Episode highlights

01:54 – Henri’s background

03:56 – Why people have issues with various joints

08:24 – Understanding mobility and functional movement

10:56 – The correct way to do a squat or use the plank

13:42 – Adding weights vs focusing on the form of the movement

16:29 – The number one thing in weight loss

21:41 – Joint mobility impacts muscle health

27:12 – We have to enjoy what we do

29:51 – Six key actions for positive change


Fitness Guide


Welcome to the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast, where you can learn how to improve your diet, lose fat, and get fitter in a sustainable and fun way without spending hours in the gym. Here is your host, Darren Kirby.

Darren: This is season one, episode eight of the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast. Today we’re going to be talking about joint mobility and the importance of functional movement and our guest is Henri Henell, who is a physiotherapist from Norway. Hi, Henri. How are you?

Henri: Hi, Darren. I’m fine thanks. How about you?

Darren: Yeah, very well, thank you. Very well. How is the weather in Norway today?

Henri: I think it’s a little bit cloudy, a little bit sunny. 16 degrees Celsius. A little windy.

Darren: Okay. Well, it’s not like that in here in the UK. It’s very nice today, which is obviously a rarity, so we will take that. Henri, I understand that you live close to the mountains or something like that, you were telling me?

Henri: Yeah. I’m living and working in a little municipality, Lærdal. In the end of the Sognefjord, one of the longest fjords of the world. I am surrounded by three sides of the mountains and I see 800 metres, maybe it’s a little bit more height.

Darren: Sounds an idyllic location. Like I said, thanks very much for coming on today, Henri. For the benefit of the listeners, it would be great to get a brief introduction about you. And your background. Obviously, we know that you live in Norway and you live close to the mountains but if we can get some background on your career and your profession, and how you’ve come to where you are today.

Henri: Okay. As Darren said, my name is Henri. I’m a physical therapist. Actually, I’m from Finland but I (graduated) with my studies in 1996 and 1997 we took a move in Norway. And since, we have been here and working here. First, I worked with the municipality as a physical therapist and now since 2001, I started my own clinic. To me, all the time has been really important to keep things simple and that’s why the mobility and functional training has been close to my heart.

Darren: Okay. Is that a specialisation that you’ve focused on?

Henri: It’s my specialisation and I’m also using a lot of trigger points treatments. It’s not just training; it’s also touching the people and feeling the tension and muscles and treating it.

Darren: Who are your typical clients that you see then, Henri?

Henri: My typical client is middle aged. (But) I think the people who are working with families, with some kind of pain in their body–it can be knees, hips, neck, shoulders–it’s all the people in all ages.

Darren: What do you think that that’s mainly due to, Henri? Is that a change in our lifestyle, the way that we’re living day to day or why do you think that these constant issues are coming up?

Henri: We are too much inactive.

Darren: So, we’re not moving enough. We’re living too much of a sedentary lifestyle. We’re kind of sitting in one position or just being in one position, not moving much either at a desk or on the sofa or on phones but it’s not moving around. I agree.

I think the challenges that we have with modern day society now is that we pretty much have access to everything we need quite close by. Whether that be, on phones, on the internet, whether that be near where you live, you might not necessarily walk to the places that you want to go to. You might get in the car and drive and you sit in an office, maybe, and you stay in one position for eight hours and you get in your car and you come home. The time in which we are moving around, is a very, very short space of time, unless, of course, you’re actually consciously making the decisions and the efforts to move more. Whether that be kind of walking, whether that be moving upstairs instead of taking a lift or the escalator. Yeah, I agree.

My personal view, Henri, and it’d be good to get your thoughts on this, is that I think we’re kind of entering a bit of a crisis stage in society because I don’t see this getting any better. I definitely see it getting worse.

Henri: I think you’re right, I agree with you. I see also in the younger people that they are using more phones and computers and that doesn’t move so much and every time they move, it has to be organized training. They are not going to training. They mostly drive by cars then they do the workout and then they come home and sit on the phone. That’s the same. Maybe we could forget good training. Maybe we should use more activity.

Darren: Yeah. I think that’s a very, very interesting point. I think within the context of what we’re talking about, and particularly with the people that I see, people part of our community, we are talking about fitness and nutrition and diet. But I think you’re absolutely right. I think it it’s not just about that. It can be as simple as just walking to a place where you want to get to instead of driving. Just going outside, even, particularly for people that work in offices in this kind of air-conditioned environment, it’s about getting outside, getting some normal daylight, getting some fresh air.

We’re kind of going a little bit off on a tangent in terms of movement, but it is that kind of thing of actually getting outside and moving for more than just two or three minutes. It could be half an hour, it could be an hour. Like you say, bringing it back to the exercise thing, doesn’t have to be really hard-core intensive exercise. It can be just a simple thing of walking.

