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Dr Leada Malek - Injury Rehab + Return to Lifting | Fuel Your Strength Podcast

Sports Injury Rehab and Returning to Lifting

One of the most common questions I get is about returning to lifting and modifying your training after an injury. While it can feel scary to get back into lifting after an injury, the good news is that with the right program, your body can overcome more than you believe it can.

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Key Takeaways

If You Want to Return To Lifting After an Injury, You Should:

  1. Listen to pain as if it is a messenger and not a serious alarm
  2. Try to move past your fear and anxiety by thinking happy thoughts
  3. Work with a professional to find the right dosage and rate of exercise for your state

Getting Back to What You Love with Dr. Leada Malek

Dr. Leada Malek is a licensed physical therapist, board-certified sports specialist, and one of the 9% of therapists in the US who specialize in sports therapy. She has treated everyone from professional dancers to athletes, weekend warriors, and young adults. Dr. Malek uses a combined approach of manual therapy and therapeutic exercise to help her patients move better, perform better, and compete again. She believes in retraining the body as a whole and assisting people in preventing or recovering from injury so that they can continue to do what they love.

Treating the Whole Person

You may not think of yourself as an athlete, but Dr. Malek believes that you are one if you are doing something that you love. When an injury happens, it can prevent us from doing these activities; and it can profoundly impact our mental health, immune system, hormones, sleep, and mood.

Dr. Malek likes to get to know and treat a person as a whole being. Knowing what drives you, your fears, and your strengths can help identify an injury and prevent any future injuries. Addressing your thoughts and beliefs around your injury can actually help you resolve your pain and give you the confidence to get back into lifting again.

Get Past Your Fear and Back Into the Gym

Sometimes an injury or simply getting older can make us question our ability to build strong muscles and strong bones. But Dr. Malek is here to tell you that your body is incredibly resilient, and with the right dosage and right rate of exercise, your body can adapt, and you can take baby steps towards doing what you love again.

Pain is not always a sign of injury, but it does need to be listened to. By paying attention to what your body is trying to tell you, and focusing on the exercises and movement patterns that make you feel the best, you can address all the things that go into making you a functioning human, and move past your injury in the best way possible.

Are you ready to address your fears around rehabbing your injury and get back to lifting? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below.

In This Episode

  • Common issues that athletes deal with, even at a high level of performance in contrasting arenas (10:02)
  • The role of low energy availability and how it can impact how you train (14:49)
  • Physical manifestations that can come from low energy availability when recovering (20:56)
  • What to do if you are afraid or skeptical to start lifting again after an injury (24:42)
  • How to know how much mobility is right for you (34:20)


“Once I got in and really started to appreciate how you could use exercise to help someone continue to exercise despite their ability to not exercise, that was really cool to me.” (7:14)

“It may not show up in hormonal levels, or maybe it is, and you just can’t see it, but it can show up in your mood, in sleep disturbances, in immune function.”  (20:24)

“Not every question that you ask the person may be about the injury, but every question you ask should be about them. What they think, what they believe, how they view their injury, what scares them or what excites them, and what they want to be able to do. Because if you have all that information, and they are having an off day because of something else, you might catch something at a very early stage that could save them from a future injury.” (23:11)

“You should be able to complete everything you want to do without the looming fear of ‘this is going to injure me again’. Because your body is super resilient.” (27:24)

“There is someone out there that is dedicated to making sure that you understand your body in the sense that is going to offer the way of exercising for longevity, and that doesn’t hinder your progress.” (29:39)

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Related Episodes

LTYB 358: Hypermobility, Pain, and Strength Training with Nikki Naab-Levy

LTYB 351: Strength Training Risk vs Benefit 

LTYB 350: Are You Eating Enough? Low Energy Availability in Sport

Sports Injury Rehab and Returning to Lifting w/ Dr. Leada Malek

Steph Gaudreau
One of the most common questions that I get every week in my direct messages and my emails is, Steph, I’ve injured my blank. How am I going to get back to lifting? How should I modify my training, I hear you loud and clear because a decade ago, I hurt my back. And it was one of the most serious injuries I had had. I was afraid. I had pain. I was confused. I didn’t know what to do. And I just wanted to get back to lifting because I loved it. And I still do.

So I’m not an expert on this topic, which is why I have a very consistent habit of recommending people who are when you contact me, but I wanted to invite an expert on this to the podcast today so that she can give us her perspective on injury, being an athlete strength training, how to get back to the gym, what to look for what some of the most important factors are in returning to training, and so much more. If you’ve ever dealt with this, or you’re currently dealing with it now. I know today’s podcast will help.

