Rethinking Your Routine: How to Unlock Untapped Functional Potential
In dealing with individuals learning to rehab and cope with injuries, I tend to encounter a number of clients who have bewilderment about how they got injured to begin with, especially when there was not a clear or memorable mechanism of injury.
“I was perfectly fine and then just woke up with my hip hurting.”
“I workout every day and am really active, I don’t see how I could be weak enough to get injured.”
These scenarios are reality for most active people. Injuries and pain are an unfortunate part of life and sometimes we break down and require some maintenance along the way; much like we maintain our cars. However, similarly to the way we sometimes drive our cars, a little reckless without proper maintenance, we often treat our bodies the same way.
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
You wake up at 5:30 AM to squeeze in your morning run. You get out of bed and rub the crust from your eyes. You down a cup of coffee and proceed to stretch your hamstrings for a grand total of 1.5 seconds. You lace up your fancy motion control running shoes and then struggle your way through your daily 3-5 miles with your normal achy knee and upper back tightness. You get home and immediately eat and shower. You get the kids ready for school and drop them off. And now you’re ready then begin your day as a modern day “desk athlete”, sitting hunched over for upwards of 8-10 hours a day without taking breaks or taking time to eat lunch.
If this resonates with you, know that you are not alone. Hand up, I am guilty of this too.
But I’ve recently been reading Ready to Run by Kelly Starrett and Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, which have made me rethink how I approach my daily routines. Both books do a great job of highlighting our natural abilities to not only participate in running but to actually thrive as runners for life. Even if you are not a “runner,” the principles they highlight are paramount in achieving the functional and goal oriented lifestyle you wish to maintain. These principles revolve around the idea of “training” even in your downtime or work environment. I love what Kelly Starrett says when he points out that “the modern day runner is often the modern day desk athlete. Unless you’re vigilant about your positions, that’s a big problem.” This is an important idea, as he later notes that spending six, eight, or possibly more hours a day slouched over a screen will translate like osmosis to how we run, bike, or do everyday tasks. But it does not have to be this way.
Remember the former morning routine we just talked about? I want you to now imagine that your day begins like this:
Instead of waking up at 5:30, you go to bed 15 minutes earlier, skipping your nightly scroll through your social media feeds looking at pictures of cats and taking Buzzfeed quizzes to find out what kind of cheese you would be, opting instead to wake up at 5:15. You roll out of bed and drink 8-12 ounces of electrolytes and eat a small granola bar. That 15 minutes you allotted is now dedicated to foam rolling your quads, gluteal and foot activation exercises, and thoracic spine mobility exercises. Your achy knees and upper back are now feeling pliable and prepared to withstand your run. You head out the door at an intentional pace with a focus on high running cadence and an upright posture. You finish your run feeling refreshed, but you don’t stop there. You fix a nutritious breakfast and drink a protein shake. The kids are now at school and you attack your day as a desk athlete with intention. You switch between sitting and standing every 15-30 minutes. You drink fluids throughout the day and even bring a lacrosse ball to work to help your roll out your feet and hips. You sit and stand with a neutral posture, and your colleagues notice how vibrant and energetic you seem as they sluggishly make their way through the cubicle battlefield. You get home and while your family is watching “This Is Us” you get on the floor and work on core stability and diaphragmatic breathing, only crying half as much as you did during last week’s episode. You go to bed without your usual aches and pains and you are now excited about tomorrow’s run. This routine snowballs and you are now compounding good habits. Instead of training to make it through the next day, you are now training outdo the last.
Now does this lifestyle prevent every ache and pain that you experience along the way? Obviously not. But are you now more prepared to handle the aches and pains that come your way, swatting them away like flies? Definitely.
These anecdotes are derivative of what is discussed in Ready to Run, and I like the contrast these two routines portray to help you understand that the pain and dysfunction we live with have a root and are often tied to and perpetuated by our daily activities and postures. 1 hour at the gym a day is not nearly enough to outweigh the other 23 hours of faulty posture, poor nutrition/hydration, sleep deprivation, and zero recovery habits. Not even close. But this should give you hope that there is higher potential for you to live in to. It’s not easy by any means. It takes effort, intention, sacrifice, maintenance, and guidance.
Consulting with a skilled physical therapist is a good first step in helping you begin to make these adjustments and regain the reins on your life.
Jake Reynolds is an orthopedic physical therapist at Functionize Health and Physical Therapy. He specializes in treating athletes, both elite and recreational level, with expertise in swimming and running athletes. His methodology includes a whole body approach, helping individuals find the source of theirs symptoms by understanding their story and addressing the entire system and not just one specific body part. Jake received his Bachelors in Exercise and Sports Science from the University of Alabama, completed his Doctorate in Physical Therapy at Mercer University, where he also completed his residency in orthopedics. Areas of personal interest include sports, pain science, neurodynamics, manual therapy, and clinical reasoning.