Corrective Exercise: An Individual Approach

Corrective Exercise: An Individual Approach

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Picture this: 5:30 p.m. on a Monday evening at the gym. Energy is high and the class is full. 12-20 regular gymgoers show up to take on whatever daily workout is programmed on the whie board for the day.

3 rounds for time:
10 Clean & Jerk
3 Rounds of “Cindy” (5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups,  15 air squats)

At the sound of “3, 2, 1, Beep!” the class is off to the races—and may the fastest (not necessarily the most proficient) one win.

Amidst the 17-minute time-capped chaos, the coach tries to keep his cool.

Pacing the floor, back and forth, to ensure safety, remind Enrique to catch the bar with ‘fast elbows’, remind Alyssa to squat “all the way down”, and assist Barbara with donning her foot into the big thick green pull-up band on the pull-up bar, but all in all, the chaos ensues to say the least.

Barbells flying in the air, half-reps here, half-reps there, hyper-extended backs on that 9th and 10th rep of each clean and jerk series, pulls with the arms bent instead of straight, attempts at loads that are far too heavy for the volume in demand…and the beat goes on.


At the end of 17-minutes, the little ticker beeps once more, and everyone in the class falls to the floor.

“Man that was a great workout,” someone says from the flat-on-back position.


Great is perhaps an understatement.

More like…Killer? Brutal? Misaligned?

While the workout comprised several ‘tried and true’ movements found in any old-school fitness manual or gym, the individuals operating those movements were, generally, not ready to tackle that compilation in the manner as expected or programmed.

At best, it was a struggle, and had only those individuals (and coach) only replaced the ‘RX’ movements for some ‘better options’ prior to fast-tracking to the demands that day (i.e. clean & jerk, pull-ups), the clients would actually progress in the long run.

What exactly are we getting at?

Corrective exercise.

In other words: the art of program design through the programming and progression of clients through an ordered series of movements in each plane of motion (pulls, pushes/presses, static holds, etc.).

As a baby, you must first crawl, then walk, before you can run, right?

In the realm of fitness, movement progression is no different.

Before you can do a deadlift, can you do a glute bridge hold? Or maintain a static hyper-extension hold for 30-seconds?

Before you can do a pull-up, can you hold your chin over the bar for 30 seconds? Or perform 1-negative chin-up hold over the course of 60-seconds?

Corrective exercise meets each individual right he or she is at, in order to safely, appropriately and effectively boost them to where they want to be.

Here Coach James FitzGerald breaks down some of the most common mistakes he sees with Exercise Prescription. In addition, he elaborates on the possibilities of Corrective Exercise; what that looks like and how to implement it:

 Q. What are some common faults you see with exercise prescription/WODs from coaches and group fitness classes in general?

James: The faults are hard to see, as the sweat and hard work and high fives are far more celebrated today than effective design.

So in my eyes the main one is that there is no thought into WHY coaches are doing what they are doing for their class. The answer is generally “Well, you know man, everyone wants a good sweat.”

I would see this as a severe fault. The clients are dictating the direction of the physical culture progression, not good.

 Q. What would be a starting point to begin progressing athletes and clients to movements?

James: Simple. assessment.

And this is the thing about it: Assessment is simple. It’s just that a lot of coaches don’t like what they see in the assessment. It’s like having someone come to you at the bank (you are the teller), and they ask you to take out 5,000 in cash for them. And you say, “Um, sir, you only have $34.52 in there”; and then he’s like “But I want $5000?!”

You can see the issue here: the coach and client have to deal with reality. This, in turn, lays a proper foundation for a STATING POINT.

Now that starting point varies for all, to meet people where they are at.

this is the key thing – assessment!

What it looks like?

“Hi, I’m James, I’m the coach. We are going to have a wonderful conversation about you and us and our goals. We will then review your body and how it moves in relation to how it NEEDS to move for your function, take an inventory as to how you fuel yourself, and see how you respond to a conditioning environment.”


Q. Briefly describe some crucial components you look for in an Assessment?

James: There are 3 areas I believe every person can benefit from when being assessed as to where they are starting from:

  1. Anthropometrics – with an idea on this area, a coach can gain insight into data for goal setting and align proper nutrition, exercise and lifestyle work to enhance what you see here.
  2. Movement – look at all joints and how these people move in a functional space to get a starting point on their movement prescription
  3. Work capacity – how well do these people respond to basic work related to their function


Q. Give me 5 examples of typical movements that are progressed to ‘too soon’ and a good breakdown of perhaps some better options to start at from the get go?

James: To make it easier, my belief is that 90% of all gym fitness goers in the new age version of fitness don’t deserve to do clean and jerk, snatch or any dynamic upper or lower plyometric movements.

If a person understands the requirements it takes for strength and tendon building as well as synchronicity of muscle function (which a lot of people don’t as they don’t take the time to research it and understand it over time), then we would not be applying the standard movements you see in a lot of gyms today. It takes a lot of time and reps with solid form to develop the volume required to do REPS of the movement.

This is where coaches get stuck. Everyone thinks this: “Well, she can do a Clean & Jerk or a Muscle-Up, so who are you to tell these people they cant?!”

It’s NOT about a rep; it’s about a lot of reps. I don’t care if you walk into a gym at 6 years of age and Clean & Jerk 200 lbs. (Although kind of impressive), I would still want you to attain fundamental strength before complexity and fatigue in loading.

So, in answer to the question, if I was to pick 5 movements that were done too soon, I can tell you some of the movements that I personally prescribed too soon at one time (and know that I did! I too did make mistakes):

  1. Kipping pull ups – better starting point —> strict negatives with bodyweight, then with weight
  2. Clean or Snatch – better starting point —> trap bar Deadlifts and pulls
  3. Jerk – better starting point —> strict dips with bodyweight, then with weight
  4. Handstand-pushups (kipping) – better starting point —> inversions, FLR on rings, stage 1 handstand walk instruction
  5. Ring Muscle-Up – better starting point —> see # 1 and # 3


Q. Obviously ‘corrective exercises’ are not as ‘sexy’ or appealing as doing Clean & Jerk or a WOD as prescribed…how could coaches go about this within their current gyms or group classes?

James: They cannot simply apply an individualized requirement for correctives. Correctives in their definition are NOT generalized.

Applying corrective exercises to a class, in some cases, is incompetence.

As an example, creating laxity for laxity purposes to a mobile shoulder joint for someone might actually be more injurious in the exercise setting.

They have to be individually applied.

If coaches want to apply this, then I suggest they change their business model to create inspired professional coaches that give clients specific measurable homework they can do which SUPPORTS the time they spend when in class  

Q. How can coaches best ‘word’/explain to clients the need for corrective exercise prior to doing the full movements?

James: It goes back to the problem in the system.
In most cases coaches simply just don’t KNOW what might be best/right/proper/safe. They only know what they were told or fed.

and the dollar signs and sweat stains on the floor MUST indicate success right?

When the coach is seen as the one who knows best, AND they know why they are doing what they are doing, THEN and only then can they EDUCATE the client on the reasoning behind the needs for movements that are supportive to the more complex ones.

So to answer the question, the coach actually can’t explain it if the coach does not know why they need to. In addition, the coach cannot explain it, if they are not seen as the professional in the relationship.

Fitness Assessments for New Clients