The Listen To Your Body podcast is all about helping women who lift weights get stronger, fuel themselves without counting every bite of food, perform better in and out of the gym, and take up space. I’m a strength coach, nutritional therapy practitioner, and certified intuitive eating counselor Steph Gaudreau. This weekly show brings you a discussion about building strength without obsessing about food and exercise, lifting weights, food, psychology, and more. You’ll learn how to eat, train, recover, listen to your body, and step into your strength. Hit subscribe on your favorite podcast app. And let’s dive in.

Strength Training Injury Rehab

Hey there, welcome back to the podcast. Thank you so much for being here with me today to hear all about injury and recovery and being an athlete and dealing with aches and pains. And how do you get back to the thing that you’d love to do if you’ve had an injury? I’ve invited a very special guest today and her name is Dr. Leada Malek.

She is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and she has such an amazing Instagram presence and obviously works in private practice with folks who want to resume activity and are really working to rehab, their injuries. She works with a wide range of people but really specializes in athletes and dancers. And even if you don’t consider yourself an athlete, which we do address in the show, I hope that you listen to this podcast today.

Because I find that Dr. Malek has a really interesting approach. And it’s not something I’ve heard from a lot of people who are here to help you rehab your body and get back to the things that you really enjoy. So I brought her on the podcast so she can be the expert because she is really giving you the guidance and the sort of maybe next steps that could be useful for you.

Of course, hit the subscribe button on your podcast app before you do anything else. And just a reminder that if you are looking to get your nutrition kind of dialed in for lifting and your other athletic pursuits, men, I have my group program strength nutrition unlocked available to you. This is going to help you build muscle get stronger, lift heavier, it’s going to help you have more energy and perform better both in and out of the gym.

If you’ve been trying to DIY this and all it’s really done is made you confused and you’re looking for clarity and a strategy that you can implement. Then go and check out the page for Strength Nutrition Unlocked. It is at StephGaudreau.com/link. There you can see what the status of the program is. Is it currently open or is the waitlist up, put your name on the waitlist or if it’s open, come and work with me. I want to help you achieve the things that you want to do with your lifting. You can totally get there and we can do it together.

All right, let’s go ahead and jump into this podcast all about injury recovery and lifting with Dr. Leada Malek. Hi, Leada, welcome to the show.

Dr. Leada Malek
Hi, Steph, thanks for having me.

Physical Therapy Journey

Steph Gaudreau
I’m so excited that you’re here. We connected initially you know on Instagram. We’ve talked multiple times on this podcast about the beauty and the pain that is Instagram social media and I’m always just so delighted when I meet people, virtually, who I may not have met ever in my life. And we connect that way.

And I love what you do and your mission for helping active people move and play better. I think that’s such a great mission and obviously very aligned to it here on this podcast. Um, gosh, tell us about how you got into, you know, being a physical therapist. But specifically, I know you’ve had experience working with a very specific subset of sorts of athletes and people within physical therapy and treating them. So how did you how did your journey take you to this point?

Dr. Leada Malek
Well, I think you could, I’ll date it back to college and undergrad is when I was trying to figure things out. So like a majority of physical therapists, I studied kinesiology and neuroscience as an undergrad, and then in that process, I was searching for what sort of health field I would like to go into or profession in the health field. And so I worked in the athletic training room with the athletes which was felt like a home base for me because I played volleyball growing up and just the culture in the training room, and the weight room is something that felt familiar to me.

So I loved it, in terms of helping my friends and student-athletes get better in there. And then along the way, I shadowed physician associates, nurses, chiropractors, physical therapists, athletic trainers, and it all came down to actually came down to athletic training and physical therapy. They were like neck and neck for me. And then ultimately, I paid for physical therapy because of the longevity of earning it was a long time and the time you spent with the athlete, outside of just their competition, athletic trainers, I have the most respect for them.

I think those are the most incredible people and they work so hard. Like my head trainer was in at six and leave at 8 pm. They’re just like, I don’t know how you do it. But, that led me to physical therapy. And then once I got in and I really started to appreciate how you could use exercise to help someone continue to exercise despite their ability to not exercise was really cool to me.

Biggest Interest in Ortho

And just, I was fascinated by the human body and its ability to, heal and move, and build on itself. And sports. Ultimately, I was open to everything in PT school, I loved acute care, I loved pediatrics, I liked it all I kept an open mind. But sports ortho always felt like home base. And so ultimately, I chose a clinic after graduation that was mainly sports, orthopedics.

And there I got an exposure to I was in San Francisco, so is really active population there. From the high school athletes to the older athletes, I saw everything and everything. So lots of dancers, we worked with the dance companies in the area, a lot of athletes, and that was just constant exposure to people that love to do an activity at a very high level that was competitive, or at a competitive level despite not being in competition.

