Everyone has their “go to exercises” and we are like no other. Now, some may wonder how a favorite group of exercises is applicable those ranging a stay-at-home mom to Olympic hopefuls, but with our societal trends, we all have similarities. These similarities result in prescribing the same exercises frequently. 

While nearly 75% of the clients are swimmers, we also have hockey players, water polo players, triathletes, and much more working with our staff.

Every athlete has flaws which need fixed. Swimmers need tohave improved scapular stability and external rotation strength. Divers need more lumbar spine stability and thoracic spine mobility. Hockey players need more hip internal range of motion and gluteal strength. Stay at home moms need a workout that kicks their keysters, taking them away from the “typical” life at home.


These similarities are also seen in their dysfunction. Desk workers commonly have pain with lumbar flexion; athletes typically have pain with lumbar extension. Triathletes commonly have aches and pains all over their body, so we have to determine which limb to ambulate first. These symptoms and functional limitations arise in other populations, but are exacerbated in people who perform the same repeated activities.

Despite these specialties  there are specific problems which arise in almost every population, and in response, one has to come up with a central group of exercises to help combat the flaws commonly noted. Here are my go to exercises in nearly every population:

1. March 

This is an exercise to improve maximal abdominal strength without moving the lumbar spine. In my career, I have worked with more clients with low back pain than imaginable. I know I’ve done a lot of writing and publications on shoulder health, but if you provide the right tools, pain free range of motion and improvement are immediate. Once range of motion occurs, I prescribe the march exercise in flexion bias. If done properly this allows no movement of the lumbar spine and will show no pain, regardless of the case.
The correct form and provision of maximal contraction are necessary for optimal results. A few of the fine points include keeping the head on the ground and breathing throughout the movement. No matter the athletic level, if the client performs this exercises it will be challenging in a few repetitions (I’m talking about 1-2 repetitions, not 50 low back arching crunches)!

2. Shoulder Extension with Band

Like the march exercise, this will be challenging for people of any skill level if performed properly. Now, these first two exercises may look like cupcakes, but they are deceivingly hard. While working with numerous swimmers I’ve been able to work with many messed-up shoulders. It allows the client to understand the stable, compact position (shoulder blade retraction and posterior tilting). When performed correctly I’ve never seen anyone have pain during the exercise. A cue is to have the athletes place their opposite hands on the inferior medial aspect of “working” shoulder blade. The goal is to move the shoulder blade down and back, without over activating upper trapezius.

If you have a messed up shoulder and you have pain during this exercise, I suspect two things:
  1. You are doing it wrong
  2. Your shoulder’s pain is not musculoskeletal in nature

3. Thoracic Spine Foam Roll

I know what you are thinking, this is the stereotypical foam roll exercise with the foam roll lying perpendicular to the spine and you rock back and forth. Well, this is a bit different (not a ton, but different). Adjust the foam roll parallel to your spine, having your head and pelvis on the foam roll. Have your feet and hands on the ground for balance and rock back and forth. This will improve the soft tissue of the paraspinal muscles and provide a rotary mobilization to the thoracic spine.

This exercise will also help relax the sympathetic nervous system also known as the fight or flight system. Relaxing this system will help you relax and improve your range of motion in areas other than your back. The sympathetic system can be overactive in many kinds of injuries, especially those with a long standing history. This can help solve these issues immediately.

4. Single Limb Hip Thrust

Popularized by the Glute Guy himself Bret Contreras, the hip thrust is an excellent glute and hamstring activation exercise. This exercise will also improve hip flexor range of motion. Lastly,  using one leg forces rotary stabilization and improve unilateral deficits.

Our excessive sitting and inactive society leads to a tragic syndrome. This will be hard to accept, but the “rearless syndrome” is sweeping the country. The single limb hip thrust can help alleviate this syndrome and eradicate a society of no glutes.

This is an excellent posterior chain exercise that everyone can perform properly within one session. This is a great exercise for clients with a history of low back pain and want/need to return to heavy lifting (squats, deadlifts, etc.).
5. Monkey Throws
At COR we love effective, aggressive medicine ball drills. This drill allows athletes to improve coordination, rotational power, thoracic extension and rotation. Once you begin to master this movement, the move should be transitioned to a speed drills letting you drive from one leg to the other with rapid rotations. This exercise is excellent for any sport requiring rapid shoulder extension (baseball, swimming, water polo, etc.).

Wrap-up

This list only scratches the surface of exercises needed to improve function and performance. Often time’s clients have a plethora of issues which need to be addressed. This can include: strength, range of motion, and muscle timing deficits. However, these small additions can allow tremendous gains in specific athletes. Try them out and let us know how they go.

Dr. John, DPT