Corrective exercise is all the fad right now. While lifting weights has its benefits, it still has its drawbacks like pain, stiffness, burnout, and fatigue.
This is why you often see trainers these days focusing so much on "corrective work." You walk into our 30% capacity gyms nowadays and see it all over. People foam rolling their lives away in one corner, lacrosse balls and massage guns in the other, and people putting bands around the legs and arms for nearly everything short of the sun in hopes of "activating" weak or under-active muscles.
Mobility flows, joint mobilizations, and massage therapy are taking over while we all become overly cautious with our training when, in reality, it doesn't have to be that way!
I am not saying we all should ditch corrective work, but let's get something straight. We only have ourselves to blame! You cannot expect a brief 10-minute session to "activate your hamstrings and glutes" after neglecting it for years.
Adam Vogel is the founder of Pure Performance Training, said it best:
"Unfortunately, the human body isn't a piano that can be tuned by loosening certain strings while tightening others. It would be nice if it were that simple. That's why reverse-engineering compound movements into constituent chunks and then trying to optimize each part in isolation rarely pays big dividends."
Think about this:
How many of you can honestly say you have done things your body doesn't like, such as straight bar deadlifting, military presses, bench pressing, or let's not forget about those runners pounding the pavement for mile after mile.
You conform because you don't know better. You want to do what everyone else does when they train, even if it causes you pain and discomfort.
So you end up foam rolling, getting massages, spending thousands of dollars on physical therapy ONLY to go right back to doing those very same movements that are causing the pain to begin with! I get it. I am no different and just as guilty. I remember painfully getting through bench press workouts that left my shoulders screaming for days only to heat/ice and go right back to doing it again!
Same for deadlifts! I used to think "the pro way" was to only pull conventional style(with the bar in front of you). I suffered from low back pain and stiffness all the time without being able to progress much due to other mobility restrictions making the lift not the best option for me.
Not all exercises are created equal, nor should they be.
One of the greatest strength coaches of all time, Mike Boyle, quoted it best: "The best way to avoid burning your hand is to stop touching hot stoves." Wise words from an experienced coach who, undoubtedly, watched people do just that with their exercise selection.
So instead of continuing to punish your body with movements, either you are not built for OR ready to try using exercises that make training a lot safer, unconventional, and even FUN! Let's make it simple! Here we go!
Back squats seem to flare up your back? Sometimes your hips may even become angry. Try out:
- Front Squats
- Zercher Squats
- Landmine Squats (Box Squats)
- Hack Squats
- Goblet Squats
- Bulgarian Split Squats (unilateral)
- Landmine Hack Squats
Conventional Deadlifts can be problematic for MANY, stemming from low back pain to simply having poor mobility to get to the correct positioning. Try out instead:
- Trap Bar Deadlifts
- Romanian Deadlifts
- Landmine Deadlifts
- Kettlebell Deadlifts
- Haffield Split Squats
- Walking Lunges
Trap Bar Pausing deficits
Military Presses can be the devil for the shoulder. If you have pain, try swapping out for:
- Landmine Presses
- Dumbbell Press with Neutral Grip
- Kettlebell Press
- Kettlebell Z Press
- Viking Attachment Presses (below is a brutal combo exercise you could try)
Viking Attachment Clean to Press
Iso Bulgarian Press
The Bench Press is notorious for causing pain. If you find yourself in this category, try:
- Multi-Grip Bar Bench (neutral)
- Dumbbell Bench Press
- Machine Bench
- Ring Fly
- Deficit Push Up
- Incline Squeeze Press
- Floor Presses
Dumbbell Floor Press
From many studies, we've come to find that our chances of injury occur when we begin pushing past 10% of our normal work capacity. Seemingly enough, many of us neglect this, and when done irepeatedly, it can cause problems that a day of corrective exercise, alone, won't fix. Your solution? Play it safe!
If you know that squat fires up your knees, try elevating your heels. Some of us just are not built to squat, and that is ok! Work with what God gave you, and you may find this variation allows you to target your quads and VMO (teardrop muscle close to the knee) more with less needed ankle mobility.
I am also a big fan of Bulgarian Split Squats, which again can be a great way to take loading off your low back that heavier bilateral squatting can do. Research has shown that unilateral training can increase the number of muscle fibers that are recruited during an exercise, which typically leads to greater gains in strength and size (Pinto et al.). Other studies have shown that rear foot elevated split squat variation may elicit higher levels of glute and hamstring activity than bilateral squats (McCurdy et al.). So you truly still can get a massive benefit with minimal risk when incorporating them into your programs.
If you are deadlifting with pain and struggling to find the mechanical tension needed to stimulate growth, try adding some drills like the RACK assisted Single-leg Romanian Deadlift or lateral slider lunges to get better control over your hips. No one said deadlifting MUST be done from the floor, so add it elevated lifts and pull from the mid-shin or higher if it helps reduce pain.
For example, I am not a fan of conventional deadlifts, so I often use the "scrape the rack pull" variation. You can see me doing it in action here. The setup allows you to stay more upright, which can be helpful for those who round their backs or have a weaker thoracic spine since the rack acts as a buffer to keep the bar tight against while pulling. The added benefit of having the lift elevated a good 8-10 inches off the floor is another great thing that can take the pain away.
Scrape The Rack Pulls
High volume is ok when you have some experience! I've even tested these with:10 clusters and had my heart beating through my chest, or you can load heavy for higher intensities. The choice is yours, but remember, it still isn't a Deadlift.
Don't Forget About the "Eccentric Phase" Of The Lift
Remember that more mTOR growth occurs during the eccentric phase of the lift or exercise, so including "negatives" or slower lowering of the lifts you do can be a HUGE benefit in helping you grow and build muscle without the added stress of using heavier weight. Don't believe me? Grab a 30-pound dumbbell and hold a:30 low squat hold. Immediately go into five more additional reps with a 5 second lower, 5-second pause at the bottom, then 5-second counåt on the way up, and repeat it five reps! Mechanical tension is key to growth, and you can save a lot of joint stress by focusing more of controlling the speed of your exercises.
Fix Hidden Injury Culprits
We all know squatting, and deadlifting requires some degree of progressive overload to stimulate growth. This can be ruined if you tend to have weak hips, especially your adductors. We are so predominantly spent in the sagittal plane in today's world, but we need to remember the importance of the frontal plane! Groin strength can be essential to keeping you fit and healthy, so why not add some Copenhagen planks to your routine?
How to Do It
- Place your mid-calf of your top leg on the bench and keep it straight throughout the exercise.
- Prop your body up into a side plank with sturdy shoulders.
- Drive the bottom knee up and down for reps.
Corrective exercise isn't dead, nor should it be overlooked. But the mere fact of understanding WHAT you are trying to correct and WHY you are doing can save you time, money, and effectiveness of your training. Oh yea, and you will stop getting injured!
If you are in need of some additional tips for staying healthy, you can add in more recovery tools. I am a huge fan of the Hyperice Normatech boots or the trigger point massage guns. Hyperice provides some amazing tools you can add to your gym bag to pair nicely with your recovery! Just remember, don't use recovery methods to die down the pain of a lift you continue to do! Make a swap and make your life easier!
Lifting and fitness need to be something you can sustain, which means you need to be able to enjoy it! There is nothing enjoyable about constantly trying to fix injuries!