What is corrective exercise?

If our bodies performed exactly as they were designed to there would be no need for corrective exercise.  Whether walking down the street, picking up a child, hitting a tennis ball or performing a squat in the gym, our body’s movements should happen because a group of muscles works in harmony, each with their specific role to play.

The muscle teamwork

Hip extension, a movement we perform thousands of times a day, happens when we stand up from sitting, when we walk, run or climb up stairs, when we come out of a squat or lunge… and is a great example to work with.Corrective exercise

The prime mover or “agonist” muscle takes the lead role in a movement.  In hip extension the agonist is our gluteus maximus – our butt muscles or glute max!  Think rising up out of a squat… as our glute max contracts, the angle of our hip joint opens and our body moves into a standing posture.

Corrective exercise

Gluteus maximus

“Synergist” muscles provide assistance to the prime mover. Our erector spinae (group of muscles running the length of the spine) and our hamstring complex (group of muscles at the back of the thighs) are synergists to our glute max in hip extension.

Corrective exercise

Erector spinae – iliocostalis

Corrective exercise

Erector spinae – longissimus

“Stabiliser” muscles support the body while the movement is taking place, maintaining proper joint alignment and minimising the risk of injury.  In hip extension the stabilisers are our core muscles: transversus abdominis, internal obliques, multifidus, and deep erector spinae muscles.

Corrective exercise

Transversus abdominis

Corrective exercise

Internal obliques

Corrective exercise


Lastly, the “antagonist” muscle acts in direct opposition to the agonist and should remain relaxed, allowing the movement to happen safely.  Our psoas muscle (hip flexor) is antagonist to our glute max.

Corrective exercise

Psoas minor and major muscles

How might this carefully balanced muscular cooperation break down and what would be the implications?

Movement impairment

Injury (recent or not), repetitive movement or repetitive lack of movement can lead to “faulty” movement patterns.  This means that although movement happens it doesn’t happen optimally with the appropriate muscles taking on the various roles.  These faulty movement patterns are often accompanied by tension and pain.

Consider how much time some people spend in a seated position: at their desk, in front of a computer, behind a counter, in the car, watching TV.  If you’re sitting down as you read this, first sit up straight and then place your hand in the 90° angle between your thigh and your torso.

Corrective exercise

Psoas major

Your hip flexor is running across that angle and as long as you remain seated the muscle is contracting, working to hold your body upright.  In this position it has no opportunity to lengthen and stretch.  While your hip flexors are at work, your glutes are relaxed and stretched across your butt (agonist-antagonist).  With habitual sitting the glutes become over-extended and underactive, rather like an over-stretched elastic band.

Let’s now observe the chain reaction that might unfold over time…

Imagine you’ve been sitting at a desk for an extended period and now you stand up… yes, up you get! Your body suddenly wants that 90° angle to become 180°.  If your hip flexors are tight from overuse that’s not necessarily going to be easy.

Your glutes have been rudely awakened from a pretty relaxing day, while your hip flexors are finding it difficult to switch off.  Your hip joints only extend to say 170°, so your torso is pulled forward into a slight bow.

Without changing the angle at your hip joints – precisely because we’re imagining your hip flexors to be too tight to allow this – try to move your upper body into an upright position, one in which your chest is lifted and your eyes are looking directly ahead.  To do this you’ll need to arch your lower back.

What’s happening here?  Since your glute max are unable to outdo their overactive and shortened antagonist hip flexors, other muscles are taking over.  Your erector spinae, the muscles responsible for extension of the spine, shift from their synergistic role to a more dominant role, creating the arch in your back that brings you to a more upright position.

If over time this pattern of restricted movement at the hip joints persists, some of your core stabilising muscles will become underactive, adding even more workload to the muscles of your back.  A likely outcome of this chain reaction is the all too frequently experienced lower back pain.

The four steps of corrective exercise

A lot of the time it won’t be possible to drastically change the behaviour that is causing the faulty movement pattern.  The good news is corrective exercise can mitigate its impact and return the body to optimal performance and free from pain.

Step 1: Inhibition

The first step is to reverse the condition that started the chain reaction; inhibiting the overactive muscle that brought about the faulty movement pattern.  In our example this is the hip flexor.  In the training environment this is typically achieved using foam rolling, technically referred to as self-myofascial release (SMR).  Other therapeutic input such as physiotherapy or biokinetics may also be beneficial.