And then it just kind of settled me into this sports and orthopedics world, where, where the person is working at a higher level because they want to and they love it and or maybe they’re competing. And then from there, I’ve just sort of evolved and continued to find work, I was lucky enough to spend time with excess at the start of the year in San Diego work with professional athletes, more so professional athletes, NFL and MLB. Worked with dancers in the area. So I’ve had a whole range. But ultimately it started in the training room. And now I’m here. I love it.

Steph Gaudreau
I always love to hear people’s stories, because it is sometimes a pretty winding road. And you know all of your experiences that have led you up to this point, little known fact about me I actually my first major in college was physical therapy. So in a year as a PT major, and I unfortunately had I had, you know, sort of my observation hours in a setting that to me, didn’t really stoke my fire. And yeah, there was nobody really there to say hey, there’s other stuff. And I changed my major and I moved to colleges, so…

Dr. Leada Malek
That can definitely happen.

Steph Gaudreau
Yeah, I wish I had had that sort of, you know, go into the athletic training room because I was a high school as well. So anyway, that’s, that’s my little connection there. I think there’s such an interesting experience you’ve had here with you just mentioned sort of working with high these high level like even pro sports athletes MLB, NFL, and dancers on the surface might seem like very different populations. What are some of the I guess commonalities or common things that you saw that these, you know folks performing at a high level we’re dealing with, despite being in what people would think are completely disparate pursuits, right?

Commonalities with Different Athlete Populations

Dr. Leada Malek
Gosh, I love talking about this because people always look at like a ballerina and a football player and they’re like, there’s no way, they have to do the same thing, which the demands of their sport are very different. But at the root of things, they both need to be extremely flexible to be able to generate as much, either whether it’s the dancer, their endurance to their entire routine, or through a football game, hip mobility, for example, ankle mobility, the ability to stay stable in their core while they’re going forward, or jumping, or leaping or something. That’s all, there’s so much overlap.

It’s just a matter of who’s doing it. The way that’s it for their scale, they all have competition schedules or dance schedules, where they’re constantly doing something for hours on end, they have to refuel. And if they don’t, things happen, and it’s the same across the board. And it’s so funny, I actually had a friend of mine who was a professional ballerina, she was in San Diego for a little bit I had dropped by the facility I was at and so I had her working on, she was a post op, hip, hip surgery.

And I had her work with me down there because she was getting ready to go back to dance. And she was working on her ballet-specific moves her hip mobility and her ankle mobility and her balance and her foot control in the same gym where football players were training in. And it was so interesting to see their faces. And it’s just like, What is this? What is this sport that’s in our gym right now?

But each one of them was so equally surprised at what the other athlete was able to do. Which is fascinating to me. And also just really motivating because you see that one each one respects another at a level that’s so high up because they understand what it takes to be able to do something like that in your craft.

And so there is so much overlap between dancers and other Korova athletes or gymnasts, that all comes down to the ability of the body to do something that’s really freakin’ hard. And the need to rest and their need to eat and recover and tackle your sport again, or, or, or dance or competition, whatever it may be. Yeah,

Everyone is an Athlete

Steph Gaudreau
I love that. And we were talking off-air. And you were, as I always asked my guests, you know, I know what you all do and what your universe is before we start talking. But I always ask people, Hey, what’s, is there something you feel really passionate about talking about?

And you said, you know, it’s really important to you to treat everyone as an athlete. And I wonder, you know, we’ve already sort of touched on some of these, like, high level are professional athletes, like people who are getting paid to do their sport, which Yeah, not everyone. And I’m wondering, for the folks listening, what did, how do you define who an athlete is? Or how do you help people kind of self-identify in that way?

Dr. Leada Malek
If I find that I’m working with someone who really seems to love a certain type of activity or a certain level of, you could call it exertion. But you know, what I mean, just working at a level that is in demand for an activity that it is regarding physical activity or exercise if they plan their life and their moves around being able to do something, and they love it. And they obviously need to plan around it in terms of sleep time schedule, I consider them an athlete.

In their own mind, if they self identify not as an athlete, then I go ahead and explain like, Okay, we don’t have to look at it as if you are an athlete, but I’m still going to give you the level of detail, I would that I would give an athlete. So in those two senses, generally, if it’s a huge part of their life, and if they can’t do that sport or activity, that it would take a toll on their life, and their mental well being, I will consider them.

Steph Gaudreau
I appreciate that because I know there are a lot of people who listen to this show, who would agree and say yeah, I really do love this activity or this sport that I do. It’s an important part of my life and my well-being right to get out there to be outside or to be with other people or whatever it is. And yet that word can be such a hangout for people true and keep them from self-identifying in that way.

