Time to get in line

A leading expert shows you how to make muscles work together to stay injury-free.

In a truly fit figure, there's no room for muscles to go off course. Each must work together, synergistically, in order to properly perform a given movement. One weak link in the chain is enough to set the body up for disaster. If one muscle isn’t doing its job, another will step up and take over — as any good teammate would — however, this fix is not sustainable. Quickly, the body begins to form improper movement patterns in an attempt to counter the imbalance, which can quickly lead to serious joint damage. The good news, though, is that these imbalances are preventable through carefully designed corrective exercises.

Though not the most exciting or dynamic of movements, corrective exercises are key to keeping your body humming by establishing healthy movement patterns through proper pre-workout preparation. “Imbalance is a pain or injury waiting to happen,” says integrative doctor of physical therapy and certified strength and conditioning specialist Dr. Jack Mantione, a training educator for Equinox. “A tight muscle, weak muscle, poor muscle activation, poor joint mobility — all it takes is one imbalance, and then the domino effect takes over.”

The key to the success of corrective exercises lies in activating new, more efficient movement patterns, also known as grooving. For instance, if you wrap an exercise band around your knees while you perform a squat and push your knees out on the way down, you’ll activate your gluteus medius, which helps keep hips aligned so knees stay on track and don't buckle inward.

Over the past few years, more and more advanced personal trainers have been using the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) test to identify a particular client’s most problematic movement pattern — the one most likely to expose them to injury. Once identified, the trainer chooses the most appropriate corrective exercises to incorporate into their client's routine. No two bodies are the same, but studies are showing that specific movements are instrumental in preventing certain injuries. Everyone should get an FMS for a customized plan, but Mantione suggests that this set of moves practiced before an exercise routine will benefit most:

Cross-Crawl: (Improves balance, coordination and focus by enhancing communication between the left and right brain) March in place, lifting opposite arm and leg, keeping core tight and spine straight, 20-30 times.

Back Bridge: (for the gluteus maximus) Lie on back with knees bent and feet flat on floor. Squeeze the glutes, then lift butt off the ground, pushing through heels and keeping the core tight. Hold for seven seconds, then release to start. Repeat 5 times.

Single-Leg Squat: (For the gluteus medius and maximus): Stand with left foot in front of right, hands on hips. Lift right leg up (or keep right toes on floor if balance is a challenge), then lower into squat on left leg. Do 7 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

Plank:(for abdominals) Hold plank position on forearms, keeping core tight and hips in line with body. Hold for 1 minute.

Side Plank:(For quadratus lumborum) Lie on right side, resting on right palm and right hip, knees and feet stacked, left arm at side. Lift right hip into a side plank and extend right arm to sky, keeping abs tight (as shown). Hold for 30 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.

Bird Dog:(For back extensors) Start on all fours, keeping pelvis and hips level, core tight. At the same time, lift right arm in front of you, thumb up, and left leg straight behind you. Hold for 10 seconds. Do 10 reps, then repeat on opposite side.

Cat/Cow:(For mobilizing the thoracic spine) Start on all fours. Inhale and press hands into floor and arch back, keeping shoulders down and looking up to ceiling. Exhale and round back, looking to floor. Repeat 5 times.