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Repetition, repetition, repetition

activity back pain back pain advice management May 06, 2022
squat repetitions

Repetition can be a good or bad thing in the world of back pain, and indeed, for other injuries, our broader health and general wellbeing.

Repetition can help us develop good habits. It can help us learn new skills.

But there are times when repetition might cause problems, even if not immediately apparent.


Do this, do that

It seems that humans like to reduce everything to the simplest possible set of instructions. Or at least, the majority seem to be drawn to a view of the world where everything is measurable and can be reduced to ever-simpler terms.

Social media is awash with content telling us to do this, do that, and repeat. They suggest life is simple, and simple approaches are all we need. But do you not think we would have solved the world's problems by now if they were simple?


Where repetition helps

Repetition is good for creating patterns and habits. 

If cycling is what you like to do to keep fit, you're only going to achieve your goal by doing it repeatedly. Setting a routine for your week will help you get the repetitions done. Strength and stamina will develop, and times will drop.

If you want to go to the gym to get stronger, it's not going to happen in one visit.
If yoga helps you unwind and stretch tight spots, it's going to get better with more flows.
If mindfulness helps tackle chronic pain, it will work better when done daily.


When repetition causes concern

To put it briefly, repetition without variety can start to become an issue.

Riding the same bike along the same course at the same speed starts to lose its impact.
Doing the same workout with the same weights leads to a plateau.

It's not unheard of for patients to come to clinic having been injury-free for decades. During that time some have been repeating the same exercises every day, without fail. It's been quite a commitment on their part, and those exercises were given in good faith. They most likely served a purpose at the time of a previous injury, but their value has washed away slowly over the decades, like water eroding rock.


Variation, variety

As we have written before, we need a diverse set of movement skills to keep functioning optimally. Let's pretend there are 26 of them, and give each a letter of the alphabet.

How often do you perform each of the 26? 

How well do you thi-k you would be able to rea- a book if it was missing a couple of letters of the alphabet throughout?

W-a- if jus- fi-e le--e-s were -issing ---oughou- the sa-e book?
(That's "what if just five letters were missing throughout the same book" without h t v r m)


Can you cope with the unexpected?

Regardless of how regularly "good" movements are repeated, if they're done at the neglect of others, trouble is perhaps just around the corner.

If you focus on the repetition of a simple plan, it's easy to lose sight of the rest of what we need.

When we face the unexpected, we need a complete set of skills to navigate our way through. 

To prepare for this, enjoy variety, seek variation, and add complications.

Swap a bike ride for a yoga session. 
Find new ways of stretching your hamstrings.
Do your bicep curls on one leg.

Keep checking that you're not about to lose any more le--ers.

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