Is Corrective Exercise Overrated?
We got a doctor in the house!
Today’s guest post comes courtesy of Dr. Evan Osar, a Chicago based chiropractic physician and coach, and someone I’ve been a huge fan of since reading his first two books Form and Function and Corrective Exercise Approach to Common Hip and Shoulder Dysfunction.
His latest resource (a course, really), The Integrative Corrective Exercise Approach, is available starting today and is something I believe will add a ton of value to any fitness professional looking to take his or her’s assessment and programming skills to a higher, dare I say, Jedi’esque level.1
Is Corrective Exercise Overrated?
These days it’s hard to read an article or view a video about exercise without the mention of corrective exercise. Like many things in our industry, corrective exercise has its fair share of proponents as well as detractors. And there are plenty of facts and fictions about how to define corrective exercise and actually what it is.
FYI: Despite what Google says, this isn’t corrective exercise
In this article I am going to explain our concept of corrective exercise and dispel one of the biggest myths surrounding it.
I will also share with you how to integrate corrective exercise to improve the success you are already having with your general population clients. Because when you understand what corrective exercise is – as well as what it isn’t – you can create dramatic changes in your client results by implementing some very simple principles and key concepts into your programs.
Lets Do This
The first thing we need to discuss prior to covering the most common myth is to define the term corrective exercise. While it may seem like an issue of semantics, similar to other industry terms like ‘functional training’ and ‘core training’, corrective exercise takes on a variety of different meanings depending upon whom you speak with.
It’s important to recognize that our clients have developed their own unique and individual strategy for posture and movement. This strategy has been influenced and driven by many factors including but not limited to:
- Things they have learned throughout their life such as adopting posture and exercise cues from their parents, therapists, and/or fitness professionals.
- Compensations they have developed as a result of previous injuries, traumas, and surgeries.
- Their lifestyle – sitting at a desk, the types of exercises they do and/or have done, how active they are or aren’t.
- How they have been taught to exercise (for example many individuals have been taught to over-brace or grip as their primary stabilization strategy).
- Their emotions or how they generally feel about themselves or their situation in life
These factors directly contribute to your client’s habits, which then dictate their current postural and movement strategy.
These habits are how your clients will perform most things in their life.
They will generally use this habitual postural and movement strategy when they sit, stand, walk, do their job, and exercise. It is these habits – actually their non-optimal habits – that lead so many individuals to develop chronic tightness, muscle imbalances that inhibit optimal performance in many of their activities, and which eventually lead to pain syndromes.
Because they become so engrained into their nervous system, most individuals are not even aware of these habits. This is why it is becomes so challenging to alter chronic posture and movement habits – they have been imprinted into their nervous system.
This is where we believe corrective exercise can play a vital role as part of an overall training system.
In our paradigm, we view corrective exercise as a strategy that consists of a thorough assessment so that you can:
- Identify the key factors contributing to an individual’s current postural and movement strategy.
- Utilize specific release and/or activation techniques to address the individual’s primary issues that are driving their chronic problems or loss of performance.
- Incorporate the principles of the Integrative Movement System™ – alignment, breathing, and control – into the fundamental movement patterns of squatting, lunging, bending, rotating, pushing, pulling, and gait so the individual can accomplish their health and fitness goals.
In other words, we view corrective exercise as a strategy – rather than a series of exercises – to help individuals develop and maintain a more optimal postural and movement strategy so that they can accomplish their health and fitness goal whether they be to exercise at a more intense level, develop a strategy for dealing with their chronic muscle tightness, or simply to live life with greater ease and less discomfort.
With an understanding of what corrective exercise is, it is also important to understand what corrective exercise is not.
Corrective Exercise Is Not:
A ‘fix’ for your client’s postural dysfunction, muscle imbalances, and/or pain.
A method for making individuals do their exercises in a ‘perfect’ way.
A group of remedial exercises that a client performs to undo the effects of performing inappropriate exercise (allowing clients to perform exercises in which they can’t maintain their alignment, breathing, and control).
A diagnosis or substitute for a thorough evaluation by a qualified health care professional.
A substitute for a well-designed integrative strength training program.
Note From TG: I really like that last point.
Now that I have defined what it is and what it is not, here is the most common myth I hear surrounding the concept of corrective exercise:
Corrective Exercise ‘Fixes’ Postural Dysfunction and Muscle Imbalances
This is by far the biggest myth surrounding corrective exercise and the statement that its detractors most often bring up. This myth commonly stems from within the health and fitness industry because we like to make BOLD claims and then promise equally BOLD results.
We often claim things like:
1. ‘Everyone has a tight, short psoas’ from sitting too much so do this stretch and strengthening exercise (insert the novel stretch and strengthening exercise here) and you’ll fix everyone’s back pain.
2. ‘Everyone has forward shoulders from working on the computer so have your clients stretch out their pecs and strengthen their rhomboids and lower trapezius with some Y’s, T’s, and W’s and you’ll solve all your client’s shoulder problems’.
3. ‘Here’s the ‘best’ movement screen so you’ll know exactly what’s causing your client’s problems’ and here’s the corrective exercises to ‘fix’ those problems.
Making BOLD statements and promising BOLD results gets people to open the most recent blog or video post.
Making BOLD statements and promising BOLD results gets people excited that they have discovered ‘the answer’ to their clients issues.
However making BOLD statements and promising BOLD results also makes people lazy about performing their own assessments and determining the best exercises for the individual that they are working with.
Because the Truth Is:
- Yes, some people have a tight psoas and weak glutes… and many do not. And for those individuals in the latter group, stretching their psoas and strengthening their glutes actually perpetuates the very problem causing their low back pain.
- And yes, many individuals have forward shoulders and inhibited rhomboids and lower trapezius…and many do not. Doing Y’s, T’s, and W’s for example however do not even address the most common cause of the forward shoulder so again, these exercises will perpetuate and/or create an entirely new issue in your clients.
- Finally, there is no magic screen or assessment that will tell you all you need to know about your client. You need to perform a series of assessments, combine them with your client’s intake and functional goals, and then determine where you would start with them. Then you must find the exercises that work best for your clients that help them address their biggest issues and how to incorporate these components into a well-designed program.
Corrective exercise is not a series of exercises designed to diagnose or identify the ‘fix’ for your client’s issues.
It is a strategy for implementing a thorough assessment, implementing the appropriate releases and/or activation sequences so that your client can achieve optimal alignment, breathing, and control, and then integrate these principles into the fundamental movement patterns and/or your client’s functional goals.
Used judiciously, corrective exercise is a part of an overall training strategy designed to look at your client as an individual and provide them with a viable option for successfully addressing their issues while working towards their functional goals.
Corrective exercise should enhance and not deter from developing greater strength, mobility, endurance, or other objective outcome. When you understand and integrate a successful corrective exercise strategy, you will help so many clients who have been struggling with chronic issues, safely and effectively accomplish their individual health and fitness goals.
About the Author
Audiences around the world have seen Dr. Evan Osar’s dynamic and original presentations. His passion for improving human movement and helping fitness professionals think bigger about their role can be witnessed in his writing and experienced in every course he teaches.
His 20-year background in the fitness industry and experience as a chiropractic physician provide a unique perspective on corrective exercise and fundamental training principles for the health and fitness professional that works with the pre and post-rehabilitation, pre and post-natal, baby boomer and senior populations.
Dr. Osar has become known for taking challenging information and putting it into useable information the health and fitness professional can apply immediately with their clientele. He is the creator of over a dozen resources including the highly acclaimed Corrective Exercise Approach to Common Hip and Shoulder Dysfunction and the Integrative Corrective Exercise Approach™.