A basic truth in life and in exercise is that no learning can occur in a stressful situation; we cannot thrive when we feel threatened. Nowhere is this truer than in the realm of Corrective Exercise (CE). Corrective exercises are those exercises done by an individual in order to reprogram the neuromuscular system from dysfunctional, to functional movement. They are usually assigned to an individual by a professional and, when performed correctly, are effective in the relief of pain, injury rehabilitation, and injury prevention.
Being survival organisms, our bodies avoid pain. When pain is persistent, our bodies adopt strategies that alter how we move or think. None of us, no matter how mentally or physically strong, are immune to these compensatory strategies; they are hard-wired into us.
This avoidance of pain is the origin of dysfunctional movement. If you twist an ankle, you will limp. When you limp, one side does more work. Your hips twist, affecting your back; your neck has to turn slightly to compensate for your twisted back, and your eyes have to adapt, because now you’re facing a slightly different direction. Even after the original injury has healed, some dysfunction remains.
So, you decide to see a movement expert and she assigns you CE’s to get you back in balance. In performing these exercises, keeping within your ability is key for the CE’s to work optimally. This is where “too much can be too much.” Remember that no learning can occur when we are under stress. Jaw-clenching and breath-holding during exercise, or anytime, for that matter, are two signs that you’re trying too hard.
Dr. Perry Nickelston uses the phrase “neural edge” to describe the limit where, once exceeded, a CE becomes ineffective. He does a talk, available on movementlectures.com where he uses the analogy of reading to describe the neural edge. When a person is learning to read, you don’t hand him Shakespeare; that would frustrate and overload the brain. You teach the alphabet, then simple words, then sentences. Thus, the brain learns. If a CE is too difficult; outside a person’s ability, it is a threat, and frustrating. The system shuts down, and no new learning occurs. The body can’t handle “Shakespeare”; it needs to go back to the “alphabet” in order to eventually be successful
In cases where exercises need to be regressed, some common solutions are:
- Heel slides, in place of leg-lowers (for core)
- Horizontal rocking, in place of squats (for possible back pain)
- Plank, in place of push-up (for basic strength)
- Arm bar, in place of overhead press (for shoulder pain)
For those who have had no luck in the relief of pain or in rehabilitation, the answer could be in the pace or difficulty of the assigned exercises. If you are presently seeking relief from musculoskeletal pain, seek out a professional who can screen your movement and assign CE’s specifically for you.