How to Prepare for an Exercise Program
Too many people dive headfirst into weightlifting, yoga, running, competitive sports, or any other type
of fitness regimen. They do what they see everyone else doing, instead of following an individualized
program. As a result, they have trouble achieving their goals and increase the risk of injury.
In our previous post entitled A More Scientific Approach to Personal Training and Performance
Enhancement we discussed our evaluation process for developing these individualized exercise
programs. We explained the importance of screening a client prior to participating in physical activities.
This screening process included a thorough review of any pertinent medical history, injuries and
contraindications to exercise. We also discussed how we examine our clients to get baseline measures
of their physical abilities and limitations. Finally, we explained how we can identify the source of some
of those physical restrictions by utilizing a functional movement assessment combined with
neuromuscular based testing on the Redcord suspension system.
Our process to prepare our clients for exercise continues as follows:
We’ve already assessed your mobility. Now we want to create the mobility necessary to perform
certain types of exercises or movements. If you have good mobility, we want to bring that mobility to
the forefront and provide enhanced muscle control. If you have poor mobility, we need to modify the
movements to meet your skill set so we can improve it.
Over time, many people lose their mobility from a sedentary lifestyle that involves too much time
behind the wheel and in front of a computer. Other factors, such as pain or a recurring injury, can also
impair your mobility. The good news is that mobility can be restored with the help of a qualified
personal trainer or physical therapist.
When done correctly, foam rolling, or selfmyofascial
release, may be used to improve your mobility.
Among other things, foam rolling helps to loosen the muscles and stimulate blood flow.
During this stage, we’ll instruct you on self massage, and where and when it’s appropriate. Based on
our movement assessment, we’ll have an idea of the type of myofascial release you’ll need.
For instance, if you sit at a desk all day, there’s a good chance that your glutes have become shortened
and weakened. In this case, we would have you sit on the floor on top of the foam roller with your
hands on the floor behind you, and your right ankle on your left knee. Then you roll back and forth
over the muscle belly.
If we’ve observed poor posture, such as rounded shoulders and a hunched back, we may have you lie
on the floor, place the foam roller perpendicular to your spine at the shoulder blades, and cradle your
head as you lean back over the foam roller. This thoracic spine extension may help to restore a neutral
curve to your back, and bring attention to muscles that need to be engaged in the exercises chosen to
improve your posture and movement.
Sometimes we have to present options to foam rolling, such as use of a tennis ball or trigger point tool,
and determine if fascial release is even appropriate for you. Certain medical conditions, such as
diabetes and high blood pressure, may require alternative methods.
Ankle and Hip Circles
We want to create movement in the ankle, a mobile joint that connects the rest of your body to your
foot and the ground. Multidirectional
movements and stretches like foot circles, flexion and extension
of your ankles and toes will be necessary since sitting at a desk doesn’t require much movement.
An ankle that has limited mobility or dysfunctional movement could present itself in pain and/or
dysfunction of the next joint, the knee, which is considered stable since it really only moves as a hinge
would. This could continue up the movement chain, compounding the dysfunction, all the way up to
For your hips, I’ll have you get down on all fours, like a frog, straighten and extend one leg to your side,
and attempt to make small symmetrical circles with that hip while you slowly rock your body forward
and backwards. Essentially, you’ll rotate one hip forward and backward while alternately flexing and
extending both hips.
These kinds of exercises bring the brain’s attention to important but underused joints and prepare
them for movements that require higher tension and load.
Hip Bridge with Adduction
We’ve already rolled the muscles and performed some exercises that bring attention to key areas. Now
it’s time to start using those muscles.
The hip bridge with adduction will activate your glutes, adductors and the rest of your core while
actively stretching the hip flexor on the front of the leg. You’ll lie on your back with your legs together,
feet flat on the ground and knees bent. With a rolled up towel or yoga block between your thighs,
squeeze your knees together and lift your hips off of the ground. Keep your rib cage locked to your hips
to maintain abdominal engagement without arching your back.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Now that we’ve woken up the glutes, we want to promote engagement in a different position with the
legs apart. For the halfkneeling
hip flexor stretch, you’ll be kneeling on one leg with the other leg in
front (90 degrees flexion of both knees with one hip in flexion and one in extension), squeezing the
glute on the downside leg to push the hip forward. Again, keep your rib cage locked to your hip bones.
This movement changes the entire organization of the hips compared to the hip bridge.
90/90 Quadratus Lumborum (QL) Stretch
If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, your lower back muscles might shorten. This could cause you
to carry weight over the front of your hips as your torso sets back to find balance instead of sitting up
straight and engaging the abdominals. Two options in this movement involve unilateral stretching
between the posterior hip and ribcage with lateral spinal flexion while positioning hips and knees in a
combination of flexion and extension. This is similar to the variations between previously mention
Through all these movements and stretches, focus on breathing into your diaphragm, not into your
shoulders and upper chest. Never stretch to the point of pain or significant discomfort. Back off before
that point and focus on diaphragmatic breathing before expecting greater range of motion. Allow up to
minutes in each position.
In the next post, we’ll wrap up the discussion of the evaluations and preparations to go through before
beginning an exercise program.
Tom Richards is a certified personal trainer at ActivCore in Princeton, NJ. He applies a more scientific
and evidence based approach to his postrehabilitation,
fitness and performance training programs.
Tom obtained his personal training certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine ( NASM )
as well as advanced specializations in Functional Movement Screens ( FMS ), Redcord suspension
testing and training, kettlebell instruction and yoga. He has developed a unique talent for evaluating
movement and following “fascial” anatomy trains to identify the root cause of what’s holding someone
back from performing at an optimal level.