If you didn't happen to check out (PART 1), you might want to give it a read before you read this one.
To start, I want to preface everything I'm going to say by admitting that when I first got into the fitness industry, I drank the corrective exercise Kool-aid. More than anything, the reason was because I wanted to position myself as a fitness professional utilizing skills in exercise therapy and using it to restore function as well as training people for fitness-related goals. Corrective exercise popped out to me as an accessible means of bridging the gap between the two.
Unfortunately, the term “corrective exercise” has seemed to become a blanket term for anything related to mobility, stability, “core” training, balance training, fixing aforementioned “muscle imbalances,” and correcting postural issues. What needs to be understood is that there is no such thing as a “corrective” exercise, at least not in the sense that it is now widely understood. While corrective exercise is a great tool to help clients address a myriad of musculo-skeletal issues, we need to take a big picture approach to truly understand its benefits.
So…what IS corrective exercise?
Knowing that there are no specific exercises that are inherently “corrective,” we need to come up with a different definition for corrective exercise. Any exercise done correctly, bearing in mind that it is appropriate for the client, could be considered corrective. What really makes an exercise corrective in nature is the context in which it is used. Before we label an exercise as being corrective, we need to have an understanding of what we are even trying to correct in the first place. This would mean that we also need to be able to identify if there is dysfunction (pain or difficulty with movement), what type of dysfunction it is, and what is the source of the said dysfunction. The entire premise of corrective exercise assumes that the execution of the movement is perfect, otherwise it’s not correcting anything. Corrective exercise strategies are all about utilizing a variety of modalities and exercises to help create efficient and optimal movement strategies.
It could be very easy to classify traditional rehabilitative exercises like band-resisted rotator cuff drills or glute bridges as corrective, but that would be missing the boat. What exactly are we trying to correct with something like a glute bridge? Poor glute strength? Tight hip flexors? Inability to stabilize the hip during a lunge? Is the glute lacking strength, or is it actually inhibited? We need to know what we are attempting to "correct" in order to create an effective corrective strategy.
Part of the problem with the whole idea behind corrective exercise is that certain exercises have become cookie-cutter solutions to specific issues. Low back hurts? Roll your IT band (yes I’ve seen this suggested for back pain…SMH), do some dead bugs, and glute bridges. Can’t get your arms overhead? Do some thoracic extensions on a foam roller and some wall angels. Experiencing a valgus collapse while doing squat? Do side-lying clams and monster band walks.
See the problem here? It’s overly simplistic. Can a wall angel be useful as part of a larger strategy to correct your or a clients’ shoulder mobility problem? Absolutely! However, we need to get out of the mindset that certain specific exercises are “corrective” while others are not. Instead of labeling exercises as "corrective," we should opt to label them according to their specific functions, like to increase mobility in a given joint, improve neural function of muscles, or help to improve skeletal alignment. If muscular function and joint mobility already exist, with good coaching and proper execution of a movement, an exercise can more than suffice as a “corrective” tool.
The basic foundation of corrective exercise, and more generally movement-based therapy, is to identify dysfunction, find the root cause of the dysfunction, develop an integrated strategy for correcting the dysfunction, and executing the selected corrective protocols with precision and consistency.
What does this mean for me?
As a fitness or health professional, realize that not all traditionally “corrective” exercises can simply be plugged into an equation to fix an issue. Understand that corrective exercise should be used as a broader term referring not to a specific group of exercises, but instead as an overarching strategy to help your clients’ bodies function more optimally. Corrective exercise strategies may include soft tissue manipulation, neural therapy, regressing or progressing certain exercises, using specific drills meant to improve mobility or stability, and strengthening weak and uncoordinated movement patterns. All of these things needs to be implemented into a big-picture approach.
As a regular gym-goer, don’t be fooled by trainers and therapists alike touting “corrective exercise” as the end-all, be-all to your movement dysfunction or chronic pain. More often than not, it takes a far more holistic approach to fix complex musculo-skeletal issues. Simply put, if you have a shoulder issue, rolling out your pec minor with a lacrosse ball is probably not the answer. If you have tight hamstrings, advanced PNF posterior chain stretching is probably not the answer. If you have chronic lower back pain, dead-bugs are probably not the answer.
Hopefully this was helpful information regarding the misunderstandings of what corrective exercise is and how it needs to be understood fully to be effective.
Stay tuned for part 3!!