While I’ll be the first to admit I get a lot of people working on corrective exercise programs to help reduce pain and improve function, I think a lot of people take that thought process too far and end up looking for problems to fix, scanning their body for aches and pains like they’re Batman trying to find the cure for the latest super-villains’ attempt to enslave Gotham. Granted, while some people need to have a stepped-down program for a few weeks when there’s an acute issue, that shouldn’t stop someone from working around, through, or over any kind of limitation.
Nothing drives me more insane than someone who is so set against putting themselves under a load for fear of something possibly happening. Meanwhile, they continue to de-condition and become weaker than ever, focused solely on the pursuit of “correction.” It’s typically not the hardest thing in the world to consider that loading a body will make it stronger, and that most correctives should only be used to reinforce that ability to accept loading. It’s easy enough to think that spending 3 hours foam rolling will make you more supple and athletic, but we forget the simple fact that muscles have to contract for that to happen.
If you’re that broken and in desperate need of correction, go to a physio or a chiropractor. At the very least, hit up a qualified trainer who can identify which corrections you SHOULD be working on, and then get over it.
Let’s take someone with a back injury for example. Maybe they can’t deadlift RIGHT NOW, but that doesn’t mean you can’t train like an absolute beast, while focusing on the required movements, appropriate loads, and metabolic demands. Eventually, you they’ll be able to deadlift once their movement quality is in a place where they can perform a hip hinge without issue and with enough core stability to not slip and slide everywhere, but they can still do things like this:
The key components to thin of here are vertical spinal position, complete 360 core activation and stabilization, and creating movement through the hips and knees.
For a program dealing with corrective issues, the bulk of programming should NOT involve correctives, but exercises that reinforce the corrective exercises. For instance, someone with an ankle restriction would benefit from active stretching of the ankle for the first 5-10 minutes, then load the ankle through that newly re-inforced range for the remainder of the workout, followed by metabolic conditioning with the ankle in a dorsiflexed position, like walking uphill or using a treadmill on incline.
Now I know more than most that pain sucks. Having dealt with low back pain for the better part of the last 12 years, I know how frustrating it can be and how gun-shy you can feel walking into a gym and not knowing what to do that won’t cause you to feel like a giant ball of hate. That being said, thee is always something you can do, because you have other body parts, other movements you can work on, and other facets of performance you can work on.
Here’s a video of me front squatting during a time when my back was not feeling very good at all. Front squatting is easier on my back than back squatting, and definitely easier than deadlifting, which allows me to still get a training effect.
Finding those things to work on helps you not only physically, but mentally. I have had more people come to me from medical referral sources where we go through a workout or two, and they say they feel incredibly better because they can train hard and not have any pain while doing it. This psychological benefit has huge repercussions to speeding healing beyond the physical adaptations.
So let’s say you have an issue or two that are holding you back. There should be a couple of consistent things you should be working on to get the most out of your training program, whatever the issue may be.
1. Get it diagnosed – If you have an actual issue, knowing what it is and what you should or shouldn’t do is paramount to helping you get better. However, once you know what the issue is, that does not mean you have the all clear to spend the next few months hitting the couch and eating bon bons.
2. Get your butt moving – Seriously, unless you have to go to the hospital, you can find a way. In high school I sprained my ankle pretty badly playing basketball, but after getting it wrapped up in a cast to keep it stable, I was on crutches in the gym working on upper body and core stability within a few hours. When I screwed up by back a few years ago, I was hitting the mats working on trying to get some level of ab activation back, and as soon as I could walk I was doing what I could for split squats, single leg stance, supported pulling work, and anything else I could do that wasn’t creating an issue.
3. Keep doing it – There’s a litany of information that shows deconditioning happens very quickly in injured settings when the person is not moving. The old course of treatment for low back pain was bed rest to allow the tissues to heal. Now, people are expected to get up and do as much as possible in a pain-free setting to prevent this decrease in muscle strength, core activation, and prevent future recurrences of low back damage and pain. By NOT loading the body, any strength gains seen previously begin to decrease, meaning you wind up a weaker, crankier, and more pained version of your previous self.
For any corrective program, corrective situations should be part of the active warmup, as well as active recovery between the working sets. For the remainder of the workout, the individual in question should be working hard enough to rip a hole in the space-time continuum, gain strength and stability, get a conditioning response, and become more machine now than man.
I have a client who had a total hip replacement box squatting his body weight on the bar.
I have a client with both knees replaced dragging a 200 pound sled.
I have a client with massive abdominal trauma and multiple surgeries who deadlifts her bodyweight.
I have a client with massive scoliosis who is now a personal trainer in London and trains every day.
My wife has SI joint issues and she’s getting set for some heavy lifting in September.
I’ve worked on getting my deadlift over 400 pounds, and am hoping for 500 this year, 12 years after dislocating my SI, bulging 3 discs and herniating one.
Tony Gentilcore trains like a demon after taking a few weeks to fix his back, while still training like a demon on his “rehabby” program
Ben Bruno trains harder while recovering from knee surgery than most “elite” athletes would train to prepare for competition. He innovates exercises, finds ways to make them work, and challenges himself to do crazy things, like copious amounts of chinups each day.
Pain simply means you are receiving a stimulus from your body saying something isn’t quite right. It rarely means you are broken beyond all repair and in need of babying or codling. If you can still move, you can still train. Slap some tape on it, crush some protein, find what doesn’t hurt, and make it work for you.