I know that one of the big things that you’ve talked about and kind of weaves through your work is this idea of low energy availability and how it impacts athletes how it impacts their not only their performance, but their physical body and so I wonder if you can, you know, tell us about for you how do you see this impacting the people that you work with?

Low Energy Availability Impacts on Athletes

Dr. Leada Malek
Yeah, this is a really important topic to me because I feel like it doesn’t get as much attention as it should. It’s starting to get more but it’s still in the mix of like glamour of getting strong and in the gym and, you know, looking a certain way, performing a certain way, the low hanging fruit sometimes gets missed. And that’s eating well, sleeping well, and taking care of your mental health.

And I think when it comes to low energy availability, and that gets the concept, basically just not eating enough to sustain the activities that you have to do. And when that becomes it’s basically a math equation, I should surely say it’s what you take in, subtract it, subtract what you end up doing, the energy, you expend. And then it’s what’s leftover to take care of your normal bodily functions that help keep you alive and help keep the system flowing and working as it should.

So that takes into account hormones, brain health, mental health, digestive health, everything. So the stuff you can’t see, that makes you a functioning human is what can get affected if you don’t take the necessary steps and make sure that you refuel, and sometimes that concept gets a little bit brushed under when people are so hung up on making competition happen and sleeping to get up the next day and working to get into the next workout and constantly being on that, quote, unquote grind mindset and like no days off, or like pushing through pain.

And all this stuff contributes to that mentality of I think, not feeling enough to adequately and when that happens in with my athletes, there’s not only a decrease in performance, that you’ve noticed that they’re not playing as well, they’re not lifting as heavy. But other things happen to it.

Determining Low Energy Availability

Sometimes it’s hard to tease out what caused it. Was it the lack of sleep that made them not play well? Or was it the fact they weren’t eating enough that made them not sleep well? Or is it the fact that they’re anxious about a game that made them not eat well, so now they’re not eating well, and they’re not playing well? And now they’re not sleeping well.

So there’s all these different triangles and pieces to it, that affect one another. And in the grand scheme of things when we talk about energy, energy availability, when, when that affects females and males, it affects both of them equally, it just in different ways. And historically, the female athlete triad has gotten more of a spotlight. And I know Lately, they’ve been trying to talk about more of the athlete triad, so inclusive of males, and what happens in both of them, hormones get affected, bone health gets affected, and other areas underneath each of those.

So with women, which I’ll focus on, just because that’s where I work more, missing a period or not eating enough and then feeling anxious, and that then missing your period. Or whether it’s your bone health, that starts to become an issue, and then you keep training on that. And then you find a stress reaction or a stress fracture, or you maybe you have a stress fracture that doesn’t seem to resolve.

And then people dig into that. And they realize it’s because there’s a low energy intake. So there’s all this, it’s a huge concept that is affected by so many different things. And I see that. So in so many different ways, with the athletes, whether it’s around the food itself, or their training schedule, or anything that affects it. That’s the basic overarching concept that I like to draw awareness to.

Steph Gaudreau
Yeah, so so important. And, you know, we’ve talked on this podcast in the past about the study from 2016, it was a survey study out of New Zealand, where they went into, it was some kind of recreational exercise facility, I don’t know if it was like a YMCA or something similar, but they went into this, the setting where people, you know, wouldn’t probably self identify as even an athlete or an elite athlete and, and surveyed them and found that of the women they surveyed, almost half were at risk for low energy availability.

Which shocks a lot of people because, to your point, what you were talking about in sort of how we define that a lot of people would say, Well, I didn’t go that hard, or I’m not pushing myself that much. And, you know, or I’m concerned about my weight. And so I’m really trying to work on, you know, energy reduction, and it gets really muddy really fast.

How Low Energy Availability Might Be Affecting You

Dr. Leada Malek
Yeah. Especially when it does have to do like a sport if the athlete is in that, even like if it is someone who is competing for your sports, for example, or a little bit more risks of dance gymnastics, sports with weight class, that’s a little bit riskier, we could say. But even in like your daily life, like even I, I was never at, I checked, I could not risk.

There was a point in my life a couple of years ago, where I was working just really long hours, like for 12 hour days. Very busy physical therapy clinic. I was under high stress. And I had an hour and a half break and I would work out every time I was at work for an hour.

Now what I didn’t realize was I wasn’t eating a huge lunch in regards to how much I was actually on my feet and working out. And then I get home I leave at like six o’clock in the morning and I get back at 830 at night time. I’d sleep I’d probably be 10 or 11. I wasn’t sleeping enough, I was working out and standing on my feet forever and working. And I was eating like a lightish lunch with a might lightish breakfast.

