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4 Exercises I Never Skip, Even When Gymless 

As a Sports clinical specialist and licensed physical therapist, you can imagine the population I’ve seen in a general outpatient clinic has been more active. I currently see and have seen long recoveries following surgeries like Achilles repairs or recurrent, stubborn cases of low back pain. I have at least 5 cases of shoulder impingement or rotator cuff tendonitis or tears in a given week. And almost everyone aside from the ballerinas and dancers needs cueing on what healthy posture is and why it’s important they do something about the way they are facing their computer screen 8+ hours of the day. 

I’m based in San Francisco, and a huge portion of my patient population works in tech and now — is WFH since COVID-19. I worry about my patients not having the right chairs and desks at their corporate offices, now I cringe at the thought of knowing how they are coping in their new home office! Patients — I’m thinking of you! Please let me know if you’re aching!

In PT there are almost never any “absolutes.” Student PT’s, we teach you early in school that “it depends.” However, I’ve found in my clinical experience that if I could make everyone do these four things as part of their rehab, major foundations for basic healthy movement and injury prevention could be covered. Now, there is a lot of wiggle room with this topic. Notice how I leave these vague, thats because there are lots of exercises you can do to achieve these four goals. I, however, will give you my favorite ones! Keep in mind, doing these in their bare minimum without cueing is okay — but focusing on what each achieves and trying to feel the burn in the right spot IS BETTER.

The best part about these is that almost everyone can do at least A VERSION of the following that is suitable for them. 

1. Something on 1 leg. 

Why: Standing on 1 leg challenges the arch of the foot, ankle and knee alignment, and hip abductor strength to maintain balance. By standing on an active foot and with a strong hip, your knee (the middleman) automatically falls in healthier position. The list of benefits is long with this simple approach, but improving balance and hip strength can carryover in running, falls prevention, ankle injury prevention, and safe knees. My favorite: Single leg Romanian dead lift. 

2. Something for my calves.

Why: Calves are major push-off muscles, they plantarflex the ankle. The calf is made up of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. Both feed into the Achilles tendon, but the soleus does not cross the knee joint like the gastroc does. They work with the hamstrings and glutes to propel you forward. Most Achilles tendon tears occur when load exceeds the ability of the calf to eccentrically (decelerate) control it, thus causing the rupture to happen. It most frequently happens to males between 30–40 years old, but can affect anyone. Other easy targets? The people that are pretty active, but may neglect calf strength. It takes one quick step (i.e. quick change of direction in sports) for this tendon to pop if the load is just right. This recovery? About a year. If fear isn’t enough to put this in your workout, do it for the sake of your ankle absorbing load the right way. My favorite: calf raises, nice and slow.

3. Something for my shoulder blades.

Why: The biggest reasons for this “something” are shoulder health and posture. The scapula forms the socket of the ball-in-socket joint called the glenohumeral joint, or your shoulder. Shoulder blades that lack the ability to fully retract, or fully protract around the rib cage are risk factors for rotator cuff issues, subacromial impingement, AC joint sprains, neck pain and more. These injuries can happen while working out, prolonged sitting with poor rounded shoulders posture, and they can snag with a movement as simple as reaching behind the passenger seat in a car or putting things in your kitchen cabinet (sound familiar?) Healthy strong middle and lower traps with a strong serratus anterior can avoid these. Of course, rotator cuff strengthening goes hand-in-hand. My favorite: TRX rows.

4. At least 1 kind of plank.

Why: I LOVE planks because they are so healthy for you. If you know me there’s a good chance you’ve heard me say “I never end a workout without a plank.” They challenge your breathing and your ability to draw in the core and stabilize at the same time. Besides, you can even do them with your hands on a countertop and feet on the ground (tell your parents!) A big reason why people hurt their backs in the gym is because they forget how to breathe and maintain a stable deep core simultaneously. You can even get picky and force the quads to kick in with the glute, capitalizing on terminal knee extension and hip strengthening (major money makers in rehab!) My favorites: front and side planks with hip abduction — ohh baby!

Interested in learning how to incorporate these with your training? Not sure if you’re doing these the right way? Book online now so we can chat -- I can’t wait to meet you!

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