“Corrective exercise” sounds vaguely like a form of punishment, similar to reform school. In fact, however, the term simply refers to therapeutic exercises done for the sake of addressing limitations in flexibility, mobility, and strength that compromise our ability to perform sports movements in ways that reduce efficiency and increase injury risk.
Corrective exercise is not a specific type of activity, like Pilates, but encompasses all types of activity—static stretches, dynamic stretches, foam rolling, bodyweight strength exercises, and more—that serve this basic purpose. If you’re looking for a simple way to run better and healthier next year, consider adding corrective exercise to your daily routine.
Act Like a Pro
I was first introduced to the practice in the summer of 2017, which I spent in Flagstaff as an honorary, temporary member of the Hoka One One Northern Arizona Elite professional running team. Throughout this three-month period, I had full access to all of the support resources as the real pros, including physical therapy, and as a 46-year-old injury-prone runner, I made full use of them.
Whenever pain signaled an imminent breakdown, I visited Hypo2 Sport in Flagstaff or Maximum Mobility in Phoenix, where I would undergo testing and leave with a list of corrective exercises that I was instructed to do daily to fix the limitations that, according to the testing, were contributing to my problem.
By the end of the summer I was spending 30 to 35 minutes a day on these exercises, and I wasn’t alone. All of the real pros had corrective exercise routines of their own, each customized to meet their individual needs. I found the habit to be highly beneficial. Corrective exercise didn’t completely prevent injuries from starting, but it did help keep them from getting out of control. I was able to survive several weeks in the 80- to 90-mile range, which is a lot for me. On top of that, I just felt better—less stiff getting out of bed in the morning, less rusty when taking those first few strides of a warm-up.
I wish I could use this article to give you a nice, one-size-fits-all corrective exercise routine to try, but that’s not how it works. To get the most out of the practice, you need to build a routine around your individual limitations.
Step one is to get a functional movement assessment from a physical therapist who has a lot of experience with runners. This person will be able to diagnose your current flexibility, mobility, and strength limitations and prescribe exercises to correct them. Step two is to take those exercises home and do them—every day!
Not a Chore
If this all sounds rather onerous, know that it isn’t really. Most corrective exercises can be done anywhere and anytime with little or no equipment. I do my routine (which I’ve pared down to 20 minutes since returning home from Flagstaff) at home in the evening when I’m winding down. It’s actually kind of relaxing, and unlike other daily chores like flossing my teeth, I look forward to it.
A number of the exercises I do address imbalances in my pelvic region that have led to several injuries—and which are a problem for many of today’s runners. Here’s an example: Lie face up on the floor with your knees bent sharply and your feet on the floor about eight inches apart. Position a foam roller between your knees. Now press your knees together as though you’re trying to crush the foam roller and hold the contraction for 10 seconds. Relax for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times.
If the next available appointment with your best local running-focused PT is several weeks out, and you don’t want to wait to get started, you have options. Various resources, including the books Running Rewired by Jay Dicharry and the PreHab Exercise Book for Runners by Michael Rosengart, provide simple self-tests you can do to diagnose common limiters, as well as exercises to correct them. Nothing beats one-on-one attention from an expert, but such mediated guidance beats waiting to get started with corrective exercise.
If you’re skeptical, start small. Do just one exercise targeting one diagnosed limiter every evening to establish the habit, and see how it goes. If you notice benefits and the time commitment doesn’t feel burdensome, add a second exercise, and so on, until you’re doing it (literally) like the pros.