And I was wondering why I kept getting sick. So the immune system, it may not show up in hormonal levels, or maybe it is that you just can’t see it, but it can show up in mood and sleep disturbances and immune function. And then finally, when you fast forward two years, I’m like, Wow, no wonder I was so beat up.

Steph Gaudreau
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. With some of the folks that you work with, what are some of the sorts of physical manifestations, you know, maybe with pain, or you mentioned stress factors, stress fractures. But is there anything else that you see that is sort of common in your athletes that you work with who are probably more in the at-risk category or are actually trending toward low energy?

Common Problems for Athletes At-Risk for Low Energy

Dr. Leada Malek
Yeah, as a physical therapist, I think the first thing we’ll see is delayed healing, of things just not responding as quickly as they should, based on the level of injury or the type of inflammation or the type of pain or type of structure involved. So delayed healing is what we’ll usually see the most. And other things that we pick up just by being with the patient or client, or athlete for as long as we do, which is usually, for example, two hours a week for eight weeks straight. So that’s a lot of time. I’ll pick up on mood changes, attitudes, anxiety, fear, apprehension, all these things that are affected.

And that can be affected by energy intake, too. So because if they’re not healing well, or they’re not healing quickly enough, or responding to the things that they should be responding to, if they’re feeling a little bit more anxious. If I can tell they’re not sleeping enough, or sleeping, well, if they come in, and they’re super tired, constantly, or low energy, which we spend enough time with someone, you sort of figure out their personality.

And it’s funny, like my athletes will figure it out with me too. Like, if I’m having an off day, like, are you okay, once, I’m fine, I can’t either. So we know each other pretty well. And, and one thing I want to draw attention to is that you may not pick up on these things unless you have established that connection with your client or athlete, which is why communication is so, so important.

If someone isn’t taking the time to ask you the way, things that you believe in, or what you like, and what you dislike, what motivates you, what scares you? Maybe not explicitly, but when you get to that conversation level of, oh, I, I can I know this person, and I know what drives them, they won’t be able to tell when things are off. And so I make a huge point and to try and establish that it’s not always, I always say like not every question that you ask the person in front of you may be about the injury.

But every question you asked should be about them, and what they think and what they believe and how they view their injury or what scares them or what, what excites them and what they want to be able to do. Because if you have all the information, if they’re having an off day, and it’s because of something else, you might catch something at a very early sign at every stage that could save them from a further injury.

Strength Training with an Injury

Steph Gaudreau
Mm-hmm. Yeah, I love that. I think that’s so important that that person-centered, you know, treatment in your case, or coaching if you’re someone who’s a coach or a trainer, or you’re a nutritionist, or whatever it is an RD like the people you’re working with are whole people, right? They might be great for one, one pretty specific thing, but it’s probably unlikely that that that one thing is so isolated, that nothing else in their life touches, right? Absolutely.

You know, one of the common questions I get in my community is, okay, I know that lifting weights is beneficial. I know that getting stronger is important. We’re not getting any younger, none of us, we know that we know the risks that come along with things like sarcopenia, which is you know, muscle loss and bone loss as we get older. So it’s like the logical part of the brain gets it, right.

But a lot of people listening to this, in the past have had a situation where they were lifting or doing their thing and they got hurt. And now they’re really afraid that it’s going to happen again. Or they do start again, and they get some kind of another injury. And it becomes extremely frustrating, very anxiety-inducing. What advice or kind of, you know, ideas do you have for folks in that position to think about if they’re considering getting back to lifting or it’s something they want to do.

Dr. Leada Malek
I’m so glad you brought this up because people don’t always realize that fear and anxiety and self-efficacy is the thing we talked about in physical therapy. The ability to believe you can or can’t do something well or poorly plays a huge role in actually how your brain perceives pain. Back pain, for example, nonspecific low back pain, most of that, if we address your thoughts, your beliefs, and your graded exposure to you actually lifting and moving again, chances are your pain is going to resolve.

It’s not, it’s not as scary as it may seem. And that’s not to downplay pain by any means. But the first thing I will tell people is to pay attention to pain as if it’s a signal that your body is trying to tell you something. It may not, it may not like something it was a little bit uncomfortable was pushed too hard. It doesn’t necessarily mean something is injured. Pain is not always a sign of grave injury.

