Mend Physical Therapy Blog and Injury Information

What Exercises Should I Perform And When?

January 4, 2023

If you’ve been to physical therapy you may have asked yourself the question, what exercises do I do when to be the most productive with my time and effort? I often find myself having this conversation with patients in our Boulder Physical Therapy and Lafayette Physical Therapy clinics and I wanted to share a framework with you about how to think about your weekly exercise plan.

I group my patient’s exercise into one of four categories: mobility, motor control, strength, and endurance/cardiovascular. Let’s define these categories and talk about a plan to incorporate each of these throughout the course of a week.


Mobility includes stretching and range of motion exercises. Mobility work can help reduce muscle and joint discomfort and is often prescribed in physical therapy to help set up the body to achieve the range of motion necessary for function and/or to be able to do strengthening movements. Mobility work is something that I often dose with low intensity and high frequency because frequent input to a tissue helps improve the local tissue extensibility and also trains the neuromuscular system to adapt to the newfound range of motion you are working in. In general terms, mobility work is best done on a daily basis with several small bouts during the day.

Motor Control

Motor control refers to the skill of movement. If you are performing a new task the skill is best learned when frequently revisiting the task for short periods of time. In physical therapy this could be an exercise to help you “find” and engage a muscle group (like your deep neck flexors) or practicing proper squat (or sit to stand) mechanics. I dose motor control exercises at least 4-5 days/week with a goal of doing small and manageable sets of the exercise frequently throughout the day.

Strength Training

This is where we put in the time and effort to build a stronger musculoskeletal system. We’ve written many articles about the importance of strength training for general health, for the management of all sorts of orthopedic conditions, and for improving all types of athletic performance. In general, I recommend you strength train a group of muscles 2-3 times a week. To achieve optimal benefits, it is best to ensure that you are working to an appropriate intensity. I often start patients out by having them work the muscle group for 8-12 repetitions at a perceived effort level of 7/10 and do 3-4 sets per exercise. It can be beneficial to work similar muscle groups with different exercises. For example, a runner trying to build lower body strength may do barbell back squats on one day, kettlebell goblet squats the next, and box jumps the third. I like to remind my patients that in order to build a bigger stronger muscle you need to both work the tissue hard enough to elicit change and also have appropriate rest in between working days for the muscle to recover and grow back stronger. If you want to lean more about how to get your strength program on track, click here

Cardiovascular Exercise

Last but not least, lets keep the cardiovascular system healthy! The ACSM recommends that “All healthy adults aged 18–65 years should participate in moderate intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes on five days per week, or vigorous intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 20 minutes on three days per week.”

Click Here to learn which exercise prescription is best for your goals