Henri: I have been starting now–I’m 50 so I and my wife, we are starting to walk more and more. We can take about eight kilometres walk, it’s one hour, one and half hour. Doesn’t matter; you reset your brain and you don’t think anything else. You get fresh air and the birds are singing. Oh, that’s a great experience.

Darren: Absolutely. It definitely does kind of lift your mood. Thinking about mobility, functional movement and things like that, can you explain the definition of what that means?

Henri: In my opinion, mobility is as simple as ability to move and it can be normal movement, it can be hypo movement when you don’t have the full range of motion, or it can be hyper movement when you have more movement than target. That’s kind of what I think mobility is. You asked also the functional movement. My opinion is that functional movement is movement which remains normal daily action. I don’t know how much in the UK is the plank exercise.

Darren: In gyms you generally see people do that quite a lot. I use that for core strength.

Henri: How functional is that movement? What you train when you are in that position?

Darren: That’s an interesting one because, again, it’s a sedentary movement. You’re trying to hold your core strength up for a period of time. Just over a minute. Are you suggesting then that that’s not really the definition of a functional movement? That’s very sedentary and we should maybe look at different variations for that?

Henri: I think that’s not functional movement and I have argued with my colleagues and people who are working with training. I can stay three, four minutes, that’s no problem but I don’t see any point to do it.

Darren: No. I think if you’re looking at… Okay, it’s a function but it’s definitely not a movement and I wouldn’t say that apart from some core strength, you’re not going to get any mobility.

Henri: I think functional movement, plank? No, it’s not functional movement. When you compare for example, deep squats, and I mean butt down, not 90 degrees of the hips and knees; butt down. That’s functional movement. You can use it when you, for example, play with your kids on the ground. We have two seasons with the tyres here in Norway. We have winter tyres and summer tyres, so when you change your tyres, and so on. That’s the functional because you have to go down and you have to come up.

Darren: I know that as kind of what we would call a compound movement because you’re using various different muscle groups in your body to enable you to do that movement. For example, with the squat, when you’re coming down, you’re obviously trying to control that squat and that engages the glut muscles.

Henri: When you go down, you use eccentric when you break to keep the balance.

Darren: Right. And then once you’re down into the squat position, then to come back up again, you’re pushing out from your heels and then you’re using your core muscles to keep that stability on the way back up.

Henri: When you are down, you have the full motion on your ankles, on your knees, and your hips. At the same time, you stretch the whole back, on your butts and up.

Darren: That to me is a functional movement. That is various different functions within the body that you’re using in order to do that movement. Actually, one thing that I want to ask you as well, is that with regards to that and weight… You will see a lot of people in traditional gyms, the perception is that when you do a squat, you need to add weight to it. I would actually question whether or not that is the case. Because until you can do that on your own with your own body weight, why should you then add any additional weight to it?

Henri: When you get more weight in the future so you can still do the squat. I never use extra weight when I’m doing squats. Its enough to me to manage to do it without the weight.

Darren: Right, and I think the most important thing is the form of the movement, as opposed to adding weight to the movement. Because what you’ll actually see in many cases, when people are doing squats, and this is particularly males… I don’t know if this is a testosterone thing or what, but you will generally see particularly young males, they will add lots and lots of weight to the bar that they’re using for the squat. But then when you look at the squat and the form of the squat, you will actually see that they’re probably only doing a half squat. They’re not engaging all of the muscle groups and therefore they’re not getting the full benefits of the squat itself.

I think we’ve kind of talked around the importance of mobility and just getting moving and what functional movement is. If we look at that now within the context of improving our fitness, improving our weight loss and things like that, how do you think that these movements can aid people listening at home with that? Because the general kind of thought process around movement and exercise is that you need to go to a gym, maybe, or you need to go out running, and you need to do it really hard, you need to work really hard or you need to add lots of weight. But as we’ve just discussed around the functional movement perspective, is that the case? Do we need to even add any weights at all? The second part to that is, do we actually need to be going crazy hard in the gym or crazy, hard running? What’s your view on that?

Henri: You are carrying the best gym with you all the time and it’s your own body. We don’t actually need extra equipment. The reason is, okay, you spare a lot of money because you don’t have to buy any equipment and you can do it at any time anywhere.

Then you are asking about when you get some weight and want to lose some weight. I think the most important thing is the diet. That means most. Number one. You have to have good diet. I like organic food but you don’t get it everywhere, but something fresh which don’t have any substitutes. Then comes movement training with your own body so you can lose weight.

