CARs – The BEST Simple Daily Mobility Practice
As you might expect, our year of travel and transition has been leading to lots of changes in my personal movement practice and in my teaching.
Since we moved to the truck (moving to camping is what I like to call it), our movement patterns have changed an enormous amount.
In addition to an almost-entirely floor based lifestyle with a lot of lifting and squats, we’ve also changed our leisure activities. Instead of city walking on pavement we have large quantities of hiking, walking and moving on natural surfaces. Chris did a whole bunch of surfing.
And of course we have a daily movement practice to support our changes and increase our capacity. We’ve both found that the transition has triggered a few aches and pains, so we each work on our own stuff. But there’s one thing we both do every day, and it’s called CARs. Controlled Articular Rotations. CARs. Here’s the deal.
I discovered CARs at Christmas, 2018. In fact, they were my Christmas present to myself – I bought a membership in an online mobility membership program and we started doing them every day. Every. Damn. Day. Ok, we’ve probably missed a few, but no more than 3-4, since CHRISTMAS.
And basically we feel in love. Daily CARs are our meditation practice. They’re a mind blowing body reconnection practice. And they have made all kinds of improvements in those little nagging aches and pains we all have.
CARs are so good that I made us leave Mexico a month early so I could get certified to teach them. We went to Phoenix in March 2018 for the certification and boom! I’ve been a Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist ever since and have never looked back. There’s a lot more than CARs in store here but today I just want to focus on them. What they are, why they’re amazing, and of course, I’ve got one of my favourite CARs for you to try.
What Are Controlled Articular Rotations aka CARs?
Basically what CARs are joint circles. But they’re mindful, careful joint circles done systematically and with some technical tweaks. That means they help you get some really awesome benefits.
A CARs is an ACTIVE joint movement. That means you’re using your brain and muscles to make the largest possible rotation of the joint you’re working on. At the same time, you’re going to be working to keep everything else still.
Both parts of this need concentration and focus. As you practice CARs, you’ll find that you get better and better at them. They aren’t an exercise you do once, and they aren’t something you need to do perfectly to get a benefit from. The practice itself delivers both immediate physical benefits and improves your skills.
There’s lots ways to do CARs, but my recommendation is to start with a regular 10-15 minute daily practice of joint circles from your head to your toes. Or just start with one joint and see how you like it.
Why Do Controlled Articular Rotations?
The problem that we need to solve – the biggest reason our bodies are breaking – is because we took hunter-gather adapted bodies and made them sedentary.
Bodies need movement. They just do. Large amounts of it, in huge variety. More of it than most of us have time to manage, and more than we have ever had in our lives. Our bodies are movement starved, and so our physical capacity and our aches and pains reflect it. We have movement deficit disorder!!!
So how do you add more movement?
As a movement coach, I do my best to help you add more movement to every aspect of your life. Lifestyle changes are huge, but I also know you’re living a real life in a modern – sedentary – world, with modern time demands.
What CARs do is this: they give you a chance to – at least once a day – move basically ALL your joints ALL the ways.
This makes CARs an amazing movement supplement. They get you moving in places and ways that you might never get to otherwise. And that means healthier, happier joints and all the tissues that surround them.
So what are the benefits of CARs?
The best part is, CARs have some really cool benefits other than just giving your cells a chance to feel some movement (which is already a really big deal). Here are some of my favourites.
CARs help you connect your brain to your body
Your brain can only help you move well if it’s getting good information from your body. If your body is sending up bad info, your brain isn’t going to be able to provide good outputs. So the better you can connect your body with your brain, the more efficient, safe and effective your movement.
CARs focus on areas deep in the joint that have an extra good connection with the brain. As you do your circles, you’ll also use isometric contraction to create lots of sensation so your brain is getting LOTs of inputs. That means you’re going to get so much awesome new connection between your brain and your body as you practice! I’ve found it incredibly rewarding and enjoyable.
Over time, improved brain-body connection will contribute to your balance, your fluidity and your ability to control your body as you move.
