4th Stage Rehabilitation with Personal Trainer Justin Sharp

If you’ve been following along with our Personal Trainer series here at New Milford Fitness & Aquatics Club, you probably have noticed that trainers often have different areas that they specialize in. Personal Trainer Justin Sharp focuses on those who are coming off an injury. Physical therapy can help you through the healing process; a Personal Trainer can then design a fitness program to help you safely get back to the fitness level you need to do those activities that you love. In addition to 4th stage rehabilitation, Justin also specializes in sports conditioning. His clinical background, coupled with his participation in college athletics gives him a wide base of knowledge of athletic conditioning as well.

Question: How long have you been a personal trainer? Can you tell us about your experience and certifications?

I’ve been a personal trainer for roughly a decade, as I started working with clients while in college. My experience starts in college where I got my Bachelors in Athletic Training and continued on to get my ACSM Certified Personal Trainer certification. I come from an academic background, which usually differs from personal trainers who may come from a fitness or athletic background.

Personal Trainer Justin Sharp working out in the weight room

Question: What type of clients do you tend to work with?

Because I come from a clinical background, I tend to work with clients who have the need for someone more specialized. Athletic trainers get a lot of physical therapy education, and that’s what I do best; however, I’m trained to take care of other needs such as the geriatric population. If you’ve got a bad hip or a sore shoulder, I’m the guy to work with.

Question: Your specialties are sports conditioning, therapeutic exercise, and 4th stage rehabilitation…what do each of those entail?

When you go to school for athletic training, you’re not just taught therapeutic exercise, that is, the exercise we use to help rehabilitate us. Some of my classes were devoted to getting athletes ready for sports in a safe and healthy manner. You’d be surprised at the work that goes into  a safe and effective conditioning program for athletes, especially the ones who sat on the couch all summer. Let’s say you tear your ACL and require surgery and rehab. The physical therapist will work with you to get you back to your activities of daily living (ADLs), but you still may not feel like you’re back to normal. That’s where 4th stage rehabilitation becomes helpful. That long list of exercises you were asked to do when you got discharged from PT can be hard to do on your own, and even painful. Having a certified Personal Trainer there during your 4th stage rehabilitation can help fast track you back to nearly 100%.  We also make sure you don’t hurt yourself and degrade from your already great progress.

Aquatic exercise is a low-impact workout that takes the pressure off your bones, joints and muscles and offers natural resistance, which strengthens your muscles.

Question: What are some of the types of injuries that you typically see, and what factors do you take into account when creating an exercise program directed towards rehabilitation?

I’ve seen a lot, but mostly it’s lower leg injuries at NMFAC. Factors I take in are slightly different for everyone, as I need to assess your current strength and range of motion. Once I see where the client is at, and their goals, I take some familiar exercises the client did in PT and either add weight slowly, or add complexity to the movement. It gives the person a sense of security knowing they can already do the exercise, and I just tweak it a little bit to help push their recovery further. An example for a knee injury would be body weight squats. The client did tons of those in PT and knows they can do them. I take a squishy mat and make the client do it on that so now they have to engage stabilizing muscles that weren’t originally engaged.

Mobility and flexibility exercise

Question: You often work with clients in the pool. What are the benefits of aquatic exercise?

I have some pool clients, mostly leg injuries and some shoulders. The pool is just amazing for lower body injuries. One of my clients walks with heavy reliance on a cane, but in the pool, he can walk quite quickly without any help. One of my clients is recovering from achilles tendon ruptures and never thought she’d run again, and now she’s training for a half marathon. One client was able to avoid some shoulder surgery when working weekly in the warm pool with me. The pool helps clients relax, and a relaxed client can get more range of motion with less pain. It’s also objectively helpful for reducing weight on the legs, allowing for walking when it wasn’t something able to be done on dry land. 

Aquatic exercise is a low-impact workout that takes the pressure off your bones, joints and muscles and offers natural resistance, which strengthens your muscles.

Question: Do you give your clients “homework?” Are they expected to do certain things in between sessions to help their recovery?

I always tell my clients that recovery is 95% them and 5% me. They don’t hang out with me every waking moment, so I give them things to do at the gym or at home. Personal trainers can’t “prescribe” exercises, but I usually make a list of suggested exercises they can do at the gym or even around the home. I do what I can to make it as simple as possible.

Question: Obviously some injuries are unavoidable, but are there things people can do for injury prevention in general?

Balance and core. Two things that may seem odd for me to say, but hear me out. Working in the pool or on dry land doing exercises helps with body awareness (proprioception). Sometimes we lose our balance, and understanding where our body and limbs are in relation to 3D space around us can help us recover from falling, or at least prevent further injury if you do in fact fall. Our core is very important because it’s the center of gravity for humans. Having a strong center of gravity is very important for helping you direct your mass (body) in a certain direction. I know Michael Gold who works with Jordan and Lynn says that since his core and balance has improved, he’s prevented many injuries.

The hanging leg raise is a core exercise.

Question: Do you have any other tips for injury recovery?

There’s a difference between “feel the burn” and pain. If you’re in recovery and something truly hurts, it’s best to ask a medical professional what is best to do next. Personal trainers like myself can also help talk you through the issue to help you decide if it’s just aches from stiffness or possibly doing damage. “Slow and steady wins the race” is also very important. I know we want to get better right away, but sadly we just can’t do that. Don’t get discouraged, keep going, even if progress seems slow.

Question: What do you enjoy most about being a Personal Trainer?

Working with you all has been a hoot. I love how I’m usually laughing at least twice during my sessions because we talk and have fun. I love getting to know people and that’s probably what I enjoy most!

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