Darren: So it’s kind of offsetting the weight that you have yourself against yourself when you’re training and then obviously, the diet side of things. The more natural foods you can eat, and I completely agree with your “organic is definitely the way to go,” but not everybody can afford organic. I think the kind of overarching message really is that providing you’re eating as natural food as you can, i.e., it’s not gone through a process in a factory, and you’re getting all the ingredients yourself together, and you’re cooking some healthy food, I think that together with using your own body weight against you, and doing these compound movements is, like you said before we started recording, keeping it simple.

We as you humans and stuff, we tend to overcomplicate things. But if we go back to basics, it’s actually all of this stuff and I keep trying to say this to our community. That is, just keep it simple. Don’t try and overcomplicate things, don’t try to find the latest and greatest kind of magic pill to solve all this. Take it back to basics.

Henri: You don’t have to think that you find a new moment. Everybody’s already found it and the old ones, I use it because it’s works.

Darren: Exactly. I couldn’t agree more, I think, yeah, go back to basics. What I say in our gym guide that we’ve got on our website, that is coming back to diet, and that is for the first two weeks, if you are starting to look to improve your health and your overall fitness for the first two weeks, I advise people not to do any exercise at all but just to focus on the diet first. Get your diet first, and then start to add some exercise. And I think you’ll find again the theme keeping it simple. You start to see some significant results.

Henri: It is right that organic food is really expensive. But if you think the natural food, find fresh water, drink a lot of fresh water. That’s a good start.

Darren: Yeah, and I think that is very much underestimated on how important that is particularly around concentration. I can’t remember the statistic; you’ll probably be able to remind me on this. It’s something like 10 or 20% dehydrated. You lose about 50% of your concentration. So yeah, definitely water. I personally try to make sure that I drink at least three litres of water a day. One of the key things is when I get up in the morning, because you’ve been sleeping overnight, your body naturally dehydrates. It’s very important the first drink that you have of the day is water.

Okay, so we talked about how the functional movement element can help with our fitness and our weight loss. If we talk about the basics of using mobility and functional movement, I think you’ll probably say the basics about mobility is the ability to move and therefore we can just start going for walks, like you said, or we can just start going outside. That’s obviously the mobility element of it. But say for example you have a job which is very much desk based, so you’re very much sedentary. When you get up from that job after eight hours or five hours or however long you work, how can people start to use the functional movement element to kind get their body and their joints to move?

Henri: I think we should use more so-called joint mobility. Joint mobility, we know we have over a hundred joints in our body. How many times we think and concentrate how the joint is moving? We are all the time talking about how our muscles are. If you remember that almost every muscle goes over one or several of joints, so how can muscle health be good if joint is suffering?

The fact that the only way to get circulation at the joint is to move it. It doesn’t have any veins or blood circulation. You have to move your joints. The last 10 years, I have started my day–when the coffee is getting ready–I do a little bit joint mobility session every morning. I’m turning my head around, every movements in the neck takes shoulders and arms at the same moment. Thorax, my back, my hips, my knee, my ankles, fingers, the whole body, I think two or three minutes. Maximum two to three minutes.

Darren: I think that’s great and probably about six or eight months ago, I started to do that. With the sport that I do, obviously a lot of swimming, cycling and running, particularly cycling, you’re in a very fixed position for a long period of time. I found that my mobility was very limited, actually. Like you in the morning, I probably take about 20 minutes to do solution stretching, and again, it’s simply just standing upright moving the head from side to side, moving the head round in a circular position, rolling the shoulders. Lying flat on your back, stretching your body out, bringing your knees into your chest, just very simple, simple things. That for me, over the last six to eight months, has made a huge difference.

People listening to this might think, well that’s just crazy. Why would you even bother doing that? I can tell you from experience that it’s made a big difference to the way that I just move daily. I don’t sit down and get up and it’s all stiff to get up. I’m much more flexible just in general now. That would just have a huge knock on effect with the sport that I do but also longevity as well. I get older, it’s going to help my joints and that from stopping to kind of, I guess, seize up. Just become a lot more moveable.

Henri: It was one Ukrainian (doctor) who said–he died in 2002–Nikolai Amosov. He had a theory that if we use our body through our organs and our joints, so we can regenerate the things that has already gone wrong, when we use it a lot.

Darren: Yeah, absolutely. I think we take our bodies for granted, definitely. As we’ve already discussed, we’re living increasingly sedentary lifestyles and if we don’t start doing something as simple as what we’ve just discussed around a few stretches in the morning, as we age, things become a lot more stiffer, a lot more difficult to move, and then at that point, it’s way more difficult to reverse the problems that you’ve got then.

We’ve talked about what we can do as just basic stuff in the morning or you can even do it in the evening, and we’ve talked a little bit around the gym and about using weights or not using weights when you’re doing certain types of compound movements in the gym. But, if we look at traditional weight training and the traditional gym methods with machines, with free weights, and things like that, what’s your view on using them? Do you think that they should not be used at all or do you think it’s important that we have a mix in them? What’s your view on that?