Protective Mechanisms Following an Injury

And the analogy that I always give is, if you’ve ever gotten a paper cut, or stepped on a Lego, it hurts like hell. But chances are it hasn’t stabbed your foot and you’re gushing blood anywhere. Although obviously, I can do chances are, it’s not that bad. And so sometimes what we feel is is a protective mechanism. And your brain is letting me know, holy shit, like move away from that ASAP because I wasn’t ready for it. Or it’s unfamiliar or it’s new.

But nothing may not, things may not be actually hurt. And if they are hurt, chances are they will resolve with physical therapy if you give it a shot, or if it’s something more serious, there are solutions around it as well. So the first thing I would suggest is to listen to pain as if it’s a messenger, and not as a huge alarm that signals that something is gravely hurt or screwed up or anything like that.

The second thing I would suggest is fear and anxiety, it will only limit you more. So trying to think it seems simple. But thinking happy thoughts is really the theme. So don’t think don’t try to be fearful of movements or anxious about movements. And that may hurt you because it may actually play a trick on your brain and thinking that you actually can’t do it, which affects how you will do it. And now you can’t do it.

So trying to and if you feel like you’re not ready, then having a good coach that’s able to regress it for you and you could still you can still be successful at a similar movement at a lighter weight or impartial movement is the way to go. Because there’s no way you shouldn’t, you should be able to complete everything you want to do without the looming fear of like, oh, this is gonna injure me again. Because your body is super resilient.

And even though sometimes we get older. And we think of this, oh, we can’t build muscle enough our bone mass is changing. Just because that process Yes, it is speeding up a little bit doesn’t mean it’s gonna be impossible to get stronger or build strong bones again, you actually can still build strong bones and muscles. Despite sarcopenia and osteopenia, it just has to be the right way at the right dosage at the right rate. So that your body can adapt at its new sort of speed. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed for injury ever.

Fear of Seeking Help

Steph Gaudreau
I want anyone who’s dealing with an injury or has had one in the past and is reluctant to go back and rewind Is that a thing is rewinding a thing he thought about that like rewinding the tape, rewind this part of the interview especially, and listen to it again. Because I think that there is so much brilliance in what you just said.

And it’s something that a lot of people fear is even getting treatment or going to see someone for the fear that they’re going to be told they cannot do the things that they enjoy anymore. And how even that becomes a barrier to seeking treatment or seeking an assessment or working with a professional is the fear of well, you’re not you shouldn’t lift, you know, five pounds and ever again and that’s devastating to people.

Dr. Leada Malek
Yeah. And I would emphasize to people viewing or to people listening in the a lot has changed over the last decade, even the last five years of the general narrative around lifting weights, and sometimes you will meet someone who has not realized it’s changed. And they may tell you outdated information. And that’s it.

I encourage people to get multiple opinions. If you feel like the one you heard may not be the answer you feel is right. Or if the answer scared you or made you anxious or you’re uncertain. Go ask someone else. There’s someone out there that is dedicated to making sure you understand your body in the sense that’s gonna offer a way of exercising for longevity, and that doesn’t hinder your progress. squatting, knees over toes. That’s a totally fine concept and we think it was not fine.

Like how is it not buying the house? If it’s not fine, we wouldn’t be able to go downstairs and get knees over toes may be uncomfortable for certain parts of people’s pain cycles if they’re dealing with a knee injury, of course. But we regress that and we start to progress it so that you’re able to do that. If you’re on if you can’t do a squat, do a wall sit, and then start to move into it.

Functional Movements Are Necessary

There’s so many ways that you if you can’t do if you can’t let your knee pass your toe, stairs are going to be hard. Which you probably have felt, if you’ve ever had knee pain, or going downhill, it’s going to be hard. But it’s a functional movement that we need to be able to do at least in some capacity for daily function.

Lifting is bad for the back, does form really matter as much as it does? It depends. It always depends. And unfortunately, that’s the answer we always got in PT school, we never want to do it. And we heard it every time. Another physical therapist, it’s true, it depends. And, like loading the spine is that dangerous to the back squat, I used to think it was, I used to think lifting heavy was maybe not for everyone, everyone can lift weights, every single person who was placed, not everyone needs to deadlift, 400 pounds, everyone can deadlift, at least a little bit.

If you’re gonna have too big of a box, you’d have to pick up a shoe, you have to do something like that, and that’s bending over and lifting it back up. So that motion, if someone ever tells you never to do it again, life is going to be pretty hard if you stick to that, I’m not gonna lie. And if you can’t, if you can’t get up and down from the toilet, okay, when you’re older, that’s usually a sign for further injury, and a risk factor for falls, and stuff like that.

