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  • Terri Night, PT

What is Strategic Exercise?

Strategic exercise is smart exercise--exercise designed to provide the best chance for success. All you need to do is keep to a few basic principles:

  • Choose just one or two exercises at a time and a realistic goal.

  • Use gradual progression (just...go...slow).

  • Should you have a flare-up--make adjustments rather than just ditching the whole program.

Let's take a look at the exercise strategies of Kyle and Bill:

Kyle is told by his doctor to exercise for his spinal stenosis and to "get out and walk." The next day, he hits the sidewalk! His goal is to walk 3 miles per day until he starts feeling better. He doesn't use any kind of cane or walker because, "That'll just make me weak!" At about 500 feet, his legs are wobbly, but he keeps on going, determined to meet his goal. Finally, his legs give out from under him. Undeterred, Kyle drags himself to his feet and continues his walk. Then, he falls and breaks his hip. (You see, he literally did hit the sidewalk!) For the next 8 weeks , the only exercise he gets is hobbling to the bathroom on a walker, sitting in his recliner, and tossing a tennis ball across the house for his miniature dachshund, Rudolf. "I guess the whole exercise thing is not going to work for me," he sighs.

Kyle is practicing NON-STRATEGIC exercise, and has unknowingly sabotaged himself.

Bill is told by his doctor to exercise for his spinal stenosis and to "get out and walk." Bill consults with a physical therapist about what types of exercise might be safe for him. Bill picks 1-2 beginning exercises, does them gently, and then waits a few days to see if he's flared up. If he's not flared up, he puts a little more oomph into them, then adds a few more until he has 3-5 basic non-aggravating exercises.

At the same time, he starts his walking program. He finds out his maximum walking distance before his legs start feeling wobbly is 500 feet. He starts walking three sets of 400 feet with sitting breaks in between. He gradually, over a period of weeks, increases either the number of sets or the distance walked, making sure he avoids any fatigue or cramping in his legs. He buys a set of trekking poles and finds he can walk 1000 feet comfortably.

Bill walks, then does his exercises, then uses ice on his lower back while in a position of comfort. He progresses his program gradually, and uses other types of aerobic exercise, such as bicycling or using a Nu-step to improve his overall cardiovascular health. Over time, Bill's symptoms improve.

Bill is practicing STRATEGIC exercise, giving himself his best chance for success.

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