Full Range of Motion Exercise: Part 1 | The Paleo Diet®
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Full Range of Motion Exercise: Part 1

By Stephanie Vuolo, B.A.
November 17, 2014
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You sit at a desk all day. Relax on your couch while watching TV at night. Travel by car or public transit. What are the chances you could improve the physical demands being placed on your body to be more in line with how we were designed to live and move? Pretty good. We know activity was innate to hunter-gatherers to survive and sustain their lifestyle.1 And yet, while these instincts are still coded into our genes, western societies no longer demand the same physical activity.2

The majority of the time we are awake is spent in either sedentary behavior (58%) or light-intensity activity (39%), and only 3% in exercise time.3 The lack of movement in our society plays a significant role in an increased risk for obesity, poor physical fitness, depression, debility, and other disease. 4 Specifically, we are deficient in engaging in functional movements, positions that require more than one group of muscles and work from the core to the extremity. The three basic movements of squatting, lifting heavy objects, and carrying heavy things all require high ranges of joint motion.

In modern day, western society, the threat for survival is slim, comparatively. Nonetheless, these activities build overall strength, increase joint mobility, and can enhance our overall ability to perform essential daily activities as we age.56 Successful aging is measured by the physical, psychological, and social success with which adults are able to independently take care of themselves.7 In fact, the elderly in the Kung! hunter-gathers have been described as playful, vigorous and independent.8

Strong muscles help keep weak joints stable, comfortable, and protect them against further damage. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that every exercise should be performed through a full range of motion when engaging in resistance training,9 which allows for strength adaptations to occur at every angle the joint moves through. These movements can potentially reduce injury and maintain flexibility for healthy joint integrity.10

Full range of motion exercises, like a deep squats, help maintain normal joint function by increasing and preserving joint mobility and flexibility.11 Passively sitting on chairs and couches, where we all spend a majority of our time whether at work or at home, completely turns off the functioning of the bones, muscles, and joints. This has biological consequences beyond reducing the strength of our muscles and the health of our joints.12 Physiologically, the loss of local contractile stimulation, induced through sitting, leads to both the suppression of skeletal muscle lipoprotein lipase (LPL) activity, which is necessary for triglyceride uptake and HDL-cholesterol production and reduces the uptake of glucose into the skeletal muscle.1314

It is not uncommon in non-Western cultures for artificial hip and knee transplants to be rejected due to the resulting limited range of motion. Their daily living, compared to ours, involves many postures that require a much higher range of flexion at the joints.15 Even stair ascent and descent has been shown to be ergonomically demanding enough to work the joints of the ankle, knees and hips.16 Kneeling, squatting and sitting cross-legged on the floor are all basic movements we should be able to perform if our bodies are functioning at a healthy capacity.

Hunter-gatherers would not have been able to survive without being able to move completely, without restrictions, in a variety of positions. This same standard of being able to use our bodies to their fullest capacity should still be our goal today. Challenge yourself to break the norm of sitting in a chair throughout the day, and explore the possibilities of what you can do with your body. Get a standing desk, hang from a pull up bar in your door jam, squat, or even carry heavy items periodically throughout the day. Not only will you feel better, your body will thank you.


[1] Platek, Steven M., et al. "Walking the walk to teach the talk: implementing ancestral lifestyle strategies as the newest tool in evolutionary studies." Evolution: Education and Outreach 4.1 (2011): 41-51.

[2] O'Keefe, James H., et al. "Exercise like a hunter-gatherer: a prescription for organic physical fitness." Progress in cardiovascular diseases 53.6 (2011): 471-479.

[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Data 2003-2004, 2005-2006. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS); 2009-2010. //www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes.htm Accessed November 5 2014.

[4] Eaton SB, Shostak M, Konner M: The first fitness formula. The paleolithic prescription. New York, NY: Harper & Row; 1988.

[5] Penninx, Brenda WJH, et al. "Physical exercise and the prevention of disability in activities of daily living in older persons with osteoarthritis." Archives of Internal Medicine 161.19 (2001): 2309-2316.

[6] Ericsson, Y. B., L. E. Dahlberg, and E. M. Roos. "Effects of functional exercise training on performance and muscle strength after meniscectomy: a randomized trial." Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports 19.2 (2009): 156-165.

[7] Dogra, Shilpa, and Liza Stathokostas. "Sedentary behavior and physical activity are independent predictors of successful aging in middle-aged and older adults." Journal of aging research 2012 (2012).

[8] Biesele, Megan, and Nancy Howell. "The old people give you life”: Aging among! Kung hunter-gatherers." Other ways of growing old (1981): 77-98.

[9] Franklin, B.; Whaley, M.; Howley, E.; Balady, G. ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription: Testing and Prescription. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; 2000

[10] Cotter, Joshua A., et al. "Knee joint kinetics in relation to commonly prescribed squat loads and depths." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 27.7 (2013): 1765-1774.

[11] O'Shea, Pat. "Sports performance series: The parallel squat." Strength & Conditioning Journal 7.1 (1985): 4-6.

[12] Dunstan, David W., Alicia A. Thorp, and Genevieve N. Healy. "Prolonged sitting: is it a distinct coronary heart disease risk factor?." Current opinion in cardiology 26.5 (2011): 412-419.

[13] Bey L, Hamilton MT. Suppression of skeletal muscle lipoprotein lipase activity during physical inactivity: a molecular reason to maintain daily low-intensity activity. J Physiol. 2003;551(Pt 2):673–82.

[14] Hamilton MT, Hamilton DG, Zderic TW. Exercise physiology versus inactivity physiology: an essential concept for understanding lipoprotein lipase regulation. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2004;32(4):161–6.

[15] Hemmerich, A., et al. "Hip, knee, and ankle kinematics of high range of motion activities of daily living." Journal of orthopaedic research 24.4 (2006): 770-781.

[16] Protopapadaki, Anastasia, et al. "Hip, knee, ankle kinematics and kinetics during stair ascent and descent in healthy young individuals." Clinical Biomechanics 22.2 (2007): 203-210.

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