Movement Advice From A Physical Therapist

by | Apr 30, 2024 | Blog

If I could give you one piece of advice for your movement practice over time it’s this:

Make sure you’re moving in new & different ways regularly.

A big part of mobility work is increasing the options you have for movement. It’s not just about being flexible enough to do the splits. It’s about exposing your body to different positions you may otherwise not explore in your regular daily life or even during your normal workouts.

This matters for a handful of reasons that I’m covering in this blog: exposure to different types of discomfort, reducing the likelihood of pain & injuries, and maintaining the ability to do things as you get older (things that general fitness typically misses).

Most of my clients are either doing too much variability in their workouts, or not enough. We’re covering both in this blog.

Why Does Variability Matter: Discomfort Tolerance

It is so easy to get into a routine, to get comfortable with what you’re used to. This is true even in fitness. While the workouts you do might still feel challenging, over time you will get comfortable with that type of challenge.

Examples:

  • If you are used to lifting heavy, slowing down your lifts or doing isometric holds will feel like a whole new form of hard & miserable.
  • If you are used to conventional barbell squats and deadlifts, single leg variations will make you question the strength you thought you had.
  • If you are used to anti-movement exercises for your spine because the internet made you feel like that was THE way to train your core and your back would break if you strayed outside of neutral, you’ll be faced with a whole new form of discomfort as you begin to load your spine throughout all of it’s ranges of motion.
  • If you only run at a challenging pace or regularly try to PR your runs each time, embracing lower intensity, zone 2 training will be a whole new mental battle.

One of the highly underrated benefits of exercise, is that it challenges our comfort zones and helps us build discomfort tolerance, a skill that helps us navigate ALL the uncomfortable or distressing things in our lives. Both in the gym & outside of it.

Regularly exposing yourself to new types of challenges can help you continue to build your discomfort tolerance and overall confidence in navigating tough situations.

Why Does Variability Matter: Pain & Injuries

While pain & injuries are complex, there are some controllable factors that can influence them. One of those is your movement.

When we move the same way, doing the same type of things over & over, the same areas are loaded over & over. If we aren’t careful about our recovery and slowly progressing, and these areas never get a break, we can end up with a sensitized tissue (pain) or a nagging overuse injury (tendinitis, tendinopathy, etc.).

Also, if we only expose our bodies to certain movements, not only are the same tissues getting loaded and often not getting enough rest, there are often other tissues that are never getting loaded at all.

Neither of these things are ideal – while too much load can be problematic, we still need movement & load helps to keep our joints healthy & to build strength.

This is why trying new movements or moving in different ways can be particularly helpful, such as:

  • Moving your neck in lots of different ways if you sit at a computer desk a lot throughout the day
  • Letting your back round when you bend over to pick something up sometimes
  • Doing some squats with your knees far over your toes and some where you keep them back more
  • Spending time moving through all your ranges of motion at each joint regularly
  • Doing some exercises where you intentionally reach your shoulder blades up to your ears instead of only keeping them “down and back”
  • Trying different variations of exercises that get you moving in different ways
  • Incorporating different tempos and pauses in your favorite exercises
  • Dropping the weight and intentionally changing your form a little

Why Does Variability Matter: Filling The Gaps

“The basics always work.” This is a popular statement in the fitness industry regarding workouts, and it’s true. However, it’s missing some nuance.

The idea behind this statement is that your workouts don’t need to be super fancy or complicated. I can totally get on board with that. I, too, recommend prioritizing basic movement patterns to hit major muscle groups – push, pull, squat, hinge, lunge, carry.

AND…

I think this leaves a lot of things out on the table:

  1. Some of this might deter people from trying different exercises or doing things a little differently – something that is a core part of what I often do with clients who are struggling with nagging pain and injuries. If they’re constantly hearing about how they should not make things “fancy”, they may avoid anything that differs from the monolith that is the industry.
  2. People might also feel frustrated when they can’t do the “basics” like they see everyone else in the industry doing (due to injuries, pain, etc.) and give up on pursuing fitness all together because they feel shame or don’t realize there are other options.
  3. There are often neglected movements or entire body parts in these types of “basics”. Things like ab exercises that actually involve moving our spines, for example. Which is problematic as explained above.

And if you’re thinking, “Okay, I get it now. Explore beyond the basics. But how exactly do I do that? How much is enough?” Keep reading. 🙂

The Poison Is In The Dose

While some of my clients get stuck on the “basics only” or “perfect form” fitness train, there are a handful of clients who also are in pain or injured due to being stuck on the opposite end of the spectrum: the “always switching it up” train.

Constantly changing your workouts and never repeating anything has its own set of problems:

  • You won’t make much progress in any particular area (strength, muscle mass, better technique, etc.) or you’ll reach a point of diminishing returns quickly
  • Your loads will be erratic, which means you’re more likely to jump into different movements and get injured from your body not having time to adapt adequately to what you’re doing.

Like most things, variability in your workouts is a spectrum. 

  • Too much: Constantly changing up your workouts means your body won’t actually make adaptations to get stronger or better at the thing you’re doing.
  • Not enough: Too much of the same thing all the time means a higher likelihood of something getting sensitized and painful and/or an “overuse” injury from tissues getting loaded without adequate rest + areas getting neglected, which means they get weaker or less healthy over time.

The “sweet spot” for your workouts is somewhere in the middle, more towards one end or the other depending on your training history, current pain or injury factors, and goals.

For some people, it may make more sense to spend some time being more strategic and monotonous in their training – more “bro style” of training.

For others who have been pretty strategic and monotonous for some time, it would be beneficial to be less monotonous and start exploring more with different types of more “fancy exercises”. (For context, fancy can mean something like a jefferson curl or loaded hip rotation; not bosu ball squats with a bicep curl).

For everyone, exploring more different movements outside of the gym can be a simple way to start implementing this advice. Start getting curious about your movement and breaking the “rules” you may have been told about how your body should move. Instead, move and let your body provide you with its own set of rules.

How Can You Start?

A simple way to begin exploring different movement options and learning about your body along the way is through a daily CARs practice and weekly mobility classes in the Mobility Membership.

And if you’d like help navigating a nagging pain or injury & want to explore a different approach implementing some of these ideas, apply to work with me 1:1 here.

To learn more about setting a mobility-focused goal, check out my free masterclass called Kickstart Your Mobility Training!

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A photo of Dr. Jen Hosler standing with a barbell instructing the deadlift.

Hi, I'm Dr. Jen Hosler.

I’m a bookworm, science nerd, and coach of all things movement (physical therapist and strength & mobility coach). You can catch me sleeping in & having a slow morning, doing CARs & lifting heavy things, or sipping a glass of wine on my time off.

Through a blend of strength & mobility training, I’ll help you master your movement & build a more resilient body that won’t hold you back from all the activities you love doing.

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Have a nagging ache, pain, or injury that just hasn’t gone away? Maybe you’ve tried bouts of physical therapy or chiropractic care without much success. Or maybe you’ve done your own research and rehab with the help of social media, but you still aren’t feeling 100%. That’s where I come in – with my personalized asssessment and 1-on-1 programming, I will tailor a plan specific to your individual needs so you can feel better and tackle your goals.

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