Why Corrective Exercise Is So Appealing And How I Make Sense Of It

As fitness professionals, there are two things that really get us excited; talking shop about the science of training and helping people feel better. This is what makes the concept of corrective exercise so compelling. We not only get an organized way of helping people move well (this exercise fixes this, so we can do that), but we also get another way to quantify our value (while my client didn’t lose any weight, they improved their overhead position and have better thoracic rotation).

The problem, however, is that it never seems to work quite like that; at least not for me. Instead, I found myself always discovering issues that I “needed to fix” with all my clients and more questions than answers.

At first, clients thought I was smart and knew all these things that other personal trainers didn’t. Every free moment I had was dedicated to learning from the best guys in the industry. I was the trainer that knew all about cross-shoulder syndrome, anterior pelvic tilt, and scapular movement. The problem was that I was so concerned about fixing everything, that I wasn’t focused enough on helping my clients reach the goals that they had originally told me were THEIR priority. Not to mention that the deeper I got, the more frustrated I became. Things weren’t working like they were supposed to.

I finally said “F*ck it” and redirected.

The first step was re-evaluating what it means to be a personal trainer. People pay me to help them reach their goals, not to find something wrong with them or project my goals for them onto the program. This is what makes a trainer different from a strength coach, people can fire me at any time and THEY determine how effective I am. If my client wants a bigger butt and a six pack, then their posture isn’t my concern; unless they are in pain or it directly inhibits their goals.

The next adjustment was realizing that “corrective exercise” is just a term; one that often creates the wrong context. The term implies that there is something special about these exercises or that they do something magical, like “fix” things. There are no “non-corrective exercises”, so therefore, there can be no “corrective exercises”. Thus, there are just exercises, and their value simply depends on their application to the goal.

Additionally, what if there is no “fixing”, only improvement and awareness. Most of the time when people perform an exercise wrong it’s simply because they need coaching or practice. How many people squat incorrectly the first time you ask them to and as soon as you throw a couple cues their way they nail it?

These simple revelations changed the way that I think about how I help clients reach their goals and allowed me to create a very successful approach to training. In this approach, our whole program is centered on what the client wants and we only spend time working outside that framework if something is directly interfering with or hindering our progress.

For example, let’s say I have a client whose primary goal is fat loss. She also mentions to me that she really wants to target her legs and butt, but she often experiences pain during squats and lunges.

No problem.

I would start by checking her lunge and squat form. If they are not correct and upon refinement there is no pain, then we may include them. If the form is correct and there is pain, no big deal. We move on because there are plenty of lower body exercises we can use to target her desired area. I’ll build her a program that will keep her active, target her wants, and have her nutrition addressed. The only time we would make an intervention is if all lower body exercises caused her pain. At which point I would simply refer her out to a medical professional.

Make a plan based on the client’s goals, adjust exercises when necessary, intervene with exercises outside the goal only when needed, and then return to the plan. It really is that simple. We have a very limited amount of time that we get to work with clients. Spend that time focusing on things that they can do and not what they can’t.

I am not for or against corrective exercise. Instead, I am an advocate for productive, client-centered training. Are you?