So, I mean, I kind of rambled on, but just make sure that you what you hear, be aware that just take everything with a grain of salt, because research is evolving, it has evolved. And we’re going to start to hopefully the narrative changing, I think it is in my online space, it seems like it is. But I still hear from people that they were told not to do something and will never be able to do a certain thing again, and PTs, pts. And really good coaches are the mastermind, the baby steps, and that’s all you need to be able to do what you want to do just baby steps and you’ll get there.

Steph Gaudreau
I love that. I think that’s so so so, so, so important. And, you know, I think there’s probably nothing more disempowering. And, and fear-inducing than being told that even daily movements, right, you shouldn’t do or being kind of led down the path of okay, well, you’re one move away from your knee blowing up something, right?

Ask More Questions

Dr. Leada Malek
Yeah, yeah, right. I still, I just had this conversation, with my dad who’s in his late 70s. And he was like my MRI, it says this, my shoulder says this, like my doc said, it’s degenerative, and it’s basically I need surgery, I have to, it’s only going to get worse. On the other hand, he could push it out a little bit and work with this prehab, or pre-operative stage of physical therapy to help make use of what still is available for him.

He didn’t know that. He just thought he was basically screwed, and it was going to fall off his body for the next week or two. And I was like, no that like there, there are other muscles around there. And he just like didn’t understand it until he finally did. And I realize is, it’s the information that they’ve been told, from so many years back of like, what people looked at X-rays.

And so he told me, you talk to the doctor and said, yeah, if this is gonna happen, then then you’re gonna die. Like he literally said the most, the most explicit, horrible ways they something and of course, it’s gonna freak someone out and stay in their mind for years on end, and then affect how their approach movement later on. Yeah, so try. If your gut says that something didn’t feel right, or in the message, it was in the way it was delivered, ask someone else because your gut will tell you what you need.

Steph Gaudreau
I think that’s so important. You know, you have a wonderful, wonderful Instagram account where you share a lot of really great information, great ideas for mobility and things like that, for let’s say, the person who’s going to go in and lift a few times a week, they like to be active. How much this is a question I get all the time, how much mobility should I be doing?

And I have a feeling I know what your answer is going to be. But what do you know? What do you what are your thoughts on this? Because I think it can sort of preventing people from right doing mobility, because they’re thinking, Oh, I’m gonna need an extra hour ability before I can even lift and for it to be safe. What are your thoughts on that?

Adding Warm Ups to Your Workout Routine

Dr. Leada Malek
Yeah, that’s a great question. Obviously, it depends. That’s very, first of all, your warmup really shouldn’t warm up binning dynamic movements and some easy mobility drills. If you’re going into the lift and you’re feeling pretty good, your world shouldn’t take more than 10 to 20 minutes tops like that’s really all you need.

You don’t need an hour warm-up before you jump in. You just need a few moves that look like the moves, you’re going to do that use the joints, you’re going to use the joints. You want to start to work in your workout, just set a lighter weight and through full movement. That’s it. That’s the very basic layer of things for pre-workout, what to do. But in terms of like general health, if it depends if you feel like you have an area that causes you pain if you don’t address it, I would stick in 15 or 20 minutes in your routine specifically for that one to two times a week, that’s probably fine.

Unless you’re dealing with an injury that takes a little bit more attention. But generally, if things feel pretty good, and you just feel like this area, for example, the thoracic spine, is usually stiff on everyone, not a bad idea to get on the foam roller for three to five minutes before you jump in the squat rack. So that makes sure you get that extension through your upper back, and everything else moves a little bit better. But you don’t need a ton.

So don’t feel like you need an hour I would go through a dynamic warmup with maybe a minute or two on the foam roller for certain muscle groups. Go through full-body rotation and work and multi-planar movement for maybe another five minutes. But collectively 15 to 20 minutes before your workout should be sufficient. Getting cool down is stretching necessary.

If it feels good for you, if you like it, go for it, you don’t technically need it, per se is what the research has found. But if it makes you feel good, and it makes you feel good the next day, go for it. Foam rolling afterward is totally fine, too. So there’s really options of whatever makes you feel the best for your workout. And afterward for their next day. Do that there’s no certain type of recipe that’s ideal for everyone. But you don’t need as much as you think I would suggest.

Learning from the Professionals

Steph Gaudreau
Okay, awesome. I’m always interested in having, you know, the mobility pros, the pain experts like yourself to reinforce the things that you know, strength coaches and, and trainers and folks who are working with people come in and ask or are apprehensive about, you have a beautiful collection of posts, you know, on Instagram.

I mean, I’m scrolling right now like SI joint pain. Lat quad strain rehab, could have used that a couple of months ago. I think I missed that one shin splints, back tension it BAM syndrome, neck pain, like there, you’ve covered it all. So, folks, I hope we’ll go in and check out what you’re doing. Because you give some and I love your sassy sort of alter ego that comes in your reels all the time. Really good.

