The truth is there is no such thing as corrective exercise. There are exercises, and they cause one or more of three effects:
- Desirable and desired adaptations and outcomes.
- Undesirable or undesired adaptations and outcomes.
- Immediately painful or harmful injuries or outcomes.
To be more accurate, any exercise is going to have outcomes that exist on a spectrum with some desirable and undesirable adaptations happening at the same time, with hopefully no immediate injury. The degree to which it’s skewed towards desirable depends on the programming – and how appropriate it is for the goal.
An example of this would be the classic bench press. While it will certainly build greater strength and rigidity in the chest and horizontal pressing musculature, at some point those ranges will be so strengthened that other various ranges of motion will be so disused as to be compromised – usually an undesirable outcome at least when it gets to a certain point.
If your shoulder mobility gets so compromised (or it started out that way) that you can no longer perform some other thing you need to be able to do (press overhead, reach in the back seat of a car, take off your bra) then you’d do some “corrective” exercises to bring about this new desired outcome.
So you see, there is no such thing as corrective exercise. There are exercises, and they either do what we want them to do or they don’t.
That being said, for the sake of argument, I’ll use the colloquial word corrective exercise to describe an exercise you do to elicit a very narrow and specific adaptation, usually to improve a specific movement function.
Let’s say you want to increase your ability to dorsiflex your ankle. A lack of dorsiflexion can hinder a squat, by forcing the shin to have to stay too vertical, pushing the hips back and shifting the center of gravity behind your base of support. Not strong.
A simple and common ankle dorsiflexion drill is to simply (either from standing, or kneeling) push the knee over the toes, sometimes with band pressure around the ankle either pulling anteriorally or posteriorally.
This is a perfectly fine drill – with a caveat:
Is it good for your body to do?
We already know that you have limited ankle dorsiflexion and it’s negatively affecting your squat. Improving it would be helpful to the squat. But there’s a reason it’s not moving or at least there was, at some point. Is moving it going to make you better or worse?
You can certainly jam the square peg into the round hole, but you may be doing more harm than good.
Fortunately there is a very simple, very easy, and incredibly effective way to determine if this is good for you to do or not.
Enter biofeedback testing.
Biofeedback testing can be used for any movement, big or small. While the most common application for most people is going to be testing their macro movements (bench press, incline press, close grip bench press) I always encourage people to test EVERYTHING.
The video walks you through the exact example above, testing an ankle dorsiflexion drill to determine if it’s good for you to do or not. What’s more, I go through testing a common modification of the drill that is often used but I have found does not test well for most people with limited mobility. From experience I’ve learned that doing drills that don’t test well actually does more harm than good.
Are you still blindly doing things that you think are good for you, or are you testing it so you’re certain?