Henri: Somebody prefers to have some resistance and weights because everything we do, we have to enjoy it. What we do. By myself, I’m using kettlebells, club bells, battle rope and my own body, and some stick training with mobility. That’s mine. I think if you want to use free weights or machines, just do it. Keep on doing it. The most important thing is that you do it. Take action.

Darren: Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny you say that. I literally, before this interview, I recorded a video that I’m going to put out on my socials later on, and it was around- you have to do stuff that works for you. A couple of days ago, I posted an article around doing a 20-minute five-exercise workout that you can do anywhere. And it was interesting, because I had a lot of comments that came back saying, “Well, I don’t want to train at home or I don’t want to do workouts anywhere. I want to go to the gym or I want to use weights, I want to do classes.” The reason I shot the video is to say, that’s absolutely fine. Like you’ve just said, you have to do what works for you and you have to do what you enjoy. Because there’s no point in doing it if you don’t enjoy it. It won’t be sustainable. You won’t continue doing it.

Henri: We have to have choices, we have to have alternatives to do the things the way we want to do. I and you, we just give some tips to people. Maybe somebody has a benefit with this way.

Darren: Yes. I agree. There’s definitely no one size fits all. I think that’s a really important message and, yeah, enjoyment is key. Absolutely. Okay, so what five key actions then, Henri, do you think that the listeners can take away today to make a positive change and incorporate it into their own daily lives?

Henri: Number one, if you want, call (it) activity instead of training. Use the word activity if you want, use training if you want. Number two, walk when you can. Number three, you do deep squats. If you don’t have a balance to do it, use a table. Hold on the table if needed. Number four, drink fresh water. Number five, keep it simple.

Darren: That’s the best piece of advice to keep it simple like we already discussed, isn’t it?

Henri: Number six. Take care of your joints.

Darren: Yes. And I think the interesting point that you made earlier is around… And this is something that I was obviously aware of but wasn’t conscious of, and that is, the muscle surrounds the joint. All too often, we’re concerned about conditioning, and maybe growing the muscle, while actually if underneath, if your joint mobility is not there, your body biomechanics, you’re going to be compensating in some ways, aren’t you? For the stiffness, or the lack of mobility. I think that’s really important.

On your five key actions there, Henri, I think the squat is one which is an easy movement to do incorrectly and I think that, if you aren’t able to do a full squat today, the important thing that I’ve learned is not to force it. It takes a long time if you’ve got stiffness in your joints or in your body, to be able to get to the point where your body can move, that you can do a proper, deep squat. I think that’s something to bear in mind for the people listening. That is, don’t try and force it. Everybody has a different range of movement and if you just persistently do it over time, you’ll gradually find that your range of movement will improve.

Henri: I agree and I think that maybe 40-60s people did correctly (the) deep squat. Then some point, somebody found out that you ruin your knees if you go lower than 90 degrees and that was the first point to forget the deep squat. If you think that we should do the squat for 90 degrees, then the range of movements of the knee has stopped the 90 degrees but it goes further. We can do the deep squat and we can learn to do it. There’s a lot of fine simple techniques to get the deep squat to everybody. If people want to learn, I can put some points to take care of.

Darren: That would be fantastic. If you could do that and we can firm up on our blog and we can also point them over to your website as well. Before we wrap up, Henri, I’d like to ask you what didn’t I ask you that you feel I should have asked you that would benefit the listeners?

Henri: That was a tricky one because I think we talked almost all areas and we agreed on a lot of things.

Darren: Okay. Well that’s fantastic. I’m glad I managed to ask you all the questions so that we could cover all the various different areas. I really appreciate your time, Henri, and I hope the listeners get a lot of benefit from this. I think the overriding message that we want to get out today, that is having the ability to move and move but also being aware that we need to move our joints. We need to keep our joints supple because the older we get, the more difficult it becomes and you can do it very easily in two to three minutes a day or 20 minutes a day, however it works for you. How can people connect with you, Henri?

Henri: They can go to my homepage. It’s my name, HenriHenell.com. It’s in Norwegian but you can send a message to me there and I have made little booklets about joint mobility which (you) can order from the shop in different languages, in English, in Norwegian, in Finnish, in Portuguese.

Darren: Perfect. Well, I’ll make sure that the links go into the show notes and a copy of the transcript will go up on the website. Thanks very much for your time today, Henri. It was great talking to you and I really enjoyed the interview and talking about mobility and functional movement. Thanks very much for your time and I look forward to speaking to you again soon.

Thanks for listening to the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please hit subscribe and I would really appreciate it if you could leave a review on iTunes. All the links mentioned in the episode will be in the show notes and a full transcript is over at Fitterhealthierdad.com.