This is a part of the Hot Topic podcast series from the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center on Exercise and Fitness After Spinal Cord Injury. Lynn Worobey, PhD, DPT, ATP, researcher, discusses Components of a Good Exercise Routine.

So I would say regular exercise is a good thing. I think we all know that. We usually want to shoot for a moderate intensity. So if you’re doing cardiovascular, we like to think of the breath test sometimes. So if you’re doing an activity, if you can talk but you’re a little winded, that’s okay. If you’re able to sing, you’re probably not working hard enough to be at the level that you want.

And then a mix of resistance exercise, as well. So we don’t just want you doing cardio, but also working those muscles. I mean, a lot of times we’ll put that pretty specific to the person. So like the rotator cuff is a pretty important set of muscles. They’re smaller, so it’s important to strengthen them. They do a lot in stabilizing the shoulder. So we might target key elements of muscles for folks.

The other thing is the back muscles. So oftentimes if somebody’s in a manual chair and they’re pushing, kind of the front of their chest gets stronger, and we want to make sure that there aren’t big muscle imbalances. So we might direct them with exercising to strengthen a lot of the postural muscles or the muscles on the back. So we give you good posture and they kind of even out what’s going on.

Stretching is another really important component of exercise. So it allows people to be flexible. So things like dressing can be possible. If you aren’t able to reach your feet and reach down and do that, then you’re not going to be as independent. So we want to make sure that we’re stretching, as well. Also, in kind of conjunction with strengthening, it’s important to balance it out. So you’ve worked those muscles hard, now let’s stretch them out.

A lot of the times it will happen that the muscles on the front of the chest kind of are the ones that can get tighter because you’re working them a lot. So, you want to make sure that we stretch those out, maintain a good posture and then good function as well.

The other important part of stretching is it makes sure that you stay flexible so you don’t get tight muscles that can maybe get you stuck in a certain position, so your feet are stuck pointed down. We want to make sure that your calves are stretched out. Even though you might not be using those muscles and walking like you were before, it’s still important to keep them stretched.

Stretching can have a lot of immediate benefits, too. So if somebody has a lot of spasticity where their muscles are sort of firing and they don’t want them to, we sometimes find that with exercise and stretching, that’s decreased. We can also see that sometimes after people have stretched, they just report feeling better throughout the day.

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