Many people would assume that a lot of the questions I get as an orthopedic physical therapist have to do with injuries, degenerative diseases, and physical rehabilitation. Indeed, those topics make up much of my daily conversation with patients. Also, in social settings, once someone knows what I do, the questions inevitably arise: “I have had this pain in my foot for a month; what do you think it is?”
But I do get many questions from all sorts of people about what is the best way for them to exercise. Of course, much of my answer depends on what their activities or goals are. I might recommend a different exercise regimen for a golfer versus a lacrosse player. But, there are several themes that are relevant no matter what sports or activities someone does. In general, most exercise programs can be split among three types of exercise: Strength training, cardiovascular training, and stretching. Each of these has guidelines which are evidenced based and should be followed in order that the individual receives the maximal benefit from their effort exercising.
Strength training typically involves performing movements of the limbs or even the whole body against some sort of resistance. That can be free weights like barbells, dumbbells or weights that can be attached to the arms or legs with velcro straps. This would also include exercises performed with rubber bands, bungee cords, and maneuvers like pushups, chin ups or dips that use a person’s bodyweight as the resistance. Research shows that the optimal strength training results are achieved if a certain body part is exercised two times per week, with a defined period of rest between the workouts. For example, if you are strength training your leg muscles with an exercise like squats, you would perform the squats on Monday and then not again until Thursday. This principle could be applied to any body part so that you could “assemble” exercises together for several areas of the body and could have a workout on Monday and Thursday that would target these specific areas.
For cardiovascular training, the American College of Sports Medicine has established that thirty minutes of sustained activity be performed five days per week for a total of 150 minutes per week. This could include activity such as walking, swimming, playing basketball, running or using an elliptical machine. This protocol ensures you will get the maximal gain from your time spent improving the efficiency of your heart and lungs. This form of training is essential to any fitness program. Not only for enhancing your endurance for a sport or other activity, but is important if you want to live longer! I always tell my patients “no one ever died of small muscles!” Cardiovascular disease remains the number one cause of death for men and women in the US, so hopefully, that drives home the importance of cardiovascular exercise.
Stretching can, and should, be done daily. We have become known as a society of people who sits. We sit more now than ever before in the history of mankind. We start our sitting as children, and it just gets worse as we age with the “umbilical cord” reattached to a variety of electronic devices that all encourage us to sit. You may have heard the expression that “sitting is the next smoking”. I could not agree more. So, I strongly encourage all of my patients to stretch daily. You might stretch your upper body on Monday, lower body on Tuesday, back on Wednesday, and then repeat that cycle starting Thursday. I have even encouraged some people who are very tight to stretch the same body part every day!
I hope this gives you a clear idea of the best way to set up your personal exercise program. If you are going to commit to the time and sweat involved, you should get the biggest bang for your buck! And if you see me at a party….don’t be afraid to ask me about your aching foot!
John Bradley, PT