I recently had a very candid conversation with one of my rehabilitation colleagues who expressed irritation, and rightfully so, at the attitude of some clients who regularly exercise and are at the same time experiencing pain and/or discomfort with their current program and activities of daily living. I will share my contribution to the conversation…
This is for all of the “weekend warriors,” or “regular exercisers” out there. Just because you regularly go to the gym “x” times per week to see a “trainer”, take regular Pilates or Bar classes, play games in CrossFit on a daily basis, etc., does not mean that you know how to properly exercise, strengthen, or condition…anything.
As I am fond of saying, context is everything, so allow me to provide some. As a Rehabilitation and Health Consultant I see many people for various pain issues. Many of these people have rather significant pathologies in various parts of the body, most notably the cervical and lumbar spines. Many of these people have also failed to achieve results through standard approaches to their issue(s). After performing a rather thorough and comprehensive assessment, I am in a position to create a comprehensive program that will give my client what is needed to overcome the given pain syndrome(s) that plagues them. In most cases, these individuals are “Weekend Warriors” and have some sort of regular “exercise” routine that they are currently, or were at one time, engaged in.
A key point here is that there is no correlation between the consistency with which someone participates in regular exercise and the effectiveness of what they are doing. While I applaud just about any effort to avoid being the average American whose a$$ is only exercised when moving from the couch to the fridge, one must understand that there actually is a science (and an art) to exercise Program Design. How does the outcome of what you are doing match the objective? This is true from the rehabilitation stages all the way through the strength and conditioning of an elite athlete.
When someone who has studied these things designs a program to bring about a specific outcome, it pays to listen to what they say. What stretches, mobilizations, movements, and exercises go into a program have rhyme and reason. The acute exercise variables that are prescribed (sets, reps, tempo, rest interval, etc.) are selected to bring about a very specific result. This means that randomly throwing in one of your favorite exercises during the program is not going to help you. This means that only performing your corrective stretches and/or mobilizations when you feel like it and in no particular order is not going to help you.
Just because you are doing something regularly does not mean that it is effective. For instance, one can regularly engage in urinating on a forest fire. This, no matter how regularly it is performed or well intended the act, is completely ineffective and useless.
In many cases, it is not the individual’s fault. S/he is simply ignorant and does not know what s/he does not know. The issue here is that when it comes to exercise and movement, what you don’t know (or what your “trainer” doesn’t know) can actually hurt you long-term.
I’ve had clients bring in copies of their workout routines designed by Trainer So-and-So and the routine is a series of nonsensical exercises in random order designed to basically just kick the s#!^ out of the client. Anyone can do that. Anyone can make someone tired and sweaty, but tired and sweaty does not always equal being effective! I have seen the same scenario all the way up at the professional and Olympic sport level. This is a widespread issue with no end in sight.
Never mind the fact that the client or athlete has chronic low back pain, a knee issue, and a left hand that goes numb and starts to feel like it is being set on fire when performing any overhead work (shoulder press, pull downs, etc.). These types of “routines” are executed 3,4, and sometimes 5 days a week with a bunch of cardio stuff mixed in. Most of the programs that I have seen appear to be designed by someone who suffers from a severe blood sugar regulation and energy production issues (what the average person would refer to as an attention deficit disorder).
I used to spend a considerable amount of time and energy explaining to my clients why the training program from Jo-Blow Trainer is NOT helping and in fact hurting them. Now I simply ask one straight-to-the-point question, and the conversation sounds something like this…
Client: “Oh, I know how to exercise. I see a trainer two times a week for weights and I do some cardio on my off days, and sometimes some more weights too.”
Me: “How long has all of this been going on?”
Client: “Oh, about two and a half years or so.”
Me: “How’s that training program working for you?”
[The answer usually highlights the complete disconnect that the average person has with their body and how it works.]
Client: “Well, it’s working fine because I’ve lost some weight and I really sweat a lot when I train so…it must be doing something to help me.”
Me: “Yes, okay…so how does your back, knee, neck, and arm feel?”
Client: “I mean they hurt all the time but I just push through it to get a good workout and my trainer makes sure I don’t do anything to hurt myself.”
I will give you time to read that answer again and let the utter ridiculousness of it sink in a bit more.
Me: “So what you are saying is…you have what I call “weekend warrior syndrome.” You love to exercise, but all of the exercise that you love to do is not in your best interest for overcoming your pain syndrome at the current time, so you are still in pain…and it’s getting worse. Are you familiar with the definition of insanity?”
Movement and exercise can have very beneficial or devastating effects on the body. Using and performing the right movement at the right time can help unlock the body’s natural healing properties. Using or performing movements incorrectly, or at the wrong time, or with an improper frequency (how often the movement is performed) will create altered mechanics, dysfunction, and pain in the neuromusculoskeletal system…period. Just because your “trainer” says you should do the movement/exercise, or you do that exercise because you really “feel it” does not necessarily mean that it is the right movement/exercise for you.
How do you know if you are performing the right movement/exercise program for your body’s needs? Simple…have your posture, joint range of motion, joint play, and movement mechanics assessed by someone trained to do so. Many individuals can help here – well-trained Physical or Physiotherapists, Chiropractors, Osteopaths (European or Canadian preferably), Kinesiologists, etc. can all assess these things with great precision. Keep in mind though that the letters behind someone’s name do not guarantee competency.
The trick is finding someone who understands exercise and exercise program design/periodization from both a rehabilitation and a strength and conditioning perspective. Or perhaps you have a team of professionals who are open-minded enough to not try to be an expert in everyone else’s field that communicate with one another for your benefit. Such individuals can analyze your body, movement, and your current training routine. Based on those findings, a properly designed and periodized training program can be implemented that will improve mechanics and function and foster long-term musculoskeletal health. This is of particular importance if you experience any pain before, during, or after training.
Take home message…assume nothing when it comes to movement, particularly if you are in pain. Seek help from the appropriate movement professional(s) and listen to the expertise and advice for which you are paying.