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Everything Works–For Six Weeks–Then It Stops Working

“The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.”–Charles Kettering

One of the most frequent complaints from gym members and physical therapy patients is that they exercise but see no results.  They consistently ride the elliptical, attend yoga class, and run, but make no progress in how they look, move, or feel.  The common feature to almost all of these clients is that they have done the same activity at the same intensity for a prolonged period of time.  The human body is a master at adaptation and the only way it will change is if you alter your exercise activity on a regular basis.

In athletic training, the planned alteration in training stimulus is called periodization.  Periodization is a method of dosing your exercise workloads to promote peak performance.  The athlete works at a specific regimen for four to six weeks and then the program is changed before physical adaptation takes place and progress stalls.

Older and more experienced gym goers should alter their fitness routine every three to four weeks.  The changes do not need to be major.  Increase the weight you lift and lower the number of repetitions–four sets of six repetitions instead of three sets of ten repetitions.  Get off the recumbent bike and add some drills to improve your gait and enhance balance.  Expand your training tool box and learn how to use a new device– resistance tubing, medicine ball, kettlebell…

For fat loss, choose what strength coach Dan John calls inefficient exercise.  Over the weeks and months, the elliptical session you have been performing three days a week burns fewer calories because your body becomes efficient in that activity.  Find activities that are unfamiliar or that can be loaded to make them more challenging.  At Fenton Fitness, the Jacobs Ladder and rope drills are my first suggestions.

Most programming changes make training more difficult and produce greater delayed onset muscle soreness.  This is all part of creating a new stimulus that the body finds challenging.  In three or four weeks, the sessions will be less demanding and you will be ready for another alteration in the training cycle.

Change is good but frequently neglected.  The best results have come with regular alterations of fitness programming.  Remember that change can also be a period of rest.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Fitness training for those of us past 40 years of age is more complicated. Physical performance and recovery capacity are dramatically different. If you need proof, look for the forty year olds in the NBA or NFL. The good news is that with proper planning, consistent performance, and the wisdom that comes with age, we can stay fit and active for a lifetime. I have compiled a collection of tips for the forty plus fitness client.



Do the Most Important Thing First and Do It More Often

Older gym goers have a work capacity “gas tank” that is smaller than their younger friends. Their neural and energy pathways give out sooner and take longer to recover. Older fitness clients need to place the most important training activities early in an exercise session before fatigue degrades performance. Make your weakest movement pattern the first one you train. If you lack mobility in a specific movement such as a squat, hip hinge, or lunge, train that first. Activities that demand more neural control, such as balance and power drills, should be placed early in the training session.

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One of the most interesting and enjoyable individuals I have met during my career as a physical therapist was Mr. V. Mr. V immigrated with his wife to America after World War II. He worked in the tool and dye business for over forty years and had been retired for some time when I met him at age 75. His wife had passed away when he was 72, and he had adjusted to living alone. He had three children and six grandchildren who were all a big part of his life.

Mr. V was initially referred for treatment of a cervical pain problem that occurred while on vacation with his grandchildren. Over the span of twelve years, I had the MrVopportunity to treat him two other times for a knee tendonitis and a shoulder impingement problem. All of these orthopedic problems resolved quickly, and I was impressed with Mr. V’s ability to recover for man in his eighth decade. His lifestyle was just as amazing. He kept a busy social life and traveled frequently. He participated in several athletic activities and he had the strength, endurance, and flexibility to outperform many men half his age.

Mr. V was gracious enough to share with me his habits that had produced a long, fit, and active life. Mr. V took a brisk, twenty minute walk every day. On the days the weather was bad, he rode an exercise bike. He performed a series of stretches every morning. Three times a week he performed some “lifting exercises” with dumbbells, a stability ball, and tubing. He slept seven hours a night, retiring and waking at the same time daily. He ate a diet that consisted of many of his favorite Mediterranean dishes, avoided junk food, and limited alcohol. He enjoyed sports and regularly played golf, tennis, and bowled. That was it–no big secrets, no special supplements, no elaborate exercise program—just a long term devotion to a little over three hours of simple exercise a week, enough sleep, proper nutrition, and a rewarding social life. Mr. V was a living testimony that doing these simple things paid big benefits.

The lesson from Mr. V is that staying fit and active over a long life is not a complicated thing to do. An overload of information from the media and “health experts” tend to make it difficult for the average person to know how to begin. You need to start with simple changes. Do not get paralysis by analysis-just get up and get started. You do not need special shoes, clothes, or elaborate equipment. What you need is to be disciplined enough to make these easy changes in your life. The effects of regular exercise, proper nutrition, and enough sleep accumulate over time and can reward you with an active life well into your eighties.

-Michael O’Hara, P.T., O.C.S., C.S.C.S.

Success in any fitness program is based on consistency.  Train, eat, sleep, repeat produces amazing results if carried out over a long period of time.  Several studies have found that those of us who exercise in the morning miss fewer workouts and are more dedicated to a fitness lifestyle.  When you exercise in the morning no unscheduled life events have a chance to develop which often happens when you work out in the afternoon.  While everyone else is dozing, you can train and no one misses you at home or work.  It takes the guilt out of spending time on yourself instead of tending to the needs of your family, work, and home.

Many people look at those of us who exercise in the morning as beings from another planet–my wife included.  They are unable to fathom how we can get out of a warm bed in the morning and participate in any type of activity.  After discussing this with several morning-only exercise members at the gym, we have some suggestions:

Go To Bed Earliersleeping_on_ex_ball

If you want to exercise early and still make it through your day, you must hit the hay at least an hour earlier.

Get Up As Soon As Possible

Move your alarm clock far away from your bed.  Resist hitting the snooze alarm.  Stand up as quickly as you can and start the preparation process.

Lay Out Your Clothes the Night Before

Get your fitness clothes and shoes ready before retiring for the evening.  If you want to bring a hydration drink, get it ready the night before and have it waiting in the refrigerator.  Nearly every morning exercise participant states that the hardest part of training in the morning is getting dressed and out the door.

Layer Up

Training in the morning usually involves colder temperatures, so put on some extra layers of clothing that you can peel off as you heat up during the training session.

Some Sort of Breakfast

A hard lesson learned by many of us AM exercisers is that training on an empty stomach can lead to a sudden blood sugar crash.  The breakfast suggestions from my morning training team vary; however, the common denominators are hydration in the form of coffee, juice, tea, or water and an easy to digest carbohydrate meal.  Common pre-training breakfasts include: Tea and half a bagel,  a juice blender drink,  or cereal and coffee.

Go Somewhere

Morning exercise people are rarely successful training at home.  There are too many distractions, and you end up waking your family.  We go to the track, gym, pool, or open road, but we all get out of the house.

A Longer Warm Up

After spending six to eight hours in bed, your muscles and joints will be stiff and the neural system sluggish.  You need to dedicate more time warming up when you exercise in the morning.  Become familiar with movement preparation activities.  Schedule an assessment with Jeff Tirrell, our Program Director, for more information.  I also highly recommend reading books by Mark Verstegen or visiting the Exos website.  Expect to spend at least ten or twelve minutes on movement preparation before diving into the pool, running on the track, or lifting weights.

-Michael O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS