Your Home Exercise Program and the Learning Process

When learning new tasks, like your exercises on the first day of physical therapy rehabilitation, there is a learning process that takes place. This learning process can be further understood by describing its main three stages: cognitive, associative and automatic.

In the cognitive stage, the learner is first introduced to a new movement/exercise and is making a conscious effort to perform a movement step-by-step. In order to further assist the learner’s awareness in performing the new exercise correctly, they benefit from a large amount of verbal/tactile/visual cueing from the teacher, in this case, the physical therapist. Often times, in this stage, you will hear your physical therapist tell you to move in a slow and controlled manner to help make that mind-muscle connection when learning a new exercise.

After some consistent practice and the basic movement pattern has been learned, the learner enters the associative stage of learning in which they are able to consistently perform the movement with less mistakes and help from the therapist. Within this stage, there is a decrease of a step-by-step conscious effort and components of the movement start to become automatic. The last stage of learning, automatic, is characterized by the learner’s ability to complete the movement correctly, efficiently, automatically, with a decreased step-by-step conscious effort, and independently (without the cues of the therapist). This automatic stage is reached after extensive practice. That is why consistent, daily practice of your home exercise program is strongly encouraged by your physical therapist.

The last stage of learning, automatic, is characterized by the learner’s ability to complete the movement correctly, efficiently, automatically, with a decreased step-by-step conscious effort, and independently (without the cues of the therapist). This automatic stage is reached after extensive practice. That is why consistent, daily practice of your home exercise program is strongly encouraged by your physical therapist.

Understanding the learning process and the different stages can help facilitate learning your new exercises. Your physical therapist will work with you to bring you into the associative stage so that you can continue your care even after you stop visiting your physical therapist. Remember, that the key to mastering your home exercise program relies on consistent practice.

 

By Blanca Cervano, PT, DPT

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