For athletes who are interested and proactive in the maintenance of their bodies, as well as those who are recuperating injuries, “restorative exercises” are part of the fitness regimen. A restorative exercise (RE) is an exercise that is done to shore up a weakness, strengthen an injured body part, or restore balance to an asymmetrical movement. They are sometimes, but not always, recommended by a health care professional following a physical assessment.
To a casual observer, RE looks easy, and compared to some exercises, it is. Often, little or no resistance is used. Instead, the athlete needs to focus. That body part may have become weakened or injured because it lost its connection to the brain.
To regain that connection, the athlete must perform the assigned exercise within what Gray Cook and Dr. Perry Nickelston call the “neural edge”. The neural edge is a threshold, beyond which the body starts to make compensations; usually breath-holding, shaking, and grimacing. For example, you’ve likely gone beyond the neural edge when someone asks you to open a jar that they can’t. Instantly you grab the jar, raise your shoulders, and make a face.
So, in order to progress and succeed in RE, the athlete must remain within the neural edge. But if the barrier that is the neural edge never gets pushed, progress comes to a halt. In order for the body to continue to adapt, we need to honor one of the seven “Principles of Fitness”
- The Law of Individual Differences
- The Overcompensation Principle
- The Overload Principle
- The Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID) Principle
- The Use/Disuse Principle and Law of Reversibility
- The Specificity Principle
- The General Adaption Syndrome
A great way to “move” that neural edge so that progress may continue comes from that same Gray Cook, and it’s a method that has been used in yoga for years. Once the restriction of the neural edge is met in a RE exercise, the athlete backs off the effort and breathes. Then, once again, the edge is met and again, the athlete breathes through it. The very same indicator that warns of the neural edge is what is utilized to break through it.
This adaptation of the neural edge is a form of “training effect”. A training effect is the ability of the body to adapt to meet inner and outer challenges, and come out stronger. Without challenge, the body does not adapt. Cook’s breathing method honors several of the Principles; namely numbers 2,4,6, and 7. This allows progress to continue.
So, even though RE are low-intensity exercises and don’t directly enhance neither muscle growth nor fat loss, the same principles must be adhered to if the exercises are to be effective. Proper focus in RE will lead to better healing and a well-balanced body. It’s a well-balanced, resilient body that makes long-term muscle growth and fat-burning possible.
If the idea of reaching your potential appeals to you, and you live in the greater New York area, Dr Perry Nickelston, mentioned above, and Dr. Kathy Dooley, of Catalyst Sport, are two of the most competent movement specialists around. They’re well worth a visit