A New Relationship with “Rehab Exercises”

  I have a confession to make: I frequently struggle to do my “rehab exercises”! There you have it. I am a posture coach that can lack motivation to do the work she asks of her clients. So, do you think less of me now? Or, maybe you respect my honesty? Well, regardless of your view of me, I’d bet that you’d agree with me when I say that posture exercises, or any type of “rehab exercises,” aren’t the funnest thing in the world to do. In actuality, there are several other ways that I would prefer to spend my time. And actually, you’re probably thinking the same thing.  

The Problem with “Rehab Exercises”

After an injury or when suffering from pain, many of us dig out those tattered exercise sheets that our therapist gave us the last time this happened. Similarly, if this is a new issue, we may initially rely on “Dr Google” for advice and exercises that will help us quickly recover. Although both strategies make logical sense and may help in the short-term, there is a problem. What is the problem, you ask? Well, the problem is that you are making an association in your mind with “rehab exercises” as follows. “Rehab Exercises” = I am broken and suffering with pain. I need fixing. Consequently, this negative mental association between “rehab exercises” and the physical state of your body could lower your interest in lying down on the floor and beginning your routine. This is what happened to me. However, it took me a while to realize that this association was the reason I just couldn’t get myself to do what I knew would make me feel better. Let me explain. Our motive as human beings is to seek pleasure and avoid pain. This could be physical pain, mental pain, or even emotional pain. Although the exercises are designed to relieve my physical pain, the mental and perhaps, more importantly, the emotional pain was too great to bear, which caused me to avoid doing my exercises. I didn’t want to set an unfavorable tone for my day. Actually, I didn’t want to start it out by doing prescribed movements that reinforced my limitations. Also, these movements often led to frustration and sadness about what I had lost and could no longer do.  

The Solution to “Rehab Exercises”

So that I could succeed in consistently doing my routine, I had to go through several steps.
  1. First, I had to rename “rehab exercises.”
As I stated earlier, doing exercises for recovery is not that enjoyable, at least for me. What I really want is to be outside doing my activities again—biking, running, golfing, skiing, hiking . . . Don’t you agree? However, to be able to do these things, I need a fully functioning body. (And yes, so do you.) “Rehab exercises” help me regain the form and function I need to go out and play. Therefore, to become consistent with my exercises, I needed to focus on the process’s result. Specifically, I had to keep in mind that the exercises would enable my activities. Instead of calling them my “rehab exercises” or “posture exercises,” I chose to connect them with the sports-related terms—”warm-up and cool-down.” Since the exercises are preparing me to be active, it seemed natural to call them the warm-up. And the exercises help reposition my body after activity, which makes it appropriate to call them cool-down.
  1.           Next, I had to create a new association.
When injured, many of my clients lament that they want to feel like an athlete again. Clearly, they fear that part of their personality is lost and may not return. They view rehab as being separate from sport. So, we need to make a new association that actually connects rehab with activity. “Rehab Exercises” = increased strength, alignment and confidence for sports In essence, “Rehab Exercises,” or warm-up and cool-down movements as noted above, empower us to do our sports and activities with greater ease and less risk of injury.
  1.         Finally, I had to change when and how I did my “rehab exercises.”
Commonly, I’ll advise my clients to do their exercises first thing in the morning because it will prepare them for whatever activity the day brings, even if that entails sitting at a desk for eight hours. The more aligned and functional the body, the better it can handle the stress of any task, such as driving, prolonged standing, walking, swimming, and more. Although the reasoning for the above advice is sound, it does, admittedly, have a flaw. Inadvertently, this approach reinforces the before-mentioned negative association that can be subconsciously attached to the term “rehab exercises.” To reiterate, this association is “I am broken, suffering with pain and in need of fixing.” In other words, it implies that my body is so weak and fragile that I can’t do much of anything without first doing my exercise routine. I might even think I can even sit to eat breakfast without doing the exercises! Hence, if I don’t roll out of bed straight onto the floor and start my exercises, I believe that I may fall apart at any moment. Seems a bit fatalistic and overblown, don’t you think? In contrast to this approach, which can start a downward thought spiral at the beginning of the day, I often recommend tying the exercises with activity. This process includes splitting up the exercises. In other words, you’re doing preparatory movements before being active and recovery movements after you’re finished. Previously, I had reserved this strategy for use when transitioning clients to a maintenance program. But why not start with it? If my intention is to help clients develop a life-long habit of doing musculoskeletal exercises in order to maintain their bodies (like brushing your teeth or washing your hair), why not make it as easy as possible from the beginning? To sum up, the changes I made included the following steps. First, I changed the name of my “rehab exercises” to “warm-up and cool-down.” Second, I created a new association with my warm-up and cool-down exercises so that I viewed them as preparation for and recovery from my activity or sport. Third, I changed when I did my exercises. And finally, I split up my exercises so that I did some before and some after activity instead of everything together in one long routine.  


Your relationship with your “rehab exercises,” especially your mental and emotional attitudes and beliefs, may be holding you back from regularly engaging in your therapy. However, my examples may or may not be applicable to you. So, I encourage you to look closely at your own routine. What thoughts do you have about the exercises, your body, your recovery? If you like to journal, it might be a question to ponder in your writing. Consider if a shift is required that may make the difference in your success. Subtle yet powerful influences may be at work that you aren’t aware of until you take the time and make the space to look for them. Make your goal to align your intentions with your actions. And then, go play!  

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About the Author


Jessica uses an integrative approach to help you overcome chronic pain. She believes in treating the whole person utilizing the biopsychosocial approach to healing. Her offerings include posture therapy, online exercise classes, pain science education, and individual or group wellness coaching. She is certified by the Postural Restoration Institute® (PRI), Egoscue University®, National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), American Council on Exercise (ACE) and Wellcoaches.