An introduction to goal based exercise therapy.

Updated: Jul 6

You have pain and want to be proactive and help yourself, right? What’s the best thing to do? Do some stretches? A few exercises? Or is there an alternative which is more effective.

In this post, you will learn:

· The difference between exercises and exercise

· Why working toward a specific exercise goal will always beat a few isolated stretches.

· The skill of using goal based exercise.

Exercises or exercise- same same but different.

As a clinician, I am asked almost every day “what exercises should I do to help the pain?”.

The patient is expecting a few stretches or movements they can do to either “loosen” something off or to “strengthen” an area.


I am thrilled when a patient asks this because it shows an element of proactivity and involvement in their recovery. They want to do something to help themselves and that’s great!


The frustrating thing is that I know that what they are asking for is usually limited in its benefits.

If I were to prescribe you exercises, either one or a combination of the following would happen:

1. You don’t do them at all

2. You start to do them and then get bored.

3. You start to do them but don’t see much benefit.

4. You start to do them but the benefit doesn’t last.

So what should you do if you want to be proactive in your recovery?

What is something you could do that would give you 10x the benefit of prescribed exercises, is more sustainable and also enjoyable?

Drum roll please….

It is the gradual working toward a valued exercise goal.

Underwhelming right? What does this even mean?

It is gradually working toward something which; exercises your nervous/cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system, is outside of your current ability and keeps you engaged/focused.

I can tell you with confidence that this has many benefits that far exceed that of doing a few stretches or exercises.

If you are still wondering what the difference between the two is, let me give some examples.

Examples of specific exercises

Cat camel or cat dog stretches that stretch out the spine that you do 3 x a day.

Core exercises that strengthen the back that you do 3 x a day.

Examples of exercise goals

To run a 5k in under 30 minutes in 3 months.

To win the singles league in badminton in the upcoming season.

Very different right?

Why is an exercise goal so much better?

The benefits of exercise are about as close to a magic pill as you are going to get for so many human ailments.

If you could package the benefits of exercise and put it into a tablet- everyone would be taking it!





In one pill- you would get the following:

Improved mood

Improved sleep

Improved confidence

Improved energy

Improved strength

Improved fitness

Improved resilience

Improved body composition

Increased lifespan

The list goes on.

Would you get the same befits from a few prescribed exercises that you are probably not going to do? The answer is no.

It doesn’t put enough demand on the body. It doesn’t give you enough positive psychological feedback. It doesn’t allow you to engage socially with others. It puts more attention inward, rather than outward etc etc. Exercises lack the richness and depth of an exercise goal.

The skill of using goal based exercise therapy.

So we have established that exercises alone are limited compared to exercising toward a goal. You may be open to the idea of using goal based exercise therapy but are unsure where to even start.

If you really want the benefits of goal based exercise therapy to help manage your pain, it requires the following.

1. Establishing a “macro goal”

2. Starting

3. Pacing

4. Reaching “micro goals”

Once you master these 4 components of goal based exercise therapy, you will be equipped with an intervention that is the gold standard for pain management and general wellbeing improvement.

In conclusion

Stretches and isolated strengthening exercises are a commonly used and prescribed intervention for pain management but are very limited in their benefits. Using exercise as a pain management tool is extremely effective but requires working gradually toward an established goal.


Further reading


Goal based exercise therapy- establishing your goal

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Norwich Chiropractor- Shane Derbyshire

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