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Finding Your Flexibility, Stability and Balance With Steve Horney, PT

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Steve Horney (yes, yes…that’s his real last name!) was a multi-sport athlete in high school. When he suffered a typical sprained ankle in his sophomore year, he realized he wanted to be able to figure out—and fix!—issues like that himself and for other players, too. His athletic trainer gave him the best advice he’d ever receive: Go to school and become a physical therapist.

Fortunately for his clients, he followed through and began practicing at the young age of 23. Starting out treating double-booking clients, he was able to see the multiple diagnoses and hone his craft. Now a seasoned and sought-after expert, he treats NYC athletes and enthusiasts not only as a sole practitioner, but also through his new group of diverse practitioners at Integrated Health Sciences. Read on for his helpful advice:

SBS: What is your specific approach to PT?

Steve Horney: I am, personally, a manual PT. That means I went after school, on my own time, to learn how to be better with my hands, mobilize joints, thrust manipulate and access trigger points. I chose to emphasize thrust manipulation (popping or clicking joints at low amplitude and high velocity to elicit a neurophysiological cascade) because when I was younger, I went to a chiropractor who did it. I found it so beneficial. Then, when I got my first job, the man I was replacing was a living legend. He explained the path I should follow…and I did.

SBS: Your new company is Integrated Health Sciences. Why did you choose to team up with other practitioners?

SH: My number one referral was always to an acupuncturist. Physical therapy and acupuncture compliment each other. So, if someone is plateauing or not doing well in PT, acupuncture might get them over that bump, and vice versa. Acupuncture loosens the body and helps reduce sensitivity of the nervous system, and sometimes acupuncture patients need exercise intervention.

The rest of the group are PTs, and we also have an orthopedic surgeon. For the latter, as much as there is overlap, there are a lot of differences in what he brings to the table. Not a lot of our patients need surgery, and he’s not operation happy. But it’s still important to get that info!

SBS: How do you feel about cross training from a PT’s perspective?

SH: Practicing in multiple disciplines is a fantastic thing. If you’re doing yoga and Crossfit, that’s wonderful. It’s a great blend. If you think about it, the guy who can bench press 300 pounds is probably the guy who needs to go to yoga because he needs to wash his back! Or, when I used to teach anatomy to yoga teachers, a yogi could put the back of her head on her feet but didn’t have the stability to back it up. She needs strength training.

And that’s where it’s interesting. We like to feel good about what we’re doing, so we go to our strongest areas. But then we are neglecting our weaknesses. That’s why things like Classpass are great. You can work on areas you’ve avoided for so long.

SBS: Are there any downfalls of cross training?

SH: I think the common pitfall people make is thinking just because you’re great at one thing, you’ll be good at all others. There’s not necessarily overlap, and that’s where risk/reward get out of whack. So it’s really just about starting off slow. You have to try that beginner class…as much as your competitive edge thinks you can do more and wants it to be harder! And typically, your body does ok with 10 percent increases. You’ll do well. But if you try to amp it up, you end up having problems. Don’t jump into a moving car. Work in progressive stages.

Also, our instincts are pretty accurate. If you ‘know I shouldn’t be doing’ something, then follow your instincts, especially as you get into your 30s and beyond. We sometimes ignore our gut in that regard.

SBS: What are fitness trends you love?

SH: I love the increasing trend of focusing on soft tissue work like foam rolling and incorporating that into workouts. People are also learning to work in the transverse plane. Then, things like ELDOA and Foundation Training are coming out, and they are so helpful.

SBS: You talk a lot about stability versus flexibility. Why is that so important?

SH: Well, yoga, for example, is designed to have a nice mix of flexibility and stability. But, the stability component gets lost sometimes when the desire to ‘open hips’, or the like, pop up in the culture. When really, the way your bones are in that particular region is set once your bones mature. It shouldn’t be the goal. That’s where the risk/reward ends up being detrimental, when that flexibility overrides the natural laws of human anatomy.

Another way to think of it is considering the present versus the future. For example, your ligaments are there to stabilize the joint and provide micro-motion. When athletes decide to go out of bounds of their flexibility, they start to challenge structures intended to be there for stability. That’s a hard thing to get back in the future, if it’s possible at all. Then, down the road, if you get too much flexibility to an area and you don’t have the horsepower to support it, then that is a common source of pain. It’s only when you get the very specific muscular control that’s needed to override the hypermobility that’s created, that you will manage it.

SBS: What are the signs you should go to see a physical therapist?

SH: Honestly, you should see a PT today! Get a baseline…before you have any problems! That’s why we created our integrated performance test. You can come to me healthy, and then you’ll know your physical impairments off the bat.

Spend one hour one-on-one with a PT who can assess joint mobility, which personal trainers can’t. There is a certain amount of underlying ability that you need to jump into any class, and there isn’t a video you can watch to help you understand where you’re currently at fully.

For people already working out and feeling pain, a good test is: If you’re in pain for two weeks, then go to a PT. If you have inflammatory response and it goes away in a few days, that’s your body fixing it on its own. But remember, any pain is your body’s direct indicator that some part of your system isn’t working to capacity. So, for example, if you play whiffle ball, go a bit too hard, and are sore for one day, that will resolve on its own most likely. But if you’re doing exercise within the rules of that activity, and you’re feeling pain—especially for two weeks—go to a PT.

SBS: What should a client look for in a PT?

SH: The easiest markers: Look for a practitioner with a manual therapy certification or someone who is an outpatient clinical specialist, sports clinical specialist and/or certified in strength and conditioning.

Horney’s Favorite Stability Exercises:

For the Neck

The chin lift & tuck:

Deep neck flexors are the most analogous group of muscles to your core. With poor positions that are held, they tend to become inhibited and weaker, and the muscles outside like sternocleidomastoids are movers and stabilize; they aren’t equipped to do both. So…

Stand up against the wall. Tuck your chin while also sliding the back of your head up the wall. Don’t compress your neck. (The lift is the part most people forget.) After you achieve this, gently look to your right and left five to 10 times, then put each ear to shoulder five to 10 times.

For the Shoulder

Complete a side plank with the top arm externally rotated. Hold for two seconds, up to 10 reps.

If you can complete a center plank in between sides, that’s a great way to get full bang for your buck!

For the hip

The Star: Stand on your right leg, and lower yourself into a single leg squat. Your knee shouldn’t break toward the midline. Make sure it tracks with your second or third toe. Move your left leg forward, then on the 45-degree angle to the left, then straight side, then diagonal back and then behind you. This fires your standing leg gluteus medius, which controls hip stabilization. If you’re having trouble with it, use a lacrosse ball beforehand to massage your glute med.

Steve’s NJ and NY Favorites:
Splurge restaurant: Sushi House
Healthy restaurant: Pure Pita
Online Resource: BarBend
Fitness Studio: Gotham Gym
Calming Activity: Riding my bike while listening to 90s hip-hop
Fun Activity: Surfing or frisbee
Nightlife Spot: Barrow’s Pub

Steve’s SBS Mantra: Be kind! Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

What’s the best, zaniest part of being you: It’s a wild ride to have the last name Horney…and I wear it proudly. I’ve got 1000 stories!