Do Corrective Exercises Do Anything?
Corrective exercises have been growing in popularity over the past decade. It seems that the fitness and rehabilitation professions have gotten really good at designing different assessments and creating corrective exercise programs. The problem is that many people don’t actually get better, and many are still in pain. If you think I’m wrong, consider that lower back pain is one of the leading causes of disability in the United States. While corrective exercises should probably be limited to physical therapists, personal trainer and strength and conditioning coaches have been using them with increasing popularity (myself included). The problem is that most professionals don’t really understand why their clients and athletes are still in pain. If corrective exercises worked so well we would see a decrease in injury and pain, right?
There are many trainers and therapists out there that look like magicians. When you see them speak at a conference or seminar they do something that follows these guidelines:
-Call someone up to the stage
-Perform an assessment that they designed
-Perform a corrective exercise that they designed
-Repeat the assessment, notice a change, and proclaim their volunteer to be “fixed”
You think that these techniques are life changing and you immediately run back to your clients to try them out for yourself. The only problem is that your client doesn’t see amazing results, they are still in pain and/or tight, and now they think you’re a nut job.
Now we have to ask ourselves: are corrective exercises making a lasting change? Sure, when you put someone up on a massage table you can change their movement in a matter of seconds. While this may look cool, does it actually do anything? After you make a change have your client go through a workout and then perform the assessment again. Did the magical change that you made stick or are they back to normal?
All of these corrective exercises are ways of making change to our clients’ posture. However, as I talk about in my previous article on posture, posture isn’t really that simple. Humans create a world based off of a lot of different sensory inputs including touch, vision, vestibular (inner ear), auditory (hearing), input from feet, input from teeth, and input from joints. Unless we take care of all of the problems that are creating movement we can’t really say that we are correcting movement. That’s why you might be able to make a big change while someone is on a massage table, but if you have them stand up and walk around or do some push-ups they will probably go back to the way they were, as I demonstrate here:
In this video I test out Felix’s shoulder mobility, apply a corrective exercise that improves it slightly, and then have him do some push-ups. When he’s done with the push-ups he re-tests his mobility and it got noticeably worse after about 20 seconds (or less) of working out.
In this next example, I take Chris through a straight leg raise assessment and perform a corrective exercise that changes the test. Then he simply walks down the turf, jogs back, and we re-test his leg raise. Lo and behold, the results are markedly different after a short walk. Check it out:
The truth of the matter is that human movement is controlled by the nervous system. In fact, almost every area of the brain contributes to the way that we move. Unless you want to try to correct someone’s vision, vestibular system, hearing, feet, and teeth I don’t think that you can make any lasting changes in the way that they move. You may be able to change the way that they move for a short amount of time, but if you have to constantly perform corrective exercises just to make a small change, is what you’re doing really correcting movement? Also, how do you know that the compensations that someone is using aren’t hurting them? What if they are helping? There is more to this whole human movement thing than simply correcting a toe touch or strengthening and stretching a muscle.