Step 2: Lengthening

With tension released and over-activity reduced (inhibition) the same muscle can now be lengthened, creating space for other muscles in the body to perform more effectively.  An increase in extensibility and range of motion in the hip flexor will allow the gluteus maximus to contract more readily and completely.  Static and dynamic stretching of the hip flexor will achieve this.

Step 3: Activation

Now that it’s able to move more freely, the currently underactive agonist muscle (in our example the glute max) can be re-educated and strengthened using simple exercises that isolate the muscle as much as possible.  Glute activation can be achieved using simple squat movements such as suspension squats (TRX) and stability-ball wall squats.

Step 4: Integration

The final step is to retrain the muscles as a team using progressively more complex exercises that require each team member to perform their correct role as agonist, synergist, stabiliser or antagonist.  These would be functional exercises that mimic the movement patterns that have until now be compromised.  Think squats and lunges and gradually add the challenge of stability (BOSU), balance (single-leg work), integration (adding upper body movements) and power (performing jumps and turns).Corrective exercise

Identifying a need for corrective exercise

As a personal trainer with a corrective exercise specialisation I use several tools to identify faulty movement patterns in my clients, the simplest one being targeted questioning.  Understanding my client’s job and the physical demands it places on them, knowing the sporting activities he or she takes part in and the hobbies they enjoy, being aware of past injuries or surgeries, piecing together a picture of their life… this information will tell me a lot about how my client moves and where stresses might regularly be placed on their body.  In a training session I’ll call on static postural and dynamic movement assessments to highlight where movement compensations are being made and tension is being placed.

The next step is to design a bespoke corrective exercise programme for my client.  Applying the four steps is a gradual process which, if done properly, will bring their body to a state of balance and optimal performance.

Deborah Savin-Curnier

What PTA Global brings to you, the client


PTA Global (PTAG) is a collaboration of highly experienced fitness professionals, academics, communication experts and psychologists, many of whom are internationally renowned speakers and authors.

PTA GlobalThis amazing coming together of minds took the education of fitness professionals in a new direction, one which positioned YOU the client, and not the fitness professional, at the heart of everything that is taught.

Before PTAG, education within the fitness industry typically focused on the human body and its physical needs, on the exercise sciences, on hard selling the “benefits” of regular exercise, and on telling the client what he or she “should” do.

PTAG saw a gap that desperately needed filling if fitness professionals were to deliver what clients really wanted and needed, and to deliver it in a way that would engage, motivate and excite them and keep them on track to reach their goals.

The PTA Global approach

PTAG recognised that the true success of a fitness professional lies with his or her ability to connect with clients and truly get to know them.  So an understanding of the behavioural sciences and a much greater focus on the human being, not just the human body, become an integral part of what PTAG teaches and practices.

Other industry educators have since adopted a similar approach, testament to how successful, rewarding and comprehensive the PTAG education is.

If you are looking for a personal trainer then I hope you find someone who connects with you, shows concern for your mental and emotional wellbeing as well as your physical wellbeing, and who constantly strives to deliver what you want and need.

Thank you

In August 2016 I became one of seventeen Ambassadors for PTA Global, a role I’m extremely proud of and honoured to hold.  I’m also excited to announce that my first contribution to the PTAG blog was published this week: “The lessons my clients have taught me.”  The perfect opportunity to thank my clients for being the great teachers that you are!

Deborah Savin-Curnier

Achieving your fitness goal

A friend recently sent me a panicked message telling me that a charity she supports had accepted her application for a place in the London Marathon.  I can understand this feeling of intimidation and impossibility; 26.2 miles is a long way and seems even longer when as a task it’s to be completed on foot.

It made me think back to when I accidentally entering my first marathon.  My previous experience of this distance was watching a friend run the London Marathon and thinking what a tortuous thing it looked.  Who would want to put themselves through it?  Well the answer to that question turned out to be me, and I had given myself just over three months to go from part-time jogger to marathon runner.

Amazingly it happened.  I had great support from a local running club and I had a schedule.  And slowly but surely I found myself running further and faster than I had ever run before.  Here’s what I learnt along the way.

Setting your goal

If you set yourself a fitness goal and work towards it consistently, you will get there and it will lead to experiences that you might not even be able to imagine right now.

First set yourself a goal: to run a marathon, to lose weight, to meet the 10,000 steps target on your Fitbit, to lift weights, to walk a mile.  Whatever it is, do a double check to make sure you want to do it.  If you’re not sure ask yourself “why?” a couple of times until you get there.

