Corrective Exercise: What I'm Really Tired Of

Posted on 24 Sep 2010 15:45

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I recently read a review in Leigh Peele's Blog of Nick Tuminnello's newest product. She mentioned that many people may be a bit tired of the conversation concerning corrective exercise. And for those who engage in strength training as a side line I can see it growing very tiring. I personally do not get tired of discussing things that are worthwhile to discuss. What I do get tired of is when conversation about something like training for strength becomes bottle-necked.

One of my members linked to an article about some self proclaimed "glute master". There seems to be a lot of variations on this theme but "ass master" was already taken. The article turned out to be a lot of very complicated thought that lead the writer to think that strength training was simply taking a bunch of "corrective" exercises (mostly supine or prone) and adding weight to them.

Strength Training is Always Corrective?

The practice of adding weight to corrective exercises and calling it strength training, I think, comes about from a sort of wishful thinking. This is another example of the is-ought problem in strength training which I've discussed before. It is the idea that strength training is always corrective. If our purpose for strength training is to improve our absolute force development, for instance, then to slide from a statement of what our strength training is to what strength training "ought to be" (corrective) is a logical fallacy. "You can't get there from here", is the cliche' that comes to mind. As we get more specific then we can make more factual statements about how strength training is corrective but a statement about what strength training "should" be based on what it IS will usually be a dead end road. These kind of statements are called normative statements, which are value statements rather than statements of fact. As I said, it is about what ought to be, or what you would like to be true, rather than what actually is true. We cannot test the veracity of these type of statements at all. This is not to say that value statements are always wrong or even that the so-called naturalistic fallacy is a fallacy at all, which often goes off the deep end. I am simply making the point that what you would like strength training to be may have no factual relation to what it actually is in the physical sense.

There is no deductive relationship between the fact of strength training, increasing absolute force production, and strength training always being corrective, the normative statement. I hope that you can recognize that this does not mean that there is no logic to the idea that strength training can be used for corrective means, but only that this must be inferred by different methods. Examine the following two statements:

1. Strength training can be used as part of a corrective exercise program.

2. You ought to do strength training because it is corrective and will keep you from (getting injured, having bad posture, etc.)

You should easily recognize that these two statements are completely different! Everybody I work with has issues of one kind or another. Some of the issues are real and some are, quite frankly, imagined. When I get brand new novice strength trainees telling me about their "weak hip adductors" holding back their deadlifts only to find out that they don't know how to deadlift…those are the times when I am tired of the direction that the strength training conversation has taken. Ultimately my job is to get the guy to that big old deadlift1, not to be his therapist. The "conversation" becomes a bit muddled when I first have to explain to the trainee that he or she probably wouldn't know a weak adductor if it bit them in the groin and maybe they should concentrate on actually learning the lift they wish to progress in rather than doing "self assessment".

People WANT to believe that their lack of success is because they are injured in some way. Many times trainees would rather think of themselves as "broken" than to think that they have engaged in countless hours of ineffective training. Every knew "corrective exercise" product that comes out is another attractive deflection. If I really want to help this trainee I first must make them "want" something different. You cannot give people things that they do not want! That is one of the most important lessons I've learned when it comes to helping people. Is general health, injury preventions, etc. then, a wrong reason to do strength training? Of course not. But we can have sound and defendable reasons for why we ought to do something without those reasons being the definition for what the activity is.

But it goes much further than my personal problems with the corrective exercise bottle-neck. Nobody wants to do the grunt work any more. Trainees are deluged with information they can do nothing with because they lack the basics. I wrote about this in a newsletter recently and I think it is one of the most important ones I have written thus far. In it I stated: "Most of the people involved in this industry are glory hounds. Pure and simple. They are too 'special' to educate people on the basics."

The Basics are Never a Waste of Time

I actually had an "expert" tell me that I was wasting time going over basic information while trying to help a trainee on a forum. I couldn't believe it. He just assumed that everything I said was "common knowledge". What's even weirder is that it was in-depth physiology info I was writing so there is no way many would construe it as common knowledge unless, of course, they had gotten so caught up in their own "advanced" nature they had lost touch with reality. I told him I was trying to help the trainee and I could care less if the "experts" on the forum already knew everything, which I doubt they did. At the end of the day, guess who helped and who hindered that trainee? Well it wasn't the infantry that hindered him. Many times such experts seem to want to keep things sounding complicated and mysterious for fear we'll find out their making it up as they go along! The "expert" in question was not a strength coach but a therapist. This therapist, as I saw it, had no expertise in performance enhancement and seemed to have blurred the boundary between rehabilitation and exercise training for performance, causing him to view performance problems in the same light as pathologies and injuries. According to Brian Schiff:

I…think therapists often unfairly assume they know so much more about exercise than trainers and this is simply not true in many cases. There needs to be a proper integration between the fields to restore most people to full function, especially when they seek a higher level of function.

