Home Exercise Programs (HEPs) are designed to complement the treatments that you receive in physical therapy and provide additional support so that you can reach your goals faster. These programs vary depending on your condition, but often include activity modifications, stretches, strength exercises, and more. By doing a home exercise program, you will be able to supplement what is done in the clinic and work on strengthening your muscles, improving flexibility, and improving balance. This will help you reach your maximum potential and move forward with your recovery process more quickly.
The bottom line: People want maximum results with minimal effort...It's just human nature! However, just attending PT 1-2x/week with no participation in an HEP may not yield your desired outcomes.
Let's talk about 4 ways to tackle your HEP with confidence and consistency!
1. Make a weekly schedule Different exercises & stretches may have different frequencies. For example, if you have posture-related issues from computer work, you may need to do a few specific stretches multiple times per day to combat tight muscle groups. Now perhaps, you also have weakness in an opposing muscle group - maybe we need to work on strengthening this group 3-4x/week with resistance training. This is why it is important to look through your exercise handout for specific frequencies or discuss a plan with your PT. Once you know the frequency for each exercise prescribed, write down which exercises you are doing on which day. This will help you prioritize your exercises and you won't end up letting your week get away from you (i.e. realizing on Sunday night you never did your PT homework!) Utilize a planner, calendar, or one of the many organizational apps on your phone to easily visualize your schedule. This is also super helpful for those that are already participating in other physical activities or workouts so you can plan accordingly.
2. Implement the exercises into your current routine
If you struggle with making time to "exercise", let's look at it a different way. Maybe you are suffering from foot pain or plantar fasciitis and you have a lot of stiffness when you get up in the morning. However, doing your daily ankle stretches are just not falling into your schedule with ease. Pair the exercises with something you are going to do no matter what...
Example #1: Shortly after waking up, you are going to head to the sink and brush your teeth. While you are brushing, go ahead and start warming up the toes by doing your toe scrunches or "toe yoga" (IYKYK). Take an extra minute in front of the mirror or in the shower (no slipping, please!) to do a few of your simple calf stretches. Now, you have knocked out most of your HEP in the first 10-15 minutes of your day!
Example #2: Let's say you already have a great habit of walking your dog or taking your little one for a stroller ride during the day. Pick out 1-2 of your standing exercises to do during or at the end of your walk. You will be surprised at how easy it is to complete a few exercises when you are already in motion. I have about 3 steps to walk up to my porch so after a walk, I like to check off about 15 step ups on each leg before I head inside. Easy peasy!
3. Put all your supplies together
If your HEP includes resistance bands, a stretching strap, or weights... make these easily accessible and in close proximity to each other. Often during an initial visit, I ask a patient if they have any dumbbells at home so we can plan some strength exercises accordingly. Sometimes I hear, "Yeah, I think I have some 5's at home in the garage." Fast forward to visit #2 and we discuss how the exercises went:"Welllll, I thought they were in the garage, but I didn't get a chance to look" or "I left the resistance band in the car after my appointment and never brought it in the house." Again, gather your supplies and put them in the area you will be using for all those exercises you can't complete "on-the-go". These may be ones you complete on a yoga mat, bed, or with a chair. Include a printed copy of your HEP OR make sure you have the email or app code easily available to access so you don't spend your whole time sifting through junk mail.
4. Ask your PT for updates & modifications as needed
If your HEP is not going well and you are experiencing more pain as the result of some of your exercises, please let your PT know! "No pain, no gain" is typically not the goal of your HEP. If something is hurting you, we need to know and we will use that information to adjust your HEP and treatment plan.
Example - "Those exercises you gave me made me so sore that I haven't done them since." Reach out and ask for guidance. Maybe this was delayed-onset muscle soreness, a common response to new training. Maybe the condition was more irritable than we originally thought. Maybe a specific stretch was a little too aggressive for your current status and can be revisited later. Maybe you struggled with keeping good form & technique once you got home and didn't have someone giving you helpful feedback. These are all factors that could come into play and your PT will want to know specifics so they can get you back on track. On the flip side, maybe you are progressing well and things are getting easier. Hooray! If you are doing your HEP and thinking "I don't really feel this stretch anymore" or "I could do a 100 of these", it may be time for some updates. Reach out and ask your PT if you could get some updated exercises. Sometimes if you have developed a more extensive group of exercises, it can be helpful to bring your HEP list/handout to clinic and go over which ones you can "graduate" from and discuss which ones to add. It may even be a variation of the same exercise, but increased difficulty by adding resistance, incorporating an unstable surface for balance, or adding an increased hold time. Additionally, sometimes PTs get busy and bogged down with overloaded schedules and documentation. There are a LOT of HEPs for us to keep up with and we appreciate when you speak up and say, "Hey, I think I'm ready for some new home exercises!"
I hope you find these tips helpful and please don't be afraid to reach out for to your PT for further guidance on developing consistency with your HEP. We would much rather hear that you are having difficulty getting in a groove with your HEP rather than a little fib of "I'm doing the exercises like you said". This makes us wrack our PT brains with theories on why something is not progressing as expected.