Dr. Leada Malek
I’ve tried try with that I gosh, I try. When I started making Instagram, I was like, I feel like when people come to seek things, seek physical therapy out. And this might explain why I have that sense of humor involved in the reels is that I feel like when if you’re looking to see a physical therapist, you’re probably dealing with something that’s not letting you do the things you like to do. And chances are you’re not happy about it. It’s not exactly the best time of your life.

Or if you’re doing the preventative, it’s still a little bit stressful or anxiety-inducing. I try to make it as light-hearted as I can because it’s there’s injury sucks enough already. Pain talk sucks. It’s never like it. While it can be enlightening, it’s doesn’t really make you feel the best when you have to deal with an injury. So I try to keep that, that, that feeling of it could be worse if you can’t laugh at yourself. It’s just all getting through together.

So I tried to make that a point in my in just in the theme overall because I feel like life is too serious as it is, especially when it comes to injury, that if we can’t smile a little bit, it’s just gonna make it harder. So I think it goes through my visits to like, I’ll try to use humor to help people just break the ice and just to get through the visit a little bit better if they were having a rough day. Yeah, but that explains that.

Steph Gaudreau
A smile and some laugh and some lighthearted humor never hurts, in my opinion.

See a Specialist to Help You Dig Deeper

Dr. Leada Malek
Yeah, I did want to actually I did want to go back to the mobility thing really quickly. And if you are dealing with something that you feel is a significant limitation, if it’s to the point where it’s changing the way you do work out, that’s a sign to dig a little bit deeper and go see a tree because if you do need more mobility for that region, then you should be dedicating some time during the week to treating it to so it’s not like nothing needs more than 20 minutes.

So if there’s definitely if it’s usually if it’s affecting the way you go about your day, if it’s causing you stress or you’re thinking about this type of pain that you are experiencing with a certain type of lift, or if it’s making you change your lift or you change your form in a way that’s going to put something else at risk. You should dig a little deeper, maybe a mobility issue, maybe a strength issue, but whatever it is, look into it and I would encourage see a physical therapist or just to dig in and see what’s going on.

Steph Gaudreau
Love it. All right, well tell us where folks can catch up with you on Instagram, obviously but anywhere else that they can learn more from you work with you, and all that good stuff.

Dr. Leada Malek
Yeah, you can jump on my website usually has everything linked there. DrMalekPT.com (drmalekpt.com). Same thing as my Instagram handle, Tic Tok. Pinterest, whichever they usually stick to. So I think there’s Instagram is definitely the most up-to-date for me. So that’s the best place to find me or just email me at info@DrMalekpt.com.

Steph Gaudreau
Wonderful. This has been so fun to have you here I again, appreciate your perspective. Your positivity, your, you know, your interest in bringing together so many of these different pieces of things that athletes and active people deal with. I think it’s so refreshing. And I’m just so grateful that you were able to spend time with us.

Dr. Leada Malek
Thank you, Steph, I really enjoyed this. Thanks for bringing me on today.

Steph Gaudreau
You’re welcome. Thanks. I just loved this podcast episode so much. Not only do I really appreciate Dr. Malek, and her approach to education and everything that she’s doing on Instagram, her reels are both entertaining and educational. She has some really fun characters as well go check them out.

I really appreciate her as somebody who is bringing a lot of nuance and context and addressing a lot of things about injury that I don’t see talked about quite as much as really should be discussed. So if you’re somebody who’s injured now or you’ve been injured in the past and reluctant to get back to lifting, or you’re just hurt now you don’t know how you’re going to resume, then I hope this podcast episode with Dr. Malek was useful. Of course, you can get the podcast show notes for this episode at StephGaudreau.com.

And remember to check out Strength Nutrition Unlocked. That’s at StephGaudreau.com/link. And finally, hit subscribe on your podcast app. This helps to do two things. First of all, it gives you your new episodes as they come out in your app automatically. And secondarily, but also very important. It sends a signal to the podcast app that says I really liked this podcast and other people like me might like it too. It helps the listenership to grow quite organically and is an amazing way for me to reach new people. So thank you for helping me with that. I really appreciate it. Thanks for tuning in to the podcast this week. Have an incredible week ahead. And of course, stay strong.

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Steph Gaudreau

Hi, I'm Steph Gaudreau (CISSN, NASM-CPT)!

Nutrition and fitness coach for women, Lord of the Rings nerd, and depending on who you ask, crazy cat lady. My mission is to help you fuel for more: bigger muscles, strength, energy, and possibilities. We’ll do it with my signature blend of science, strategy…and a little bit of sass.


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