What is the answer? I suggest finding your niche and working to be the best within it. Therapists really need to lead in the rehab realm and then be able to hand off patients to qualified strength coaches or trainers once the rehab process indicates it is time. I have been on both sides of this equation and currently get many referrals from PT’s who know their patients are ready for the next step. - Brian Schiff

The gist of that letter was that trainees are not patients:

Part of the problem with that little forum blowup I was describing above was a fundamental shift in view-points. You see, the trainee in question was describing a performance related issue. My advice, although it did have some "self assessment" involved (very simple kind)2 was designed to solve that performance problem. And when I say self assessment, I mean of the simplest and most straight-forward type. If I had thought there was anything more needed than a very simple "test" I would have deferred to the therapists on the board, who, in this case, were out to lunch.

In the strength training world there has been a slow but inexorable shift away from viewing performance related problems as just what they are to viewing them more as "deficiencies". Now, deficiency could be taken to mean much the same thing, couldn't it? You having a performance problem is the same thing as having a performance deficiency. But the word has taken on deeper connotation so that it has started to draw parallel with "insufficiency". These two words are VERY different and if you are a performance specialist, or corrective exercise specialist, or physical therapist of any kind your use of these words means everything to both your attitude toward a problem and your client or trainee. Where a deficiency is a simple lack of something an insufficiency is more a failure. Since I know many of my readers think in terms of muscles here is the difference: If a certain muscle simply lacked strength due to lack of training there would be a strength deficiency. But if that same muscle lacked strength because of, for example, an interruption in the nerve supply to that muscle, there would be an insufficiency because the muscle would be paralyzed. The lines between these terms can be blurred and they are often interchanged, but understand that a simple performance deficiency can be corrected by a straight-forward application of strategic training, rather than a complicated assessment as to what has fundamentally gone wrong in the body.

I saw this trainee's problem as a simple deficiency. That is, a simple "lack" of something performance-wise. I could say that a trainee has a conditioning deficiency, for instance. Simple solution, right? More conditioning. But the other people were skipping over deficiency and going right to insufficiency. This trainee had reported no pain. No injury. Nothing like that. Yet their advice treated him as if he was a patient instead of an active and healthy young man, which is just what he was. Yes, he has biomechanical baggage, so to speak. So does everyone. But that is not an excuse to treat someone like they are broken. So their "assessments" were the same assessments that a physical therapist might use on an INJURED person in a PROFESSIONAL setting. This advice had nothing to do with solving a simple problem in performance with correct and simple assessments to get to the heart of the problem.

Physical therapists are not necessarily performance specialists. Let's remember that. It is really not in the typical job description of a therapist to IMPROVE performance but simply to return to NORMAL performance. That does not mean that there are not Pt's and other pros out there who have bridged this world successfully. The problem is that much of the strength training industry seems to be losing grasp of the fact that it is two different worlds. I am well aware that by just writing this I could be alienating a whole lot of people that have found a toe-hold in the strength training industry through the back door, so to speak. I can live with that but I ask you to consider whether you are assigning patient status to your trainees and whether you should reconsider that approach.

The conversation has started to ignore a wide range of other performance parameters that are also crucial to success. I talked about this in-depth in Training to Fail Part 6: Biomechanics, Injury Prevention, and Performance. I think it is a shame when all the people who know what they are doing spend all of their time pretending they are glorified therapists so that the trainee is left to seek out training advice from "dubious" sources. A little more attention to sound training practices in the first place and we'd have less trainees needing so much 'correction'. The very people putting out corrective exercise DVD's seem to have no problem promoting the training practices of "experts" who will simply lead the trainee to need those DVD's, if they are lucky enough not to need a doctor and professional physical therapist.

This page created 24 Sep 2010 15:45
Last updated 21 Oct 2015 19:20

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