And I think that if you are massaging your body, stretching it, and strengthening it, you'll be a lot wiser than someone who's just doing one of those things. Like the person who's just the Yogi, who just always stretches, stretches, stretches. When they try to go do something strength-based they discover some gaps in their game. They discover some problems that could lead to pain or injuries or something going wrong. Similarly, the big buff weightlifter guy who really has the strengthening side of things taken care of but has never massaged his body and never stretched his body, will learn how tight he is. And with just a little bit of education, we realize how that tightness can lead to injuries, which will take him out of the game. And he won't be able to do his sport or lift those weights. Because when you're sitting on the sidelines injured, you can't do it.

So I would say tissue work, stretching, and strengthening included in your movement practice will be some of the best ways to discover where you might have something lurking that could harm you down the road.

Brock

All right. And you mentioned that you have a lot of videos, I've seen a few of them on your YouTube channel. What's the best way to find more information about you and get some help from you.

Shane

You can go to GotROM.com or just search "GotROM" on YouTube. Or my name is Shane Dowd on YouTube. What's really cool about YouTube and Google, or just search engines in general, is you can search "gotrom shoulder," "gotrom back," "gotrom hip mobility," "gotrom hamstring flexibility" and I've got tons of videos in every category that you could think of. And programs for all of those. If you're someone who wants a structured 30- or 45-day kind of plan, you can find videos and playlists and articles and all kinds of free stuff.

Brock

That's wonderful. Thank you, Shane. Thanks for coming on the Get-Fit Guy podcast. I know everybody's going to be looking you up and addressing their range of motions.

Shane

It's been my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong

Brock Armstrong is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute. Do you have a fitness question? Leave a message on the Get-Fit Guy listener line. Your question could be featured on the show.