Do You Walk Upright? Perhaps the A.S.L.R. Test is for You!
As soon as you walk into a gym you are instantly bombarded with high outputs. The focus is often the number of reps you can do, the amount of weight you can move or the number of calories you just burned on the elliptical. Often lost in this fray is a whole class of exercises that focus on high inputs; exercises that provide a stimulus rich environment to foster accelerated motor learning. These exercises, termed corrective exercises, often involve seemingly simple mobility and stability challenges that become quite difficult if any limitations are present. The purpose of these exercises is not to become fitter or stronger but rather to give your body the opportunity to improve its movement ability. This increased movement ability then serves as the base from which performance goals are attained and surpassed. Corrective exercise trains the brain-nerve-body connection known as the neuromuscular system and can result in rapid improvement. As with any type of learning, motor learning takes place very quickly but must be practiced often to be maintained. Let’s take a look at an example of a fundamental movement and some corrective exercises that can improve it.
The Active Straight Leg Raise (ASLR) has you lie on your back, press one leg down into the floor and then raise the other foot as high as you can. The end position should look like an “L” with your legs while your back and tailbone remain flat on the floor. Other than AcroYoga practitioners, most people do not need to lie on their back with their feet elevated as high as they can so it is easy to dismiss this test as foolish. But, as is often the case, this is a functional movement not because it looks like a certain activity but because it contributes to healthy movement. Proper execution of the movement requires hamstring flexibility, pelvic stability, hip mobility to disassociate each leg, neuromuscular inhibition (well-timed relaxation) of the hamstrings and calf muscles, healthy abdominal function and proper quadriceps and hip flexor function. These requirements are also necessary for any movement requiring independent movement of the legs such as walking, stepping and running, indicating that the Active Straight Leg Raise is indeed functional for all bipedal locomotors and improving a dysfunctional pattern is worthwhile.
Corrective exercises need to focus on resolving the most limiting factor so if during the ASLR test you feel tightness in your hips and groin as your legs separate, the following progression can be used.
- In the first exercise, one leg is supported with the foot as high as possible and the other leg is lowered and raised. Beginning with one foot elevated and supported lessens the stability demands in the pelvis and trunk, providing a good environment to learn how to move the leg through a progressively greater range.
- In the second exercise, the elevated leg is not supported, increasing the requirement for stability but still providing a good opportunity to experience a full range of motion.
Often, a few minutes of these exercises can result in rapid improvement that cannot be accounted for by a physical change in the muscle tissues. Instead, the corrective exercises teach neuromuscular skills like the abilities to relax the hamstrings, activate the abdominals and use proper breathing to diminish muscle tension. The corrective exercises are described in more detail in the video blog here. These are just two of many corrective exercises that can be used to improve the ASLR and function of the lower limbs and trunk generally. As these exercises demonstrate, corrective exercises are a powerful tool to quickly improve your movement ability. Investing a few minutes into this type of high input exercise will help you develop a solid base from which to pursue higher outputs than ever before.
If you are interested in corrective exercises like the Active Straight Leg Raise or any other fundamental pattern, please contact Personal Fitness Trainer Hunter Spencer.