CARs teach you about the state of your body
The more you do CARs, the more you will notice how and where your body tries to avoid movement. This teaches you a LOT about your current capacities and where you need to focus in order to change them. Having a clear path forward is incredibly helpful when you are ready to make change!
(If you’re already working on your alignment, you’ll notice that this is where CARs and Restorative Exercise cross over; if other parts of you move when you’re working on a given joint, you’re learning about the current shape of your body and your boundaries).
CARs are a mindfulness practice
You can do CARs pretty quickly, or you can do them really slowly. Either way, they require focus and concentration to do them well. I’m pretty sure this counts as meditation.
My partner and I have both really enjoyed the deep focus and exploration that comes from our CARs practice, as well as moving through the skill and learning curve as we get better at them.
CARs help you move better after you’re done
CARs help your body and brain access and connect to under-moved tissues. That means your body will naturally be able to recruit more of its stuff once you get it out in the real world.
Then you get one of those great virtuous cycles – the more of you that you access in the real world, the more you build range and capacity. We do CARs before every hike or MovNat workout, every time. Coffee + CARs every morning!
CARs improve the health and function of your joints
That’s pretty self-explanatory. CARs promote healthy, sustainable joints that can carry out the tasks we need in life. CARs also decrease inflammation
CARs are systematic
Do you ever feel confused about how to focus your movement work? I know that whole body movement can be overwhelming – it often feels like you need to work on EVERYTHING.
Honestly, we probably do need to work on everything.
But if you start the day with CARs, you can know that you’ve moved an awful lot of your parts in really effective ways, right into your nooks and crannies. They’re kind of a movement superfood supplement.
CARs help you maintain your current active range of motion
Bodies work on a use-it-or-lose it basis – that’s how they save energy. If you want to keep what you have, you need to keep using it, and CARs will help you both find and keep whatever ya got.
Both Chris and I feel that CARs have improved our current range throughout our bodies and help us move more smoothly in our end ranges. We also feel like they’ve helped us work through some annoying nagging joint issues, which was a nice bonus.
(What’s active range of motion?)
This is a really important concept – it means ‘how far you can move through a joint’s range by using the muscles that move that joint’.
Lots of our movement is passive – the world moves us around – instead of active – us moving us around. But it’s the ACTIVE RANGE that gives us control, smoothness and resilience in a joint.
Someone with a lot of passive range – how far they can stretch a joint, no muscles required – can look impressive but often isn’t super safe or helpful to longer term wellness goals.
Active range is what we’re trying to improve here because it’s going to help build robusticity, fluidity and sustainability.
Your male partner might actually like CARs!!
For whatever reason, it seems like women are on the forefront of the movement revolution. I get emails all the time from women who are super into movement and living a movement based lifestyle but whose male partners are definitely not on board.
Well, from personal experience I can tell you that my boyfriend LOVES CARs. He might love them more than I do.
It’s super fun that we can do CARs together, and I’m also really happy that he’s taking better care of his parts by doing them daily. I think he likes them because CARs feel so good, take so little time and provide observable improvements in movement and function. Win, win, win.
Best of all, CARs are accessible!
Once you get the hang of them, CARs only take 10-15 minutes a day (though you may love them so much that you do them more often!)
I really can’t stop thinking of them as basically like flossing. You floss your teeth every day. And you now get to start flossing your joints with CARs. It just makes sense, right!?
And what’s more, they require zero equipment and you can basically throw them in any time, anywhere.
Try CARs yourself – here’s one for your wrists!
Although I love all the CARs, the wrist ones have really blown my mind. They’re way harder than I would ever have expected! They’re also really easy to fit into real life – for instance, they make a great computer break!
Give them a try right here.
So – what do you think?
Loved ’em? hated ’em? Let me know in the comments!
P.S. If you loved them as much as I do, check out Joints For Life, my joint mobility CARs course with detailed instruction on how you can create your own daily CARs practice.
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Petra is a movement educator and personal trainer with a passion for helping people find greater ease, joy and health in their bodies. She believes that better movement can help every body - and she's always happy to chat about it. She's on the road right now, travelling the world and moving in as many ways as possible. When she's not out exploring or working on her movement practice, you can probably find her hanging on some monkey bars.