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Exercise vs. Positions

Did you know that it matters what position you are in while exercising? Have you ever seen someone doing an arm exercise while lying down and wondered why? Read on to find out.

Lets start by talking about babies

Now, I know this might seem like a strange place to start as most people reading this are likely not infants, and infants typically don't participate in exercise programs, but they can teach us a lot about how to progress them.

As you want a newborn progress to a toddler, we see them starting by lying on their back and moving their arms and legs, eventually they figure out how to get to their belly and move around. Sometime later they are able to push themselves up on their hands and knees (in quadruped) and eventually move arms and legs (crawl). Months later they begin to pull up to kneeling, then put one foot up, finally pull to stand, and one day they are walking.

Now this progression is not random at all, and once we focus on it, it is pretty easy to see the reason this occurs so naturally. When we are lying on our backs, even as a baby, the majority of the surface of our body is on the ground. As we progress to hands and knees, there is less surface area on the ground but still 4 points of contact - 2 large (shins) and 2 small (hands). When we end up walking, we only have 2 small points of contact on the ground (feet). It seems pretty obvious that as a newborn's strength and stability improves, they are able to progress through these different positions.

Why then, is it, that when someone reports pain or problems with a certain motion they do in standing (lets say reaching overhead) is it often treated by different variations of reaching overhead in standing? A lot of times, our brain is creating pain because we are missing some mobility and stability requirements to perform the movement, so performing it over and over is not going to help.

Our brains, although amazing, are not very high risk takers and they like safety and stability, so when a motion is difficult in standing, bringing it back to lying down can be a way for our body to gain the stability it needs to perform the motion. From here, we can work through the same progression a baby goes through when they are trying to create enough stability to stand.

This way, our bodies can gain stability from increasing contact with the ground, and focus on perfecting the movement at hand to perform it is a proper and pain free way.

In my opinion, it is important to follow this progression both within a single exercise session and over a progression of exercise sessions in order to allow our brains to feel "safe" and decrease compensations with movement. Many of my patients will notice that we typically start each session lying down, and progress to positions requiring more stability, and by the end of their care with me that progression is quicker and quicker.

If your PT or trainer is not following this progression, and if it seems they choose exercise order based on what is "available to use," consider if your best interest is at heart and feel free to contact me at

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