Safety / Injuries
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Quick Guide to Corrective Exercise
So often the words corrective exercise get thrown around in the fitness space; however, most people don’t know exactly what it means. So, let’s go over the basics and how personal trainers can capitalize on this when working with clients.
What is Corrective Exercise?
Corrective exercise is different than what a massage therapist or a physical therapist can offer—think of it as injury prevention. When you think about what a personal trainer is responsible for versus a physical therapist it makes it easy to understand. Personal trainers are there to help their clients lose fat, gain strength, and build muscle. A physical therapist is responsible for helping patients get back to healthy by overcoming a physical dysfunction, whether from an acute injury or a chronic problem.
If you look at society today, we are all more sedentary than ever before, with much of our time spent staring at a computer or smartphone. As daily habits, these things cause us to have poor posture. That includes our shoulders rounding forward, heads jutting forward, and spines rounding. Not to mention the tightening of the hip flexors from sitting for 6, 8, or even more hours daily.
This is where the corrective exercise comes in. As a personal trainer, you can use some quick assessments to see what’s going on with your clients and build a corrective exercise program to help them reverse these effects.
Who Can Benefit from Corrective Exercise?
The easy answer here is everyone. Essentially, there are three benefits corrective exercise can provide to almost any client:
- Reduced risk of injury risk
- Restored performance
- Long-term improved performance
As you start to work with more clients, you will become better attuned to the muscular imbalances present in your clients. And that means you have the opportunity to help more people move better earlier on. In turn, they will feel better and be able to stay on track with their goals.
Consider all the different pieces of mobility equipment there are these days to help “relieve” those normal day-to-day aches and pains—there are probably hundreds of them. What if you, as a fitness professional, educated clients on those different products? You could show clients how and when these tools are appropriate.
This helps you build rapport with clients to really gain their trust and to gain a long-term client. Then, as you use corrective exercise to help clients get rid of those day-to-day aches and pains, word will travel fast. Before you know it, you’re going to be known as the go-to personal trainer to help people feel better. Corrective exercise not only benefits the clients, but it is also a great way to build your business as a fitness professional.
Preparing for the Client
As always, know your scope of practice as a personal trainer. If you encounter something outside your scope, be sure to refer your client to a medical professional. A good rule of thumb to follow is when in doubt, refer out. Getting to know your clients and taking them through assessments not only helps you build a program but also helps you see if there is anything going on that would fall outside your scope of practice.
Before you jump into assessments with a client, it is important to go through a few steps to ensure corrective exercise is right for them. It’s always helpful for you to see what sort of risk your client is at.
Start with simple questions about their lifestyle:
- What is your job like?
- How many hours per day do you sit/stand?
- Do you find yourself doing the same movements over and over throughout the day?
- What kind of shoes do you wear?
- What are your hobbies?
- How active are you on a daily or weekly basis?
All these questions will give you good insight as to where you’re starting with your client. These questions, and others as you build on them through your conversation, will give you an indication of what you can expect during assessments. For example, if someone tells you they wear high-heel dress shoes all day, you’ll likely find that they have a shortened gastrocnemius or calf muscle.
To Correct or Not to Correct?
Once you have determined your client could benefit from corrective exercise, you’ll want to confirm if it’s the best option for them at this time. Most of the time, clients will tell you about a physical pain or discomfort they are feeling. Occasionally clients will come to you for more of a preventative approach; this is not as common but it is starting to become more popular. A great example of this is a client who is a runner and wants to remain injury free.
When you are dealing with clients who feel pain, there are a few ways to determine if there are any red flags. These could indicate something is going on that, as a personal trainer, you may not be able to work with.
Ask your client some questions about their pain and general health, for example:
- Does the pain feel like it’s inside the joint?
- Is there intense localized pain in any part of your body?
- Are you experiencing any numbness or tingling?
- Have you experienced any unexplained weight loss or weight gain over the last few weeks or months?
- Have you recently experienced a fever, nausea, or unexplained fatigue?
If the answer is yes, to any of these questions, you know the pain is likely medical and you need to refer the client out before starting a corrective exercise program with them.
If your client answered no and you determine the pain is movement based—discomfort from any combination of strength, mobility, or motor control—you’ll know your client is a candidate for corrective exercise.
For the clients who are ready for corrective exercise, you can now move onto the second step, which is identifying their goals. Start with outcome goals. This is a crucial step because it will determine the client’s “why” of why they will show up and do what you ask of them.
Keep in mind that an outcome goal is not something you can control and it is going to be different for every client. For one client it could be to relieve shoulder pain to get back to doing normal activities, for another it could be to relieve knee pain to run a half marathon again. Each person has a different goal motivating their efforts. As a trainer, having this information will make your job easier when it comes to motivating your client.
Next, start discussing performance goals. A performance goal is going to be measurable and under your control. Think of performance goals as the steps to get to the outcome goals and as the things you will do to get them there. These goals will help your clients have a realistic expectation for their outcome goals.
Performance goals for corrective exercise are going to vary for each client, these will be based on the assessments you conduct. For example, the client whose outcome goal is to decrease knee pain, their performance goal could be completing specific exercises on their own three to four times per week.
After you’ve gone over goals, it’s time to gather the remaining data needed to create your client’s corrective exercise program. In the ISSA’s Corrective Exercise program you will learn both the Lower Extremity Functional Scale and the Upper Extremity Functional Scale. Each of these scales evaluates parts of the body to identify any movement restrictions. This information is helpful to know before you do a physical assessment and it can provide you a way to measure progress over time.
Corrective Exercise Programs
Programming is where things can start to get tricky for trainers. No two clients will have the same corrective exercise program, which should make sense because each client has different aches, pains, and muscular imbalances. And this is also why assessments are so important—you need to learn about the imbalances and restrictions particular to this client, not the one you saw last week or a generalization you heard about.
Some of the most common assessments out there are variations of the squat and single-leg squat assessments along with arm elevation and overhead press assessments. Once you have put your clients through these assessments, you’ll learn what is going on and what muscle imbalances they may be experiencing. From there, you will be able to write an individualized corrective exercise program to get them to their goals, injury-free.
So, How Do You Get Started?
Now that we’ve got you thinking about corrective exercise as using as a tool to help clients and build a business, you’re probably wondering how to take that first step.
Start by checking out the ISSA Corrective Exercise course. You’ll go over how the body works in terms of exercise and movements. You’ll learn about each of the different assessments and then how to then use them with your clients. The full course covers the most common issues treated with corrective exercise and how they all fit together. Not only will you learn how to assess a client’s pain, but you will then learn how to design an effective corrective exercise program.