Choosing the Right Type of Exercise After Finishing Physical Therapy

Choosing the Right Type of Exercise After Finishing Physical Therapy

Throughout your physical therapy program, you have been introduced to many types of exercises. We have tailored our exercise selection specific to your pain and goals, taking into account your exercise experience and medical history. It’s important to continue exercising, even after completing your PT plan of care.

Remember, you don’t want to treat exercise like a diet or you will lose all of the progress you made in PT. Big picture, you want to meet the physical activity guidelines. But which exercises should you specifically focus on? That’s what we will focus on here.

To keep it simple, you can replicate a lot of the exercises you do in the clinic. You may lack the necessary equipment or be sick of the exercises, however. Fortunately, you have many other options.

When it comes to exercise, finding what works best for you is essential. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, you will want to take a well-balanced approach, taking into consideration your exercise volume, frequency, and intensity as well as your recovery strategies.

Choosing exercises you enjoy is crucial for sticking with it. If running isn’t your thing, try biking, swimming, or using the elliptical. Opt for activities that align with your fitness goals, whether it’s improving stamina, losing weight, or achieving specific fitness milestones. You want to include cardiovascular and resistance training, but you can prioritize one over the other.

For resistance training, focus on the four primary movements:

  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Press
  • Row

These exercises are effective and considered safe, with research showing low injury rates associated with them. They involve many muscle groups, helping you train efficiently and effectively. 

You can make these exercises more interesting by incorporating variations, such as:

  • Different types of squats like front squats, split squats, goblet squats, and more.
  • Various deadlifts like stiff leg deadlifts, single-leg deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, and others.
  • Pressing exercises like bench press, overhead press, incline press, and pushups.
  • Rows with different variations, including mid rows, pull-ups, lat pulldowns, and bent-over rows.

Experiment with factors like grip, speed, rest time, and resistance to keep your routine engaging. With countless exercises available, it’s essential to discern what truly works. Be cautious about claims on social media that one exercise is vastly superior to another without proper evidence.

On that note, you have many equipment options as well. 

Option 1: Free Weights

Free weights, like dumbbells and barbells, are the classics of resistance training. They offer a wide range of exercises, allowing more freedom of movement and range of motion than machines. They engage secondary muscles, promoting overall muscle activation. However, they need skill and confidence, especially for complex movements like kettlebell exercises. For beginners, it might be challenging.

You can start with more basic movements, such as squats and deadlifts, then progress to intermediate movements such as kettlebell swings and walking lunges. Most people can safely learn complex movements, such as power cleans and snatches, but it takes a lot of practice and it would be advantageous to seek some coaching.

Option 2: Machines

Machines guide your movements, providing stability and making them great for beginners or those recovering from injuries. You can focus more on intensity and less on form as the machines guide the movement. Remember, perfect form isn’t needed to prevent injury, but form can influence movement efficiency, allowing you to move more resistance. 

Machines are diverse, allowing the isolation of specific muscle groups. Studies suggest they’re effective, but they might limit your range of motion and not activate as many muscles as free weights. Even still, you can achieve outstanding results exclusively using machines. You don’t have to prioritize free weights at the gym if machines are available.

Option 3: Resistance Bands

Portable and easy to use, resistance bands offer a different kind of challenge. The resistance increases as you stretch the band. The variable resistance can be beneficial and provide a different type of stimulus to your muscles. Changing the types of exercises you perform can aide recovery. 

Bands have less tension at the beginning of an exercise and more at the end. Muscle growth is greatest when training at the lengthened position of a muscle. Therefore, the band is providing the lowest amount of resistance when it matters most. Even still, you can use bands that offer substantial resistance.

Bands offer fewer exercise options than free weights and can be difficult to set up, as you require anchors to control the band and movement. They can also be used to add tension to the end of a barbell movement, such as banded squats or deadlifts. Those techniques are often reserved for advanced lifters and aren’t necessary to become big and strong.

Overall, they are a solid, cheap, easy-to-access option.

Option 4: Calisthenics

Calisthenics use your body weight for exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, and squats. They require little to no equipment, making them accessible. You can use rings, a pull-up bar, or a dip bar to add variety, but there are many push and squat options to provide great full-body workouts. You can up the resistance with advanced techniques as well. Exercises such as handstand pushups, pistol squats, one-arm pushups, and any plyometric variety can develop great strength and power. You can perform beginner options such as chair sit-to-stands and knee pushups as well.

So, Which is the Best?

The best type depends on your goals and preferences. Machines or bands could be good for beginners. Free weights might be best for overall strength and muscle mass. Calisthenics offer a low-cost, no-fuss option. The most important resistance training is the one you enjoy and will stick to.

The same is true for cardiovascular training. You don’t have to buy a stationary bike or join a local gym to access their pool. Brisk walking, hiking, and running are great exercises that are safe and effective, regardless of age, fitness level, or the presence of osteoarthritis. Choose the option you are more likely to stick with, taking into account enjoyment, goals, and availability. Talk to your PT about your exercise plans as you transition out of physical therapy.

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