Progressing to the Gym after PT

Ryan LaCorte Judy Thomsen, Publications

So you’ve just completed your physical therapy. Congratulations! Now your therapist is telling you that you need to continue exercise on your own to maximize your progress. Or maybe you are just feeling so good that you want to tackle those other issues (those extra pounds, jiggling arms or being out of breathe just walking around the block). Deciding to go to the gym is the easy part, but actually going and starting an exercise program can be a little intimidating.

As with all exercise, you should be cleared by your medical doctor before starting any gym routine. Your PT is an excellent source for exercises specifically for you, but here is a general overview to get you started with confidence.


It doesn’t matter what equipment you use (bike, treadmill, elliptical). The idea here is to elevate your heart rate in order to burn calories and challenge your cardiovascular system to build endurance. For a moderate workout, you should elevate your heart rate but you should not be out of breath. You should sweat lightly after 10 minutes but still be able to talk. There are formulas available online for figuring your target heart rate, just remember that some heart medications will keep your heart rate the same even with exertion, again check with your doctor. Start at a comfortable pace and work up to 30 to 40 minutes before increasing your speed too much. If you are starting out, it is better to be able to complete a workout easily and increase intensity next time than to overdo and be too sore or tired to work out for the rest of the week. Eventually, you can work up to the recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise. This may seem like a lot but if you include a 5 minute warm up and cool down it can be achieved with 4 work outs a week. And, naturally, this is a goal. Any time you can fit in will help you achieve those goals.

Weight Training

As with other forms of exercise, it is important to start slow. Be sure that you can control the weights that you lift and be careful that you don’t hyperextend your joints, particularly knees and elbows. Most gyms have instructions on their machines and some posters on the wall to describe free weight exercises. Don’t just work the muscles that you can see in the mirror, like the pecs, biceps and quadriceps. A balanced program should include exercises to work the opposing muscles, the posterior shoulder muscles, triceps and hamstrings. Additionally, including exercises to work the rotator cuff muscles can prevent some common shoulder injuries. Start with a weight that allows you to complete at 10 to 15 repetitions of the exercise. You should experience some muscle soreness approximately 48 hours after your workout. If your soreness is excessive or is felt the day after exercise, you can lower your weights and/or repetitions conversely if you experience no or very little soreness, you know that you can safely increase your weights next work out. It is recommended that weight training be done 2 times per week. Many people prefer to break their weight training into two groups rather than work the entire body in one work out. This would allow all muscles to be worked twice a week over 4 weight training sessions.


According to recent research, it is best to do an active warm up prior to your work out and to stretch at the end. Remember to stretch the major muscle groups that you just worked and hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds. You should just feel a slight pull and no pain when you stretch.

Putting it all together

So you start your work out with an active warm up, swinging your arms, lifting your legs or a slow walk. It is recommended that you perform weight training before aerobic activity if you choose to do them both the same day. This is to prevent injury while lifting weights, as your muscles may be fatigued after aerobic exercise.

It is helpful to keep a log of your work outs. This can help you track your progress, adjust your program if you are working too hard or not enough and motivate you toward your goals. Most of all, don’t be intimidated by the so called “gym rats”. Move your weights and intensity up at a comfortable pace and never feel pressured to work harder than you feel capable.

So lace up those sneakers and get moving. It’s not too late to get healthier!

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