Recent innovations in technology and transportation have made life easier and more efficient. We can order food at the click of a button and fly anywhere in the world, anytime we want. But these modern conveniences have also made us more sedentary — and our lifestyles are taking a toll on our physical health.
Whether it’s driving a car or working at a computer, most of us spend several (if not most) hours a day sitting. As a result, many people suffer from chronic knee, hip, neck, shoulder, and back pain. This is common even among individuals who exercise frequently. Squeezing in a daily crossfit or cardio session isn’t enough to reverse the effects of long-term sitting.
What can help is practicing corrective exercises, which are designed to relieve pain and discomfort in specific areas of the body. Here’s why corrective exercises can improve your health, plus how they strengthen weak areas to improve mobility, posture, and performance.
The Importance of Corrective Exercise
Corrective exercises are functional movements aimed at improving imbalances in the body through stretching, strengthening, and lengthening muscles. Muscle imbalances can be caused by lifestyle choices like sitting in poor posture or wearing heeled shoes. Yet repetitive motion (or non-motion) is the most common reason people experience muscle weakness and related pain.
“Doing the same movements in a work setting or performing the exact same exercises in every workout are two examples of repetitive motions that can be a potential cause of imbalances,” says health and fitness expert Pete McCall.
He adds that when muscles on one side of a joint become tight from overuse, muscles on the other side can become weak from lack of use. The tight muscles will overcompensate for the weak muscles, which can influence the joint’s path of motion to cause pain and increase the risk of workout-related injury.
One common area this occurs in is the back. When people have weak core muscles, their lower back and spine tends to overcompensate for the lack of abdominal support. The result? Overstraining the lower back, leading to pain.
Reducing Pain With Corrective Exercises
The effectiveness of corrective exercises lies in their ability to both strengthen and activate weak muscles while lengthening and stretching tight, overworked areas. An impactful corrective exercise program should work on both strengthening and stretching.
Rather than exercising muscles at random, corrective exercises target specific muscle weaknesses to reduce pain, tension, soreness, and stiffness in the area. Personal trainers, physical therapists, and corrective exercise specialists can prescribe a regimen of corrective exercises designed to increase range of motion and posture while improving endurance, strength, and overall performance.
Testing for Muscular Imbalances
Aside from experiencing pain, there are a few ways to determine if you’re in need of corrective exercises. One way to check for muscle imbalances in the spine is to examine your upper body profile in the mirror. If you can see your upper back in a relaxed position, it might mean that your shoulders are rounded. This can cause the cervical spine to round unnaturally forward, leading to neck and upper back pain.
Misalignment is also common in the hips, especially among people who spend hours a day sitting. The Thomas test can help you see if you have an anterior pelvic tilt, or hyperlordosis. Start by lying back on the edge of a sturdy table so that your legs hang off the table at the knee. Then bend one knee and pull it toward your chest.
“If your pelvis is correctly aligned, the back of your resting leg will touch the table when you get into this position,” says Daniela Ginta at Healthline. If you need to change your leg or hip position to touch the table, it signifies tight front thigh muscles and a tilted pelvis.
If either of these exercises signified imbalances — or you’re simply experiencing pain in your back, neck, shoulders, or hips — a corrective exercise training program can help.
Corrective Exercises for Strength and Pain Relief
Corrective exercises are intended to counteract repetitive movement patterns. Unlike many strength training and workout programs, corrective exercises focus on muscle positioning and proper alignment. It’s not about what you do or how good you look doing it — it’s about how you do it.
This may mean you have to scale back on an exercise to focus on activating your muscles properly, which ensures you’re strengthening them in proper alignment. You might also choose to incorporate these training sessions into warm-ups before daily activities or workouts to make them a larger part of your everyday life. Here are a few corrective exercises for the most common areas of weakness: the core, spine, and glutes.
Activate the Core
Back pain and stiffness are often caused by a weak core. Contrary to common belief, the core isn’t isolated in the abdominals. In fact, the core wraps around the entire midsection like a corset. Lacking strength in the core causes the body to rely on ligaments, bones, and discs, which can lead to back pain and injury.
According to personal trainer Lisa Woods, strengthening the core helps not only the abdominals, but also the paraspinous muscles along the spine that are crucial for a strong, healthy core.
Bird Dog is a strengthening yoga posture that works both the front and back core muscles. Begin in tabletop position on your hands and knees with your hips stacked over your knees and your shoulders over your wrists.
Then lift your right arm forward while extending your left leg behind you. Activate your core and bring your belly button to your spine. Hold here or mindfully crunch your knee to elbow multiple times before switching to the other side. A forearm plank is another, more advanced exercise that strengthens the entire core.
Lengthen the Spine
Incorporating corrective exercises into your daily routine can help prevent muscle imbalances and related pain — especially among those who sit at a desk.
According to Full Circle Yoga School Director of Operations Kati Patino, sitting at a computer in an “L” shape for prolonged periods can cause the hips to tighten and the hamstrings to shorten, which, as previously discussed, creates an anterior pelvic tilt. An anterior tilt in the pelvis can lead to lower back pain, cervical spine compression, and hip pain.
“In the experience of working from a desk, often the spine begins to curve in the lumbar spine and the upright posture may begin to round inward at the shoulders.” Working in this position is unavoidable for many people who work in offices, but you can prevent pain through the practice of daily corrective exercises. Taking a small break every hour to lengthen the spine is a great way to re-energize the entire body and mind,” Patino explains.
She suggests standing up and taking 5 deep breaths in Tadasana, a simple, grounding yoga posture that nearly anyone can practice. This standing pose lengthens the spine, opens the chest, engages the glutes, and helps lift the pelvis back into a neutral position.
Strengthen the Glutes
As discussed, sedentary jobs can cause tight hip flexors and weak glutes, which are associated with hip pain, limited pelvis mobility, and lower back compression. Taking time to strengthen your glutes and lengthen your hip flexors can create balanced muscle support throughout the lower body.
One corrective exercise to support your glutes is lying on your back in bridge pose with one leg lifted, suggests personal trainer Noam Tamir. “Single-leg bridges are great to help engage the gluteus maximus (the largest glute muscle) plus the core and hamstrings.” Focus on slow, controlled muscle movements as you come into bridge, lift one leg, and dip your hips down and up. Complete 15 reps on one side before switching.
Squats are another simple way to lengthen the hips. Specifically, squats work by extending the hips beyond their position when seated. Use a kettlebell or hold weights while squatting to add glute activation while also stretching the hip flexors.
Use Corrective Exercises to Reduce Pain
Most people live a life that the human body wasn’t designed for. Working at a computer, driving long distances, and sitting for prolonged periods cause muscular imbalances throughout the body.
Overtraining certain muscle groups and performing daily activities with a misaligned spine can also impact many parts of the body, though the most commonly affected areas are the spine, hips, and neck. Fortunately, corrective exercises can help strengthen weak muscles, lengthen tight areas, and create more harmony in the body.