Second, put in place a plan or training schedule and maybe work with a club, a coach or a personal trainer. If you have a deadline such as a date for a race, work backwards from this when you start planning.  If you don’t have a date, work forwards to establish a target date.  Either way you will have a point in the future when you can pause, review, and see how far you’ve come.

Time for another reality check: life carries on.  You might have events, work, travel, all sorts of things that get in the way.  Don’t stress it, but make sure the balance is right.  If there’s too much life, you may have to re-prioritise or re-focus your goal.  Maybe you don’t want it enough, or it’s just too big for right now.

My third piece of advice: hold yourself accountable.  Either to yourself – write your training sessions on your calendar, in your diary, plug reminders into your phone – or to other people – tell them about your goal, tell them when you’re going to do a training session and expect them to ask about it.

And then off you go!

Monitoring your progress

I’d go easy on the monitoring. You might not notice much progress day-to-day or even week-to-week, but check in after a month and see how you’re getting on.  When you reach your target date, almost certainly you won’t feel “ready” for whatever your challenge is, but I promise if you’ve followed the steps above you absolutely will be.  And you’ll have had a lot of fun along the way.

Tanya Boardman

Tanya is a marathon runner, sports massage therapist, space geek and coach who inspires people to do things they thought they never could.  In particular, she works with people who feel stuck in their successful lives, looking to find some oomph.

For inspiration and to get in touch visit doingnotdreaminglife.wordpress.com or follow on Facebook or @tanyaboardman on Twitter.

Motivation to exercise

Finding the motivation to exercise

“I may regret not doing a workout, but I’ll never regret having done it.”

This phrase came to me at the end of a workout that for some reason I’d struggled to get to.  I don’t remember what obstacles had got in my way, or what I might have had to give up to be there, but I do remember feeling really pleased that I’d pushed myself to make it.  The phrase would become a mantra that I’d call on when motivation was lacking.  And it has never been more valuable than one Sunday morning – Cape Town in June.

Several weeks earlier I’d come across the K-Way Table Mountain 16km race (https://kwayvob.co.za/our-races/table-mountain), a stunning run from Constantia Nek up the Jeep Track to the top of the mountain, round Woodhead Reservoir and back.  I’d hiked it several times and was curious to know if I could run it.  There was only one way to find out… my entry form was sent off immediately and I was in!

Constantia Nek Jeep TrailI decided the best approach would be to run the course at least once a week and I stuck to this plan, always managing to pick the perfect weather conditions and calling on my mantra to get me up onto the trail – the stunning views my reward for getting to the top.

Then I woke on the morning of the race to gusty winds, heavy rain and Table Mountain barely visible.  Suddenly it didn’t feel like such a good idea.  Would the race be cancelled?  Would the trail be closed?

Wrapped up warm and waterproof I went to collect my number at 7.15am, still dark, still raining, still very unappealing. “We don’t have you on the list of runners” the marshal declared having checked her list a second and third time.  Here was my way out…  “Never mind, there’s always next year” was ready to come out of my mouth when she passed me a clipboard and suggested I complete another form.

It was in that moment I heard my mantra over and over in my head, pushing me to fill out the form for a second time.  I knew I’d be disappointed in myself if I didn’t run.   But then no matter how challenging and uncomfortable the race was going to be, I wouldn’t regret taking part.  Thirty minutes later I was standing at the start line really not knowing what to expect as announcements were made about how to reduce the risk of hypothermia!

It was a tough ascent.  The wind at times so strong I was running to stay still, the rain turning to sleet at the top.  To my surprise I wasn’t cold and as the sleet prickled my face I found myself enjoying the sensation, smiling at the complete contrast this was to all my training runs.

With layers on my watch was buried, and in any case I’d decided early on in the race to ignore it.  This wasn’t going to be a performance run.  It was going to be the sort of run you survive, a run that proves you’re tough and ever so slightly crazy!

Gradually I passed all my personal landmarks and suddenly I was on my way down, the wind behind me making it wonderfully easy.  The end was in sight – metaphorically speaking!

As the trail flattened out towards the bottom I pushed hard for the last kilometre.  Imagine my surprise when I crossed the line three seconds inside my personal best, incredibly happy to have run it and totally oblivious to how wet I actually was.

As well as giving me a real sense of achievement, this experience served as a powerful reminder of how effective my mantra is – to me at least.  It has taught me something about myself I can use to find motivation; motivation to exercise, to get out there and make the transition from doubting I can do it to knowing I have it in me.  Once that first step has been made, I can look forward to the wonderful feeling exercising brings me, a feeling that stays with me for the rest of the day.

Deborah Savin-Curnier