Applying Corrective Exercises – Knowing is half the battle

When I evaluate a client or athlete, I’m searching for faulty movement patterns.  A faulty movement pattern may be something like a squat that can’t be done without the lower back rounding (lumbar flexion) or a lunge where the knee falls in (knee valgus).  They are pieces of movement that are usually unsafe or compensatory, and need to be corrected in order to safely and effectively progress with a workout.  Often, there is complete unawareness of the faulty movement because it is what feels natural.  As we will see, this is a large part of the success or failure of a corrective exercise.

In the words of Dr. Charlie Weingroff, DPT, ATC, CSCS, from a recent web lecture he presented, “corrective exercise is getting good at what we are not good at.”  In order for a movement or exercise to have the nature of being “corrective”, it needs to correct something – namely, a movement we are performing incorrectly or poorly.  In conjunction with this is the fact that – in order to know something is being done incorrectly – there needs to be a standard of what is correct.  Myself and many other practitioners utilize the Functional Movement Screen (from Gray Cook) as a comparison tool for standards of non-painful movement, though it is not the only acceptable method.  The FMS helps present what an end-state posture or correct movement pattern should look like as compared to the client or athlete’s movement.

Once the faulty movement has been assessed against the standard, it can be corrected.  Step one is making a person aware, mentally AND physically, of the incorrect movement.  As I said before, it is highly likely that this person was totally unaware of the compensation or restriction as it is just their natural way of moving.  It is a subconscious dysfunction.  But it is not enough to say “Hey, did you know you shift your weight to the right when you squat?”  The corrective exercise chosen to repair the subconscious error should bring the person to the barrier or limit of their restriction so that they can also FEEL things being done incorrectly.  You will have gone from a subconscious dysfunction to a conscious dysfunction, and this is the big step in being successful.  A physical awareness of the error allows the person to correct themselves through frequent unsupervised practice and to relearn appropriate movement.

Now, like Charlie said, the exercise needs to have corrected something.  We must reassess the deficiency.  Corrective exercises can usually be done every day, as they don’t really require much recovery time.  This allows for much consistent practice on the part of the client or athlete.  After a week or two of practice, re-evaluate; and if the faulty movement is corrected, there is no need to continue with the corrective exercises.  The person has gone from conscious dysfunction to conscious function, and is one step away from lasting success.  Progress with the next step of the workout plan, whether that is to perform conditioning or more standard exercises, or move on to another pattern that needs to be corrected.  After another brief interval, we check the first pattern again.  Has it stayed corrected?  If the proper corrective exercise was selected for the dysfunction, it was applied in the appropriate way, and the person was able to feel the dysfunction to practice self-correction until it was automatic (subconscious function), there should not be a need to continue doing it.

Corrective exercises should not be never-ending stories.  When subconscious dysfunction has progressed to conscious dysfunction, correct movement can be practiced as a conscious function until it is a subconscious function.  At that point, the movement should no longer be an issue and you have achieved lasting success!