Updated: Jul 6
So we established in the introduction in this post that exercise is a much more effective tool for pain management than isolated stretches or strengthening movements alone. Exercise puts more demand on the cardiovascular, nervous and musculoskeletal systems and has the potential to be much more rewarding and gives a tonne of psychological benefits (which also helps with pain)
In this post, you will learn:
· What a good exercise goal looks like
· The 4 pillars to goal creation
· The common pitfalls to avoid
· Why you should “aim high”
Not all goals are made equal
In order to have the best chances of having success with goal based exercise therapy, you want to make sure that the foundation to the approach is strong.
All good goals have things they share in common, as do bad goals.
Let’s first take a look at what a good goal looks like, then we can discuss some common pitfalls and mistakes that people make to ensure you don’t do the same!
The 4 pillars of a good goal
1. Aim toward (not away) from something.
This sounds obvious on the face of it, doesn’t it? It is very simple advice but also very important. When you have pain, it is entirely normal and common to want to do something that helps you “get away” from pain.
The best goals are the ones that are irrelevant of pain. The trick and skill of working toward that goal whilst you have pain comes in the next post
2. Aim to something outside (not inside) of you
This is closely related to the previous pillar. Many people that are in pain want to “fix” the “problem” inside of them. They want to stretch something that feels stiff or strengthen something that feels weak.
Having a goal that brings your attention outside of your body has natural analgesic effects. If your mind is more focused on the outside environment , rather than the inside- it is as if the pain is diluted and eventually dissipates.
3. Make it tangible
The “thing” that you are aiming toward needs to be specified. The more wishy washy or general it is, the more likely you are to feel lost and just give up.
You can’t feel good about a goal, work toward it or fulfil it if you never specifiy what it is! The goal has to be something that you could clearly communicate to someone else in one clear and succinct sentence.
4. Be with others- don’t go it alone.
This final one is so important. You could imagine the first 3 pillars as 3 legs to a chair. You could probably sit on the chair. It will be a bit wobbly and eventually you will get tired. This 4th pillar is bringing stability to the whole thing.
If you act like a lone wolf in your goals- you are likely to fail eventually. Humans are social creatures. We like to compare ourselves to others. We are competitive. We learn from our kin.
Get others on board in your goals. It could be friends or family. It could be integrating yourself into a team, a club, a league. Anything that brings you with others who are sharing a common goal.
Good goals, bad goals.
Now we have talked through the foundational concepts, let’s take a look at a couple of case studies and compare a good goal strategy to a bad one.
Case #1. Jane: 48 year old female with chronic lower back pain. Inactive. Enjoys walking occasionally.
She wants to do something about the pain. So she decides to do stretches in the morning and evening. She has been told to stretch out her back which will help with the stiffness. She doesn’t know how many to do so plays it by ear.
She knows that exercise will be beneficial. So she decides to start running. She joins a running club that welcomes newbies around the same age. She decides that she would like to do a park run in under 30 minutes within the next 12 months. Her first session is in 2 days.
Case #2. John: 29 year old male with intermittent lower back issues and history of sciatica. Used to play football but stopped a few years ago.
Decides that his core is weak so youtubes a few exercises and does the occasionally when the pain is bad.
Makes contact with the local club. Decides he wants to work toward being first choice in his favourite position and playing his first full 90 minutes. Goes to a training session with a friend next week.
Picking a goal using the 4 pillars is essential for sustainability and maximum benefit physically and psychologically. When you pick a goal that is clear, moves you toward something, takes your attention outside of your body and gets you integrated with others- then you are onto a winner.
In the next post- we will talk through how to navigate toward your goal in manageable steps when you have pain.