How important is corrective exercise?

July 11, 2012

Any personal trainer worth hiring will have eye on corrective exercise to some degree.  Those who do not are behind the curve ball or are happy charging a slightly lower hourly rate in a straight return for a simple ‘working out’.  Fair enough.

But assuming that ‘corrective exercise’ is part of our remit as personal trainers, the issue is to what extent should we embrace it?  And how broad should our scope of practice be?  In my mind it’s pretty simple, once you’ve decided what the term corrective exercise encompasses.

I don’t do acute rehabilitation.  I’m a personal trainer and acute rehab is the remit of physiotherapists and chiropractors.  Not to say that I don’t work with people in that setting, but I take my direction from their primary practitioner.  Once the acute rehabilitation is complete, these people then fall within my scope of practice.

But corrective exercise is not just acute rehabilitation.  Nor is it necessarily all about Pilates and ‘softly softly’ either.  You can still work on corrective exercise whilst similtaneously targeting fat loss, muscle fitness and other goals.  And you should.

A better term for corrective exercise would be pre-habilitation (addressing issues before the need for rehabilitation) and all of us need some degree of corrective or pre-habilitation work.  But with limited time available, and particularly when peoples potential issues are asymptomatic (no pain etc), the skill is ascertaining what a clients corrective priorities are and masking these in their broader program – without them even necessarily realising it.

For example, Dave comes to me to ‘shift the gut and loose the moobs’ in time for his holiday.  He’s a regular bloke, he’s not in pain and he’s been going to the gym regularly for a couple of years (despite the still obvious moobs).  I do his evaluation and his posture is not great, there’s a significant strength deficit between his left and right leg and he’s tighter than a ducks arse is to water.  Do I tell Dave to forget about fat loss because these things need addressing?  Of course not, Dave cares only slightley less than marginally that he’s got increased thoracic kyphosis, excessive lumbar lordosis, anterior pelvic tilt, medial rotation at both the femur and the humerus and that he’s got the soft tissue health of a reptile.  Why would he?  He’s a normal person.

So how important is corrective exercise in Dave’s case?  It’s very important, but not to Dave – which is important (lest I momentarily forget, this is not about me and my posture perfect client list, it’s about helping people get what they want, whilst showing them what the need).

So what to do?

Do I refer Dave to Pilates, or a Physio or the ‘Corrective Exercise Specialist’ trainer at his local gym?  No – and almost certainly not in the case of the latter – I put together a programme thats going to help Dave get lean, whilst similtaneously balancing his body.  Common sense right?  You’d be surprised.

How do we do that then?

Diet is obviously key for fat loss.  But how about some soft tissue work, mobility drills and activation drills as part of his warm up (and more likely than not his rest periods initially), plenty of single leg work, a tonne of posterior chain strengthening, lots of horizontal rowing, limited horizontal pressing work, some modified strongman training, some lower abdominal and neck flexor training, and maybe even a cheeky home hip flexor stretch?

Would this approach/are these exercises corrective (for Dave)?  Yes.

Will they hugely improve Dave’s posture and reduce his risk of injury?  Yes.

Can I make these metabolically challenging which will help Dave shift some fat (maybe even gain a bit of muscle depending on his body type)?  Yes.

Is corrective exercise important?  Yes.  But not to the detriment of Dave reaching his goals.  And personal trainers should never lose sight of this.